Web edition: July 2, 2009
Print edition: July 18, 2009; Vol.176 #2 (p. 30)
There’s no escaping the weather: It affects all people nearly every day of their lives. And climate — long-term trends in temperature, precipitation and other aspects of weather — influences everything from agriculture to the health and vitality of civilization itself.
In this book, climatologist Randy Cerveny provides an insider’s perspective on how storms, droughts and even asteroids may have altered the course of history. For instance, was it a fluke that Columbus crossed the Atlantic in 1492 without encountering a hurricane even though his voyage began in late summer, typically the height of today’s hurricane season?
Cerveny tackles this question and others in fascinating chapters, many with Nancy Drew–like titles. In each vignette, Cerveny details how scientists have used clues — oxygen isotopes locked in ice cores in Greenland, tree rings in Arizona — to solve the puzzles. “The mystery of the Mayan megadrought” explores how an extended dry spell during the eighth and ninth centuries may have triggered the demise of one of the world’s great civilizations. “The mystery of the Pacific hot tub” describes scientists’ efforts to decipher how a warming of sea-surface temperatures in the mid-Pacific, called El Niño, influences temperatures and storm paths around the planet.
Through spellbinding tales set in the distant past and not-so-distant future, Cerveny reveals how major trends in weather and climate have shaped world events. Among his most important points: Climate does change, and civilizations can be profoundly influenced — often detrimentally so — in the process.
Prometheus Books, 2009, 328 p., $26.98.