The Discovery of Global Warming (New Histories of Science, Technology, and Medicine)

39 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0674016378
ISBN-10: 0674016378
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

It took a century for scientists to agree that gases produced by human activity were causing the world to warm up. Now, in an engaging book that reads like a detective story, physicist Weart (Scientists in Power; Nuclear Fear) reports the history of global warming theory, including the internal conflicts plaguing the research community and the role government has had in promoting climate studies. Some researchers, he writes, pursued red herrings, while others on the right track often could not get attention or funding. Still others made classic errors but uncovered significant seeds of truth in the process. With just enough scientific detail and plenty of biographical narrative, Weart conveys the difficulties of studying vast, chaotic weather systems. As one of the profiled researchers puts it, the earth's climate is "a capricious beast"; instead of taking its threat seriously, he says, we have been "poking it with a sharp stick." Weart's goal is "to help the reader understand our predicament by explaining how we got here." Blending parallel stories, he implies that although geophysicists took a long time to understand the various elements of global warming, they were all working toward a common goal. Without resorting to fear-mongering, Weart gives an informed history and offers his readers solutions to consider.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

As Weart makes clear, global warming came to be accepted through a long process of incremental research rather than a dramatic revelation. The story goes back to the mid-nineteenth century, when a French scientist wondered why the earth didn't bake to a crisp, and proposed that the planet radiated infrared energy. But when the Frenchman crunched the numbers, the equations indicated that the earth should be frigid, demonstrating that something in addition to solar energy influenced climate. The search for that something over the past 150 years eventually included the gases and aerosols humanity produces, but interestingly, given contemporary awareness and anxiety about warming, cold was what initially gave scientists the shivers. Specifically, the cause of the ice ages was the target of many scientists' projects. Weart's presiding theme is how different disciplines, working on unrelated problems, have synthesized into the geophysics of cold and warm spells on a planetary scale. A soberly written synthesis of science and politics. Gilbert Taylor
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Series: New Histories of Science, Technology, and Medicine
  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press (September 30, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674016378
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674016378
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (39 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,077,914 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

34 of 38 people found the following review helpful By C. Naylor on April 6, 2004
Format: Hardcover
An excellent short summary of the rise of global climate concerns in the scientific, political and public awareness. Weart details the steps in the discovery of global warming as a concept, including the various transformations that climate theory went through on its way towards adequately explaining what has happened in the past and reliably predicting the general shape of things to come. He explains the science well for the beginner (that is to say, not too deeply) and covers many bases - including solar, atmospheric, oceanic and biomass inputs that shape our climate and the creeping realization that climate change can change (and has changed in the past) much faster than anyone suspected 100 years ago.
While covering the science and history in some detail, he also takes great care to acknowledge the inherent uncertainties of climate science, focusing his attention later in the book on the public and political interplay in the process of discovery and discussion about climatic change. He also leaves room for continued debate, although it's clear that he has been convinced of the potential dangers of global warming by the available evidence. For those who find the book short on scientific material, a link is included to a website maintained by the author which contains much more material and data. The author also lists links to other prominent sites for climate change information, including sites which argue against its existence. Overall, I appreciate both the passion and the evident fairness that the author brings to his subject which leads me to give it 5 stars.
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80 of 100 people found the following review helpful By Robert Adler on January 5, 2004
Format: Hardcover
We're besieged almost every day by headlines about climate change, many of them contradictory. One group of scientists warns of significant, potentially devastating human-caused warming in the next half century, but a week later another group says that any changes that may have occurred in the 20th century were caused by natural factors, so not to worry.
If you want to understand what scientists really do and don't know about climate change, and how they have arrived at their present understanding of Earth's climate and the human and natural forces that are changing it, then read The Discovery of Global Warming. It's authoritative, based on more than 1000 peer-reviewed studies; clearly, even elegantly written; and is guaranteed to remain up to date through an affiliated website.
The author, Spencer Weart, traces the history of climate studies back to 1896, when Svante Arrhenius broke with the assumption that Earth's climate was stable over the long run and made the first scientific estimates of how much different levels of carbon dioxide would heat or cool the atmosphere. Over the course of the 20th Century, scientists gradually decoded the history of the ice ages, and came to realize that Earth's climate has changed radically many times. More recently, precision measurements form ice cores, lake beds and cave deposits have shown that the climate can change extremely quickly. For example, ice cores from Greenland show episodes of warming by seven degrees C.--close to 13 degrees F.-within five to ten years.
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51 of 64 people found the following review helpful By Bucherwurm on June 30, 2004
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This fairly slight volume is an important addition to the study of global warming. The book, easily understood by the average lay reader, recounts the history of climate change research starting in about 1896. I should point out that the reader will not take away a reasonably thorough knowledge of global warming science from the book. That is not its purpose. You do learn some elements of the science involved, but essentially you learn how our present day view of climate change came about.
Our knowledge of our climate chugged along at a fairly slow rate over the last 108 years for several reasons. A major problem was the essential need for the involvement of a wide variety of scientific specialties. In order to advance the study we have needed the input of physicists, oceanographers, geologists, chemists, meteorologists and even botanists. It is rare that such a diverse group of scientists are needed for an advance in a certain area. Weart describes how all of these researchers started working together in their search for answers to global climate change.
The second major difficulty was the lack of certain technologies necessary to achieve meaningful progress. Only recently have we had computers fast enough to process the data in climate modeling programs. Technological advances also had to be made in the equipment needed to take kilometers deep core samples from ice and other strata. Researchers had to learn the hard way that you can't even breathe on ice cores as your breath will contaminate the sample.
Weart brings us up to the present and discusses the roles of journalism and politics in advancing and often hindering the governmental support for the recommendations of scientists.
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