"It's a great story, especially for those curious about Antarctica and those who are fascinated with climbing expeditions and all the technology and logistics an expedition to 'The Ice' entails. More comprehensive than Jon Krakauer's Into Thin Air (with a coming-of-age tale woven into the expedition story), it is nonetheless similarly suspenseful, a page-turner that's difficult to put down (plan on some 3:00 a.m. reading sessions). Even though Antarctic Navigation is fiction, Arthur did her scientific homework well--there's even some vulcanology thrown in." [In 1990, before writing this novel, Arthur became the first participant in the Antarctic Artists & Writers program, sponsored by NSF.]
"I began by reading laboratory histories, biographies of Robert Oppenheimer, and memoirs of people who lived in Los Alamos from 1943 to 1945. Most recently I turned to fiction, curious how the inevitably complex story of the creation of the atomic bomb would be framed in three different novels.
"Beginning the World Again, by Roberta Silman (Viking) is a reliable account of the Manhattan Project told from the viewpoint of the young wife of an emigré scientist. While not all the voices sound authentic, the details of peoples' lives, work, and frustrations in this extraordinary military/scientific city are presented well. From the mystery shelves, Joseph Kanon's Los Alamos (Broadway Books) is a somewhat lurid, not entirely believable murder story with espionage at its core. The mystery Stallion Gate, by Martin Cruz Smith (Viking) is my favorite of the three. It focuses on Joe Peña, a Pueblo Indian who serves as Oppenheimer's driver. Refreshingly nonstereotypical, the book reveals the troubling undercurrent of racism in the forties, among many other themes.
Science is slim in these volumes, although technical explanations for problems like the design for the implosion device that sets off the 'gadget' are serviceable. Remarkably, the defining (and hackneyed) event of the project, the Trinity test, is well done in each book. Other themes--Oppenheimer's charisma and vulnerability as a 'security risk,' the scientists' misgivings after Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the war itself--are developed eloquently, not simplistically, and made me scurry back to read more histories."
For a more scholarly yet introductory treatment of climate-change issues, Fred Clare (SCD) suggests Global Environmental Change: An Atmospheric Perspective, by John Horel and Jack Geisler (John Wiley & Sons), "an excellent, well-presented overview for the uninitiated." [Mesa, GE 149 .H67 1997] Still haven't gotten around to taking that atmospheric chemistry class? Bill Mankin (ACD) endorses Basic Physical Chemistry for the Atmospheric Sciences, by Peter Hobbs (Cambridge University Press), as "an excellent introduction for nonchemists to the relevant chemical principles, especially the effects of aerosols." [Mesa, QC 861.2 .H63 1995] Dick Valent calls A History of Scientific Computing (Addison-Wesley) "a gentle introduction to the topic, especially high-speed computing." [Foothills, QA 76.17 .H59 1990]
For a more offbeat nonfiction experience, Ralph Milliff (CGD) recommends A Civil Action, edited by Jonathan Harr and Marty Asher (Random House), "a compelling book written for the general public about the pollution of groundwater, written from a the perspective of the plaintiff's lawyer." And Charlie Knight (MMM) enjoyed Ravens in Winter, by Bernd Heinrich (Summit Books), "a research study on some very puzzling behavior of ravens that Heinrich observed in the Maine woods and how he figured out their behavior. The book has some super commentaries on scientific funding and all kinds of other nice stuff."
The book follows Tufte's previous classics The Visual Display of Quantitative Information and Envisioning Information. This volume, says the publisher, "is about pictures of verbs, the representation of mechanism and motion, process and dynamics, causes and effects, explanation and narrative." The phenomena at hand range from thunderstorms to the corrupted O-rings that sealed the fate of the space shuttle Challenger, a flaw Tufte maintains could have been spotted in time had better graphic tools been in the hands of NASA technicians. For a technical guidebook, Visual Explanations is a great summer read: it's light, bright, clean, and colorful. [Foothills, on order]
How do you measure the worth of predicting ENSO--or anything else, for that matter? Another ESIG senior scientist, Rick Katz, teamed up with the late Allan Murphy (Oregon State University) to tackle that question. (Murphy died early this month after a battle with cancer.) The two researchers edited Economic Value of Weather and Climate Forecasts (Cambridge University Press). The just-released volume operates from the premise that weather information has value only as it affects human behavior. CGD's Joe Tribbia opens the book with a brief history of weather prediction and a discussion of predictability. Murphy delves into the many ways forecasts can be statistically verified. The book's editors conclude with prototype models for decision making in scenarios ranging from the simplest--whether or not to carry an umbrella--to the most complex and dynamic. [Foothills, on order]
Occasionally Gelbspan overstates the science, as when he takes it as a given that global warming is making hurricanes more fierce. Still, his analysis of the titanic power plays staged largely behind the public's back is a fascinating read. Gelbspan includes extended statements from four esteemed climate researchers, including Tom Wigley (CGD), along with shorter excerpts such as a two-page transcript of debate between Vice President Al Gore and Richard Lindzen (Massachusetts Institute of Technology). [Mesa, on order]
Finally, Carol Rasmussen (UCAR Communications) suggests two good reads that will take you back to a time when environmental struggles were more earthbound.
"I've recommended Cadillac Desert, by Marc Reisner (Penguin), to all my friends already, so I'm glad to get a chance to talk about it to someone new. It's a thorough, well-researched, well-written history of water use in the western United States. Reisner is clearly an advocate for conservation, but he doesn't need to preach: by simply documenting a century of greed, waste, environmental loss, and pork-barrel politics, he should make believers out of most readers. The book touches on all the fields needed to understand the subject, but it's the politics that I found most enthralling. The material on the rivalry between the Army Corps of Engineers and the Bureau of Reclamation is funny if you can forget that the agencies were using your (and your parents') tax dollars to outmaneuver each other in building large water projects of dubious value.
"The book was written around 1980, but in the paperback edition Reisner has updated his story with a gleam of hope, talking about the recent defeat of several large and questionable projects.
"For further insight on water-use policy in the early days of the West, try Wallace Stegner's Beyond the Hundredth Meridian: John Wesley Powell and the Second Opening of the West (Penguin). Powell was a visionary whose ideas make a lot of sense to us now, though they were completely discounted in his day. He was also an adventurer in the grand style, and the story of his explorations of the Colorado River makes great hammock reading on a hot day." BH
|Gayl Gray. (Photo by Carlye Calvin.)|
"Many libraries I'm familiar with don't routinely survey their users. We feel it's our staff who know what they need to be reading. The committee does a fabulous job, and they are so conscientious." Contact Gayl, email@example.com, ext. 1180, if you'd like to help out. Gayl also urges all staff to bring personal reading discoveries to the library's attention whenever they seem appropriate for the NCAR collection. BH