Most helpful critical review
68 of 76 people found the following review helpful
An OK, But Not Great, Survey Book On Global Warming
on July 29, 2012
I'm a retired university bioscience professor and I have spent much of the last 4-5 years educating myself on the science and consequences of global warming. I've read most of the available books on the subject, attended conferences, followed climate blogs and read scientific papers. When I learned of this new book from Climate Central, a highly respected non-profit that deals with communicating climate change issues to the public, I immediately ordered it from Amazon. The book is an easy read for someone who already has some background understanding of climate change/global warming. In the book's introduction, the authors state that their rationale (provided by author Thomas Friedman) for writing the book was to summarize "..everything we already know about climate change in language that a sixth grader could understand, with unimpeachable, peer-reviewed footnotes."
So did they accomplish this goal? Probably not that well - while the book does give a shallow, broad overview of what is scientifically known about climate change, what's actually happening, what's likely to happen in the future and can we avoid the trouble climate change will bring, I'm not sure it would hold the interest of the average sixth grader for two reasons. (i) The book is very poorly illustrated. I counted a total of 12 illustrations, all in black and white with very small print, in this 200 page book. None of these illustrations are particulary compelling. (ii) While one of Climate Central's highly experienced journalists (Michael Lemonick) co-authored the book, it reads like something a less-experienced journalist might compose.
While I identified only a couple of obvious factual errors (perhaps typos), the book frequently equivocates on the significance of generally established science to the point of leaving the reader wondering "Is this true or not?" For example, in Chapter 40, titled "Computer Models Aren't Perfect. This Isn't A Big Surprise", the authors conclude that progress in climate modeling has been slow and "..decision makers who want to use information about future climate have to make do with imperfect information." The authors fail to state that climate scientists use multiple models to reach their findings, and the data they get - even using many different models at many different laboratories - are remarkably consistent and fit historic climatic occurances. There are many more instances in the book where the authors seem to be taking pains to avoid being seen as too dire in stating the known risks of climate change. While not as bad as the practice of some journalists who insist on "giving both sides of the argument" even when one of the sides is blatantly false, the caution used by the authors in this book is often unwarranted.
So in summary, what's good about the book? It is an easy to read, broad overview of present understanding of climate change. It is by-and-large factually correct - in addition to being reviewed by 5 internal Climate Central scientists, it was reviewed by 22 outside climate scientists. While it isn't footnoted (one of the book's stated aims), there is a list of references at the end. This list isn't comprehesive but does include several key reports and papers.
Who might be interested in reading this book? Probably someone who is beginning to suspect that climate change is a really important issue, but doesn't yet have a knowledge foundation as to why. I'm not sure it would be good for most sixth graders because it is so poorly illustrated. I wish I could say it is a great book, but in reality there are other books on this subject that are better.