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Climate and its relation to weather
on 7 October 2013
I have read several books in the "Very Short Introduction" series. All are informative, but they vary considerably in their readability. This one falls some way down the list in this respect. There are some very clear sections, such as those near the start that discuss in general terms the major factors that give rise to our climate and the relation between climate and weather; and later ones that discuss the great ice ages. The closing chapters about the factors contributing to global warming, and how that problem might be tackled, are likewise very readable.
It is when the author turns to more detailed discussions of specific phenomena that the presentation is less successful. Here the presentation tends to get bogged down in the details and a desire to include discussions of even minor events. Also they are not always precise. For example, we are told that tornado strength and destructiveness are measured on the Fujita scale, but hurricanes are measured on the Saffir-Simpson scale. What does this mean? Is the latter scale also measuring strength and destructiveness, and if not what does it measure? Are these scales linear, logarithmic or something else, and do we need to know about these scales anyway? Terms are also introduced without explanation. For example, `latent heat' is used well before it is defined, and there is a whole chapter on tectonic movements that assumes the reader already knows about tectonic plates. Remember this is supposed to be a layman's guide. Fortunately, the defects in the text are sometimes, but not always, remedied by the excellent diagrams, which are models of clarity.
The climate, and its relation to our weather, is obviously a very important topic, which is not easy to present because of the lack of an overarching theory. Much can be learnt by reading this little book, but I am sure that there is another book waiting to be written that can explain the fragmentary theories of this subject better.