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The Weather Experiment: The Pioneers Who Sought to See the Future Hardcover – June 2, 2015
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In 1865 Admiral Robert FitzRoy locked himself in his dressing room and cut his throat. His grand meteorological project had failed. Yet only a decade later, FitzRoy's storm warning system and "forecasts" would return, the model for what we use today.
In an age when a storm at sea was evidence of God's wrath, nineteenth-century meteorologists had to fight against convention and religious dogma. Buoyed by the achievements of the Enlightenment, a generation of mavericks set out to decipher the secrets of the atmosphere and predict the future. Among them were Luke Howard, the first to classify clouds; Francis Beaufort, who quantified the winds; James Glaisher, who explored the upper atmosphere in a hot-air balloon; Samuel Morse, whose electric telegraph gave scientists the means by which to transmit weather warnings; and FitzRoy himself, master sailor, scientific pioneer, and founder of the U.K.'s national weather service.
Reputations were built and shattered. Fractious debates raged over decades between scientists from London and Galway, Paris and New York. Explaining the atmosphere was one thing, but predicting what it was going to do seemed a step too far. In 1854, when a politician suggested to the Commons that Londoners might soon know the weather twenty-four hours in advance, the House roared with laughter.
Peter Moore's The Weather Experiment navigates treacherous seas and rough winds to uncover the obsession that drove these men to great invention and greater understanding.
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“Fascinating . . . Moore is the rare science writer who can describe dew point so poetically you feel you’re with him in a twinkling field of white clover on a cool summer morning. Moore’s history is just as evocative, and full of wisdom for modern times.” ―Cynthia Bernett, The New York Times Book Review
“[An] elegantly constructed group biography of the pioneering researchers who, by the end of the 19th century, succeeded in cracking the weather's code. In style and scope, The Weather Experiment recalls the best of its genre.” ―Mike Jay, The Wall Street Journal
“Spirited . . . [The Weather Experiment] blends science, natural history, globe-trotting exploration, and even a little little art history . . . [Moore] is a gifted writer with a nifty turn of phrase.” ―Matthew Prixce, The Boston Globe
“[A] richly researched, exciting book . . . [The Weather Experiment] is both scientific and cultural history, of prize-winning potential, and as fresh and exhilarating throughout as a strong sea breeze.” ―James McConnachie, The Sunday Times
“Moore writes about this band of ad hoc scientists with brio, and it's hard not to be awed and charmed . . . Detailed and insightful, [The Weather Experiment] is as relevant as ever in this era of rapid climate change.” ―Kirkus Review
“Gripping . . . [a] highly readable account of the transformation of modern meteorology from a science of description to a science of prediction . . . Moore's achievement is to imbue [FitzRoy] and his work with palpable narrative life.” ―Richard Hamblyn, The Times Literary Supplement
“With Dickensian detail, Moore brings to life the likes of Francis Beaufort, with 'sabre scars on his arms, reminders of his days at sea,' and the determined Robert FitzRoy . . . Moore captures the suspense and wonder of a scientific discipline's birth.” ―Gemma Tarlach, Discover
“A worthy investigation of the history of weather forecasting.” ―Publishers Weekly
“[A] lucid account of nineteenth-century meteorology . . . Rich in personal details, intellectual conflict, and adventures of men pitted against the elements . . . You will be swept away by the vigor and eloquence of Moore's well-researched narrative.” ―Laurence A. Marschall, Natural History
“Thought-provoking . . . Moore marshals his solidly researched historical information into a neat pattern . . . a gripping tale of derring-do.” ―Patricia Fara, Literary Review
About the Author
- Publisher : Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 1st edition (June 2, 2015)
- Language : English
- Hardcover : 416 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0865478090
- ISBN-13 : 978-0865478091
- Item Weight : 1.4 pounds
- Dimensions : 6.36 x 1.29 x 9.24 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #1,915,600 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
About the author
Top reviews from the United States
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The research is broad and extensive but is written up in a way that both the specialist and general reader can enjoy. The large cast of characters is deftly handled with pen portraits that bring them alive and descriptions of places and events that draw the reader into a tale that literally spans the globe. Moore has a very helpful way with words that quickly allows a reader in the 21st century, where mobile connectivity and access to information is the norm for so many, to understand the magnitude of what was being achieved in what could be considered a far distant past that is difficult to relate to. To give an example, on page 88 he writes "Beaufort's Hydrographic Department would become the nineteenth-century equivalent of NASA. On behalf of the wealthiest and most powerful nation on earth he was conducting explorations at the very edge of human knowledge." Such a comparison across the centuries brings to the reader, in just two sentences, the magnitude of the work being conducted for its time.
This is no dry historic screed nor a baffling, jargon laden plunge into science. It is a potentially complex tale very understandably told with individual strands expertly teased out and then carefully interwoven into a narrative I found hard to put down. It tells of characters from the past involved in science, industry, exploration and art, some familiar and some not so. Moore does an admirable job of linking their achievements without losing the thrust of the overall story.
A few days ago I left my bed at just past 1AM and headed into the basement due to a tornado warning for the vicinity of my home. An hour later a number of houses a few miles away had been wrecked but, due to the warning, no lives lost. Thanks to this book I now know of those to whom I owe an historic debt of thanks for such a warning.
