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10 October, 2007
Book Review: An Ocean of Air by Gabrielle Walker
Read & Reviewed for front street reviews
Have you ever wondered about the air that surrounds us? What is it that makes it such an adaptable substance? How does our atmosphere help life on Earth survive? Who were the men that gave us a better understanding of the air around us?
In An Ocean of Air, author Gabrielle Walker attempt to answer these questions and more. She reasons that the Earth is at the bottom of an ocean of air. She peels away the layers composing our atmosphere, and uses stories of the men who experimented on air to show us how it works. From Galileo’s experiments done during his confinement to his villa at Arcetri (in Florence), after his running afoul of the Inquisition, through to the modern day rush to discover space An Ocean of Air provides the reader with glimpses of science’s progression of discoveries to some of the mysteries posed by the air we breathe.
Gabrielle Walker has written a fantastic resource for anyone who is interested in science. Her explorations of the past experiments done on (in) our atmosphere are engaging, informative, and not at all dry. She brings her passion for the subject matter out in the open during the course of the book.
Some of the subject matter in the book, I was already familiar with. Galileo’s air experiments, while not as well known as his beliefs that the earth rotated around the sun – heretical ideas back during his lifetime, are still taught in physics classes. I did find some nee to me scientists while reading An Ocean of Air. I particularly found Marconi’s “wireless” device and its impact on the shipping field, and the resulting discovery by Oliver Heaviside of the electrical layer in the atmosphere (called the Heaviside layer) which made Marconi’s device work fascinating to read about. The book is presented in a well laid out manner, its facts are not to in depth nor or they simplistic making this a great book for anyone with an interest in the atmospheric sciences.