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33 of 37 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great balanced survey of the history of climate science
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...
Published on April 6, 2004 by C. Naylor

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3.0 out of 5 stars Too summary in its reportage
I would really like to know something about the history of climate science and its relationship to its economic, political and cultural context. This book gives a quick chronology of who published what when and a little bit about the context. But I always felt the author was in too much of a hurry to get on to the next thing to really explore anything in detail...
Published 6 months ago by Ralph Snyder


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33 of 37 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great balanced survey of the history of climate science, April 6, 2004
By 
C. Naylor (Deerfield, IL) - See all my reviews
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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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78 of 98 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The truth about global warming and climate change, January 5, 2004
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.
Since the 1970s, Weart reports, models of Earth's climate have grown from simple paper-and-pencil calculations to enormously complex computer simulations that take into account solar cycles, greenhouse gases, changes caused by wobbles in Earth's orbit around the sun, particles suspended in the atmosphere, ocean circulation, vegetation, Arctic and Antarctic ice, etc. The most sophisticated models are now able to simulate past climate changes, seasonal patterns and regional differences remarkably well. That gives their predictions of how the climate is likely to change over the next century as we continue to pump greenhouse gases and aerosols into the atmosphere considerable and increasing validity.
Weart also does a great job presenting the limitations of science in dealing with the complexities of Earth's climate. He acknowledges that scientists will never be able to prove that human activities are warming and potentially destabilizing the climate, but goes on to point out that the increasingly meaningful provisional answers they are providing are crucial to our decision making. He notes that most of the studies that pushed the field forward were wrong in one way or another, yet, cumulatively, they have created a deeper and more useful understanding of how the climate system works. He also discusses the major critics of global warming, and points out the inadequacies in their arguments and obvious sources of bias, for example being funded by corporations with a vested interest in being able to continue to pump unlimited quantities of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
Weart's bottom line is that by the middle of this century, due primarily to human activities, Earth's climate will almost certainly be 1.5 to 5.5 degrees C. (3 to 10 degrees F.) warmer on average. Changes will be greater in certain regions, for example at higher latitudes and altitudes, and will impact different ecosystems in very different ways. There may be a thriving wine industry in England, for example, while some low-lying Pacific island nations may no longer be habitable. He points out that all of human history has taken place in the most stable patch of climate in the past 400,000 years. We simply don't know how resilient our political, financial and cultural systems will be in the face of this degree of change. And, there's a wild card--the potential for far more sudden and drastic changes, for example if melting arctic ice turns off the oceanic "conveyor belt" that warms most of Europe. One scientist compares oceanic circulation to a "capricious beast" that we are "poking with a stick."
If you're like me, by the time you've read the Discovery of Global Warming, you'll agree with Weart's conclusion: "Our response to the threat of global warming will affect our personal well-being, the evolution of human society, indeed all life on our planet." It would be great if America were leading the way toward dealing with this crisis rather than sandbagging the international effort to do something about it.
Robert Adler, Ph.D., author of Science Firsts: From the Creation of Science to the Science of Creation; and Medical Firsts: From Hippocrates to the Human Genome, both published by John Wiley & Sons.
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49 of 62 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars On Global Warming's Trail, June 30, 2004
By 
Bucherwurm "bucherwurm" (California United States) - See all my reviews
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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. The author has no doubt that our planet is warming up, and notes that literally thousands of scientists now support this conclusion.
Again, if you are trying to learn the science basics of this topic, you will need a companion volume to this one for that material. Here's a few you might consider:
1.The No-nonsense guide to Climate Change, by Dinyar Godrej
2. Atmosphere, Climate and Change by Thomas Gredel and Paul Crutzen
3. Climate Change by William James Burroughs
4.Is the Temperature Rising? By S. George Philander
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18 of 22 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Consensus Is That It Is Happening, December 23, 2005
This is a short book written recently (2003) by Spencer Weart, the director of the Center for History of the American Institute of Physics. If you are not aware, that is the premier professional society for physical scientists working in the United States. Also it is the main society through which many scientific publications are produced and through which conferences are held almost monthly.

There are two themes in the book: the lobbying by groups who wish to discredit the science for economic reasons, and the science of global warming. The advocates of scientific confusion are similar to those groups that tried to tell us 40 years ago that cigarettes did not cause lung cancer. Eventually the reality is too obvious to refute. This is likely the similar case with global warming. We are still in the early days of the trend where we can measure increases in CO2 and small changes in temperature.

This is a short but easy to read book and it is cross referenced to the web page [...] The book contains a number of notes and references on climate change and history.

