Well-constructed history of the politics and personalities of weather.



Sandlin (Wicked River: The Mississippi When It Last Ran Wild, 2010, etc.) offers a lively account of early investigators who, through both “grinding stupidity and unaccountable insights,”  eventually came to understand and learned to coexist with—but never tame—the furious force of tornadoes.

Today, SUVs laden with all sorts of gizmos, plus many “weather tourists,” travel the roads of Tornado Alley (Oklahoma, Kansas, Iowa), part of a deep American “tradition of obsessive hunting” for the elusive twister. More elusive was hard information beyond folk tales on why tornadoes were so destructive, wiping out towns and killing hundreds in a minute. Sandlin starts his tale with Benjamin Franklin and his casual fascination with “whirlwinds.” But the real story begins with James Espy, America’s first official meteorologist. In the 1830s and beyond, Espy came up with ideas both accurate and silly: Tornadoes might be caused by convection, warm air rising to meet cold air. Therefore, the climate of the continent could be controlled by the judicious building of very large fires. Espy feuded with other early tornado devotees over matters trivial and substantive before yielding to a younger generation just as contentious. In the late 1800s, John Park Finley and the military’s Signal Corps developed a system of weather forecasts. Yet Finley feuded with Henry Hazen, who believed massive dynamiting would destroy tornadoes. All involved seemed to have feuded with Washington politics and bureaucracy, to the point that while America’s heartland became increasingly populated, and tornadoes a greater threat, in the first decades of the 20th century, the federal government kept no records of tornadoes at all. While later investigators with more sophisticated technology made significant gains in our understanding of tornadoes, Sandlin’s story is really one of how science gets done amid, and despite, clashes of ego and political interference.

Well-constructed history of the politics and personalities of weather.

Pub Date: March 5, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-307-37852-1

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: Jan. 14, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2013

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.


The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...


Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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