Walker, Gabrielle. An Ocean of Air: Why the Wind Blows and other Mysteries of the Atmosphere. I've posted about this book here and here. Now that I've finished, I can truthfully say that it was--from first to last--excellent.
One of my favorite scientists-- immensely important, but shy and more concerned with the science than with awards or honors-- was William Ferrell who "discovered the precise nature of the giddying effect that our planet's spin has on the air above it." You may know this as the "Coriolis effect" because Coriolis published equations concerning theoretical behavior of objects in rotating systems, but he never dreamed of applying these equations to explain the winds. Ferrel's studies resulted in an explanation of almost "everything about the wind currents" and while "still relatively unknown," he "remains one of the best American scientists who has ever lived" according to Walker. When I read Walker's acknowledgments, I was pleased to note that Ferrell was one of her favorites as well.
Wiley Post and the jetstreams; Thomas Midgely (friendly, enthusiastic, energetic) , an inventor who solved an important problem and created a monster; Jim Lovelock and his Gaia theory; Molina and Rowland and their predictions about the ozone layer; Marconi who didn't understand the "mirror in the sky" but whose wireless transmissions made use of it; the very, very strange Oliver Heaviside, who suggested the mirror; Edward Victor Appleton who discovered x-rays; James Van Allen and the Van Allen belt; Kristian Birkeland who studied the northern lights and created an "electromagnetic cannon"--what a collection of creative imagination and devoted study. Each and every one comes alive under Walker's touch; she makes both the men and their ideas fascinating.
As I've mentioned before, this work is the most entertaining work of nonfiction imaginable. If you have the least interest in air, atmosphere, and our "sheltering sky" do read this book.
Walker includes suggestions for further reading and detailed end notes.
Nonfiction. Science. 2007. 238 pages.