I gave this review four stars as Amazon seems to be plagued with more five star reviews than there are stars in the night sky. I know fellow avid readers who are now not even bothering to read them any more as it is wastefully time consuming to wade through the reviews that seem to be planted by those with commercial interests in the product or those written by 'fans' who seem to live in a stark world of brilliant/rubbish dichotomy. I enjoyed this book very much. It is one of the best non-fiction books I have read in the last twelve months - and I read a lot. However, I hope a four star review will be seen by anyone whose curiosity is aroused by this book to be an attempt at a thoughtful, balanced and ultimately helpful review.
Not that long ago, meteorology was a complete mystery, weather forecasting was a joke or possibly magic and it really didn’t matter because humans lacked a reliable means of quickly communicating about the weather ahead of inclement conditions.
This book traces the lives of the men who — because they were enchanted by clouds and storms — created the modern science of meteorology from scratch and harnessed the power of new technology, like the telegraph, to develop warning systems that saved lives, ships and cargo. It’s long on biographical details and shorter on science (though the section on how ice crystals in cumulonimbus clouds become rain was particularly well-written and illuminating), and a bit longer read, in general, than I expected — but perhaps that’s because I started to lose track of all the various misguided, mostly British gentlemen who studied snowflakes and sailed the frigid waters of the Straits of Magellan and soared above the earth to new limits in a hot air balloon to better understand the atmosphere around us.
And that last section was especially thrilling — the two scientists traveled so high, and without oxygen of course, much less Gore-Tex, that they began to suffer from hypoxia and hypoxemia. And then the ropes became entangled and one of them had to clamber about, slowly losing feeling in his extremities as his skin turned black, and slowly losing consciousness while his friend slumped unconscious in the gondola below, to try and save them. And all of this while five miles above the earth and facing almost certain death. They didn’t die; they learned new things about our planet that added to the growing body of knowledge that would ultimately make the weather app on our smartphones more powerful than the sum of centuries of misunderstanding.
I’ve long enjoyed clouds and the weather, but lacked the other traits that would make me an excellent nineteenth century scientist: “rationally minded, punctilious and formidably productive” [the author was writing about weather legend James Glaisher]. I prefer to spend my time dreamily watching the clouds rather than analyzing them. But I was pleased to learn the first recorded use of telegraphed (and thus geographically broad and timely) weather reporting occurred on August 31, my birthday, in 1848. My fondness for clouds was, it seems inevitable.
A good read, well-written, for those interested in learning more about the scientists who tamed — or at least stole the thunder from — the storms
Top reviews from other countries
The weather forecast is an ingrained component of our modern life. Weather forecasters today appear paragons of conservatism. This is the story of one of the most daring and notorious scientific experiments of the nineteenth century vividly told by Peter Moore.
Up until 1800 most people believed weather was a divine force, mood music conducted by God, sent to foreshadow change or punish sin. Ironically one of greatest forces in the scientific understanding of weather, Robert Fitzroy, never changed his view of God’s role. As captain of the Beagle, he had been colleague and friend of Charles Darwin. When Darwin published the Origin of Species, he was so offended that they never spoke again.
But with the devastating impact of storms on sailors, sea captains like Beaufort and Fitzroy, or shipping barons like Redfield in the USA, observed and measured weather patterns in an attempt to predict. They kept meticulous logs and organised a multitude of other sea captains to do the same. George Airy, a mathematician who became Astronomer Royal and James Glaisher pioneered meteorological data collection. Glaisher who became President of the Meterological Society undertook hair raising balloon flights to measure and record the atmosphere and broke the world altitude record. Beaufort, of Beaufort Scale fame, took over the Hydrographic Department which became the nineteenth-century equivalent of the NASA. He organised voyages and conducted explorations at the very edge of human knowledge.
Their different interpretations and beliefs resulted in ferocious arguments and disputes. The Americans William Reid and William Redfield introduced the scientific community to the idea of inward –spiralling winds or cyclonds es, but clashed bitterly with James Epsy.
Moore describes how with the discovery of the Gulf Stream, the Meteorological Office could increasingly provide shipping with valuable information to advantageously plan their journeys and provide rudimentary forecasts on storms, saving many lives and losses of shipping.
Forecasting storms depended on receiving information about coming weather travelling faster than the weather itself. Peter Moore’s account of the development of communications vital to weather forecasting and Morse’s innovations in transmitting down electric wires is fascinating.
The book ends with the tragic suicide of the central character among the pioneers, Robert Fitzroy.
Do not be put off; the book is not full of numbers. Its route tells of plenty of human quirks, anecdotes and spats. Parliament’s apparent preference for randomness in 1854 is in tune with Darwin’s theory of evolution in 1859: random generation followed by natural selection ( If it works, let it), but his randomness was too close to humanity and fell seriously foul of religion. We still behave as though the result of tossing a coin is random. It isn’t but the complexity of pursuing the causal link between the flipping thumb muscle, the spin through the draught, temperature and pressures of the atmosphere to impact angle and softness of the grass and ground is beyond us. We feel that statistics is respectable when studying highly complex deterministic systems. The book covers the many trials and tribulations that both Darwin and meteorologists have suffered to obtain and record their statistical data.
The author is described as a creative non-fiction teacher; he sets a splendid example.
The four simple descriptions of the weather at a particular time of day are magic.