An Ocean of Air: Why the Wind Blows and Other Mysteries of the Atmosphere

By Walpole, Peter | The Virginia Quarterly Review, Winter 2008 | Go to article overview

An Ocean of Air: Why the Wind Blows and Other Mysteries of the Atmosphere


Walpole, Peter, The Virginia Quarterly Review


An Ocean of Air: Why the Wind Blows and Other Mysteries of the Atmosphere, by Gabrielle Walker. Harcourt, August 2007. $25

Here's a question: if you took all the air inside of Carnegie Hall and weighed it, how much would it weigh? The answer, Walker explains, is on the order of 70,000 pounds. In this admirable field guide, Walker teaches the science of the atmosphere through the history of our developing understanding of it, with a pleasingly strong emphasis on narrative and anecdote. She begins with Galileo, who demonstrated that air has weight, and moves on through the personal histories and discoveries of Robert Boyle, Joseph Priestley, Antoine Lavoisier, Joseph Black, John Tyndall, and Svante Arrhenius. Along the way, we learn about the composition of air and how the atmosphere, through the respiration of plants and animals, keys the metabolizing of foods, and how trees draw carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to construct their massive bulk. …

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