I’ll be completely honest: Edmond Mathez’s new book Climate Change: The Science of Global Warming and Our Energy Future is basically a textbook. I guess it’s not as bulky or as ridiculously expensive as the books I bought in college, but the make is clear enough. It’s a glossy, oversized thing with conspicuously shiny pages and a study guide.
But I’m pretty sure Climate Change will surprise you. It may have been written with assigned reading in mind, but it doesn’t read like a textbook. Quite frankly, it's a good read -- breezy, enthralling and clearly written. More importantly though -- and especially as far as environmental books are concerned -- it’s an important, utterly essential book.
Climate Change aims at comprehensiveness, to say the least. And it more than succeeds. Not only is it comprehensive, it’s also thorough. It covers all the topics needed for a solid understanding of climate change, but it covers each topic to a degree that leaves you basically questionless. Mathez does a good job of satisfying you before he moves on -- quite an accomplishment given all the intricate material he covers.
Things start off with the basics of climate change, with Mathez going over all the processes that account for warming. Steering clear of the boring or tedious, he follows up by covering some important scientific issues, chapter by chapter -- oceans, carbon cycles, climate history, etc. And, in case you’re not exhausted after all this, the book ends with a great chapter on energy. Even if you need to push yourself to read on, it’s worth the effort, I promise.
There’s so much good stuff in this book that I’d recommend it to anyone interested in the environment. If you’re a science person (which I’m definitely not), Climate Change will be consistently fascinating. If you hate science or find it difficult (which I definitely do), not to worry. Mathez has an endearing way of peppering the heavier issues with answers to questions average folks have asked themselves since the days of cave men (Where does wind come from? Why are the oceans salty?)
With so much packed between the covers, what’s the unifying idea? It’s the notion that climate change is a complicated thing -- a mix of natural (and unnatural) processes. But also that it’s not too hard to understand, especially since it’s so important and interesting.
You can’t help being affected by a lot of what Mathez covers. A bit on extreme events, for example, is almost startling. If you're guilty (as I was) of thinking simplistically or abstractly about the effects of climate change, you won’t anymore. The book is full of concrete, historical examples like “Black Sunday” (the day that “spawned the name Dust Bowl”). All in all, it’s a refreshing departure from tiresome talk of rising seas levels.
A wealth of statistics, among other things, makes Climate Change a great reference. It has easy-to-find answers to basically any climate change question you might encounter -- or think up. Even better, it works well as a kind of climate change bible, the tool for figuring out whether what you read or hear is worth believing.
Another highlight: There are illustrations on nearly every other page. And since learning via illustration is often essential in science books, this is a relief. Just try to figure out the Corialis effect (don’t ask) without the arrow-covered globe diagram Mathez provides. Impossible.
The book has some faults -- only a few though. I didn't like the glossy, textbook feel, obviously. I can’t imagine anyone does. The size and stiffness of the book irritated me more than once. And $50 is also a lot to pay for a book -- even one of a biblical nature.
A potentially more significant problem is Mathez can seem dismissive of climate skepticism. I’m sure some readers will feel this way. But Mathez spends surprisingly little time trying to convince you of anything -- one way or the other. The fact is, he's a scientist and treats climate change as a scientific subject, not a political one.
Honestly, anyone who reads all 300-plus pages of Climate Change and feels the need to complain about its treatment of climate skepticism is probably irritated at having become so thoroughly convinced of something they wanted to remain skeptical about.
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