In the book Weart explains that contrary to many notions in the popular press the main parameters that cause global warming are fairly well understood. As the earth rotates on its axis, it is warmed by day as it faces the hot sun and then the temperature drops at night as the surface is cooled by thermal radiation losses into cold space. These temperature oscillations and the nature of the radiation balance were first understood by the French scientist Joseph Fourier. These were further clarified by the British scientist and engineer John Tyndall about 150 years ago when he discovered that CO2 and water vapour acted as radiation barrier that would stop energy losses from the earth, and would retain the energy on the surface of the earth. This blanket raises the temperature of the earth and reduces the daily 24 hour cycle variations in temperature (the days are warmer and the nights do not get so cold).

In addition there is a feedback mechanism. If the planet gets a bit too cold, say by a decrease in the CO2 levels, the water vapour is reduced and the planet surface can get even colder. The oscillations can be predicted with some confidence - but not 100% accurately - by computer models. It is clear that the trends are accurate even if scientists cannot predict all the fine details.

The author presents a history of global warming studies in an easy to read style covering the last 200 years. He does not use any mathematical formulas but he does produce scientific data on the earth's temperature and the rise in CO2. He does spend a lot of time discussing the work and the impact of politics and public relations by the polluters. The book is neutral but presents a fairly convincing case that we are in the throes of a climate change that might take many decades to become clearly apparent to everyone. But among the scientists themselves, there is a general consensus in the scientific community that global warming is occurring - contrary to stories in the media that scientists do not agree on global warming.

This is a short (4 star) book and it is a good read and education - highly recommend.
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14 of 17 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Thoughtful, November 28, 2005
By 
R. Albin (Ann Arbor, Michigan United States) - See all my reviews
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The author is a former physicist and well known historian of physics with an interest in the intersection of science and policy. In this book, Weart is interested not only in describing the discovery of anthropogenic global warming but also in offering some analysis of how scientific discovery occurs and how science intersects with policy considerations. The story begins with some of the great names of 19th century science, Fourier, Tyndall, and Arrhenius, the latter being the first to raise the possibility of anthropogenic global warming. What follows is a concise history of relevant climate science in the 20th century. In the process of discovering anthropogenic global warming, researchers had to overcome significant conceptual and practical obstacles. Climate was thought of as constant, almost by definition, changing only very slowly, and driven by forces that made human activities seem puny by comparison. In addition to the considerable difficulties inherent in studying a complex global system and assembling a suitable historical record, a major obstacle was the inter-disciplinary nature of climate research. Because the study of climate wasn't the primary focus of any traditional discipline, it was a stepchild in terms of attracting investigators, funding, and the type of community activity necessary for productive science. As shown well by Weart, progress proceeded in fits and starts with important contributions made by scientists from a wide variety of disciplines, often working in ignorance of relevant work in other disciplines. By the end of the century, however, the prevailing concept of the global climate system had changed markedly with an appreciation not only of its great complexity but also is dynamism and the ability of apparently small perturbations to produce major changes. Weart does a good job of weaving this story into the discovery of strong evidence for anthropogenic global warming and provides a good sketch of the institutional maturation of the field. Weart does a nice job of showing, in a sociological way, how science works and how a scientific community evolves in response to both new findings, controversy, and the impact of policy. A nice example is his brief history of the development and functioning of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Developed to replace more informal organizations for developing a scientific consensus, one of the motives behind the development of the IPCC was that it would function under the auspices of national governments and be controllable by these governments. The structure of the IPCC was democratic, however, and the participants were largely individuals from democratic societies who expected democratic procedures. The result is that the IPCC tends to function as an autonomous, consensus driven body, relatively impervious to the influence of individual national governments or special interests.

This book is something of a polemic, as it was written in part to explain to the general public the science behind concerns about global warming. But this is no ordinary polemic. Like the IPCC reports, it is based on solid science, is carefully crafted, and is quite evenhanded. For individuals who wish more technical information, the author includes references to a number of websites and his own online bibliography that lists the large relevant literature.
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12 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Easy Reading but Informative, December 17, 2003
By A Customer
I have come across a number of scientists over the years who have studied their own little piece of the global climate puzzle and it was they, not this book, that convinced me that man is impacting the climate. However, Spencer Weart's book helped me understand how all the research works together to extrapolate today's weather over the next 50, 100 years. If you are an extremist on either side, this book will not satisfy you. This is a book for people with an open mind to the issue of global climate change. Well worth reading.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great for someone trying to understand how science works, October 2, 2009
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This review is from: The Discovery of Global Warming: Revised and Expanded Edition (New Histories of Science, Technology, and Medicine) (Paperback)
This book talks about the history of the discovery of global warming. It starts from the early attempts to understand the ice ages, and reveals how scientists work by learning from their mistakes and revising their theories. I would recommend this book not only for those interested in the scientific history of climate change, but also for those interested in how scientists find out about the world we live in. Of course, as we can see from some reviewers, not everybody like the what scientists uncover.

I'm a scientist, and I use this book in a course that teaches different approaches to complex problems. Climate science is one heck of a complex problem, and the history of its science presents a fascinating introduction to how interdisciplinarity is necessary in some cases. Most of my students, many of whom are science phobic, enjoy the book and find it eye opening.

Pros: Really well written, accessible, easy to follow, and tells a fascinating history.
Cons: It may be a little dry to someone not that interested in science.
Bottom line: great intro to climate change science history.
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11 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautifully written, clear discussion of science and history, November 2, 2003
By 
Dan Mueth (Chicago, IL United States) - See all my reviews
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The Discovery of Global Warming is a very well written history of the science of climate change. It presents the evolution of the science, with breakthroughs and mis-steps alike, in the greater context of science funding, geopolitics, and society. It presents the science in a way that any reader may enjoy and understand, coming away with a much deeper understanding of how science research happens and what the current scientific concensus on global warming is.
The Discovery of Global Warming goes far beyond the minimal understanding (and misunderstandings) of most mainstream media sources. It summarizes all of the core issues and the widely held concensus of the thousands of scientists who commit years of their lives to studying this problem. Unfortunately, this clarity is lost by most writers who do not understand the science of climate change or the scientific process. The real science, largely confined to obscure journals and conferences, presented here is sure to astonish any reader who is not an expert in the field. The long history and current maturity of the science of global warming will also surprise many readers who have not followed the scientific literature over the last 40 years.
There exists a large rift in perception and understanding of global warming, between scientists and the rest of society. This is in part because the rather complex science of global warming is not easily communicated between the two groups, and in part because scientists tend to focus on communicating to their peers while most people focus on understanding science that manifests itself in immediate and tangible form. In such a case, we must wait for the field to become mature and for a scientist capable of communicating to a larger audience to step forward and bridge the gap.
We are fortunate that someone as capable as Weart (Directory of the Center for History of Physics at the American Institute of Physics) has taken such care to present the science and history of one of the most important scientific issues of our day.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Synthesis of the History of Global Climate Change Science, April 20, 2010
By 
Roger D. Launius (Washington, D.C., United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Discovery of Global Warming: Revised and Expanded Edition (New Histories of Science, Technology, and Medicine) (Paperback)
A centrally important study in the vital center is Spencer Weart's "The Discovery of Global Warming," first published in 2004 but updated in 2008. This masterful synthesis seeks to understand the manner in which scientists came to a consensus on global warming theory, and relates the internal conflicts plaguing the research community and the role government entities such as NASA and NOAA have played in fostering research and analysis. Weart finds this a messy process, as all science is, in which researchers undertake investigations that lead in unproductive directions, insist on theories that prove incorrect, argue among themselves over points small and great, and allow egos and identities to intrude into the scientific process.

Notwithstanding such difficulties, the process moved forward and the result was a resulting portrait of vast, chaotic weather systems that over time yielded an understanding of climate chance on Earth. He author insists that through concerted efforts over more than 150 years scientists came to a consensus that a number of human interventions, including the burning of carbon fuels and the use of aerosols, have created the current situation and some among them have been clamoring for a public policy response since the 1980s.

This only came about because of a long process of incremental research rather than through dramatic discovery. Weart quotes one climate scientist involved in this process as characterizing climate science as a "capricious beast" and "we were poking it with a sharp stick" (p. 141). It was much harder to understand and more wily than they first realized. He also pursues the standard historian objecting of seeking "to help the reader understand our predicament by explaining how we got here," rather than seeking to mobilize readers to a specific position (p. viii).

While not seeking to enter the political process, Weart reflected in his work the consensus of the scientific community seeking to understand this phenomenon. This is a superb study of the history of scientific inquiry and understanding written by an outstanding historian in a highly engaging style.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The First Global Warming Book You Should Read, November 10, 2009
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This review is from: The Discovery of Global Warming: Revised and Expanded Edition (New Histories of Science, Technology, and Medicine) (Paperback)
This is the first book one should read if new to the subject of climate change (global warming). Spencer R. Weart, director of the Center for the History of Physics of the American Institute of Physics, takes the reader on a journey that begins as a scientific detective story about what caused the ice ages and ends up being the story of how scientists realized that humans were influencing climate more than nature.

Excerpt from review by Andrew C. Revkin, New York Times Sunday Book Review, 10/5/2003:

"Debate persists over the extent of human-driven warming and what to do about it. But recognition that in a short span our species has nudged the thermostat of the planet remains a momentous, and sobering, finding. "The Discovery of Global Warming" describes the intellectual journey toward that conclusion, with all of its false starts, flawed hypotheses, inventiveness and persistent uncertainties. It reveals the effort as one of the great exercises in collective sleuthing, with pivotal insights provided by experts in fields as varied as glaciology, physics and even plankton paleontology."
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The Discovery of Global Warming: Revised and Expanded Edition (New Histories of Science, Technology, and Medicine)
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