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

4.09 of 5 stars 4.09  ·  rating details  ·  188 ratings  ·  32 reviews
We spend our lives surrounded by air, hardly even noticing it. It’s the most miraculous substance on earth, yet responsible for our food, our weather, our water, and our ability to hear. In fact, we live at the bottom of an ocean of air. In this exuberant book, gifted science writer Gabrielle Walker peels back the layers of our atmosphere with the stories of the people who...more
Hardcover, 288 pages
Published August 6th 2007 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
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A copy of An Ocean of Air should be on every library bookshelf in the world. I found this text both immensely informative and extremely interesting. Quite a number of times, I jumped up, put the book down, and went to find someone to tell about an remarkable fact or a story about a particular scientist that I thought was amusing.

The book is set up in chronological order, exploring the various issues surrounding air. It starts off with the presumptions about air that our ancestors had about the...more
I read this book as the current selection for the Monterey County Science Book Club, our meeting/discussion date will be held at the beginning of August.

I found this book, by Gabrielle Walker, to be quite a gem. I am not trained in the sciences so a book involving chemistry (I've never taken a chemistry course) is a bit intimidating. Yet Ms. Walker does not spend much time on the chemical reactions found in the atmosphere - she indeed goes over the concepts and presents them to the reader - but,...more
This book was outstanding...a great source of real alouds for my science kids. The author had an amazing way of turning these long dead scientists into real people, simplifying the extraordinary science they discovered, and tying all the advances into relevance in today's world. I also really liked how the book makes you see the changing nature of what we know (scientifically speaking, of course)....and that science is not static.
Andrew Hoffman
Fascinating book written at a popular level on the science of air. Not only do we learn about all the unknown and fascinating attributes of air (how much does the air in an empty Carnegie Hall weigh? Answer: 70,000lbs!), Walker also tells stories of the remarkable people who brilliantly and sometimes daringly discovered these attributes. Moreover, Walker is a great writer, able to capture her subject with accessible and even poetic language. I highly recommend if you like this sort of book or if...more
Fate's Lady
I found this book really interesting and accessible, and it brought so many questions I've had about the atmosphere down to my level, answering countless childhood questions and enlivening the education with tidbits about the lives, quirks, and habits of some of the greatest scientists and thinkers to influence the study of the atmosphere. A great story. I would warn, however, that while this was a ton of fun, a full third of the Kindle book is actually reference material, making this a much sho...more
Usually books on science are way over my head, but I loved this one. It is actually written so we non-scientific types can understand it. I am going to have to read it again to remember everything, but I learned a ton of things I didn't know, such as:

What, exactly, is ozone?

How did Marconi figure out that his signals would travel long distances, and what did he not know?

Who learned (and how) what carbon dioxide does?

I could add many more. If you want to feel a little smarter, this is the book to...more
This was superb. Some of the best science communication I've encountered in years: amusingly told, cohesive, and comprehensively referenced.

My only gripes were that it was not near long enough to go into further detail about atmospheric chemistry and physics, and the occasional jumping around in time to focus on another part of a developing story took some mild effort to note or retain. I would have loved to read more about the development of understanding of global climate mechanisms, and the i...more
Alex Telander
AN OCEAN OF AIR: WHY THE WIND BLOWS AND OTHER MYSTERIES OF THE ATMOSPHERE BY GABRIELLE WALKER: Each and every day the people of the world go about their daily activities: going to school, going to work, going to help someone; all with little idea of the great ocean of air above them that has trillions of molecules constantly performing crucial reactions – much like the population below – with the aim of keeping this planet (and its people) healthy and alive. An Ocean of Air by Gabrielle Walker i...more
Bookmarks Magazine

Although Gabrielle Walker, author of Snowball Earth (2003), holds a Cambridge doctorate in chemistry, her ear for storytelling is perfect for popular science. One critic praises her lyrical style; others praise her use of detail, anecdote, and science that wouldn't be out of place in Meteorology 101. Critics inevitably compare Walker to Dava Sobel (Longitude; Galileo's Daughter; The Planets, *** Jan/Feb 2006), one of the genre's most popular writers. Walker has honed her skills as a contributing

Dec 29, 2007 Jen rated it 3 of 5 stars
Shelves: science
Somewhat like Bill Bryson's "Short History of the Universe" (not sure if I got the title exact), this book about the atmosphere focuses on the key scientists, their quirks, and how they made their discoveries. It's a topic not often covered, and there are some truly elegant experiments explained - for instance, how could you show that burning an object actually releases a gas, or prove the existence of different types of gases at a time when "air" was considered a basic, uniform element? But I d...more
Amazing how there are so many extraordinary lives that one never hears about...

This book contains not only the famous individuals associated to air (Joseph Priestly, Antoine Lavoisier, Kristian Birkeland, etc) but also unknowns (to me) like William Ferrel, Wiley Post and James Van Allen. And people you'd think have nothing to do with the atmosphere like Christopher Columbus, Gugliemo Marconi and Thomas Midgley!

Entertaining read.
Once Again Gabrielle Walker has shown just how much fun Science writing can be. She also shows that sometimes the scientists doing the science are indeed more interesting than the science itself. Her prose is clear and engaging, precise and well thought through.Recreational science reading at its finest.
Walker's narrative style occasionally gets in the way of her story and material, but overall it's both interesting and informative. But I would have learned a lot more about the science if it had focused more on the science and less on the people behind the science. Still giving it three stars because I've found it interesting enough to relate some of the anecdotes to others.
This book is awesome. The author has the rare (especially for a scientist), but welcome gift of taking complex topics and making them not only understandable but interesting.

The book covers several major themes of atmospheric science, including the history of discoveries. She also talks about wind, ozone, environmental damage, etc. A great read for anyone interested in an introductory overview of the atmosphere, how it works, and what effect that has on humans.

A very quick read with lots of pol...more
Aura Nelson
An Ocean of Despair

I was assigned to read this book for my science class. It is very science and has elements of historical fiction. However, it is not a good book and is very difficult to read. I hated it and don't recommend it to anyone who doesn't want to have nightmares about the atmosphere for the rest of their lives. I appreciate her effort, but Walker makes the book very difficult to read.
I wish I could go back in time and tell my past self to pay more attention in science. This book walks you through humanities concepts and experiments concerning air. It also goes on tell you exactly how the experiments worked and what happens in the interaction between 'air' and matter. Turns out Galileo was the one who figured out how much it weighed. I keep running into all of these familiar names like like Lavoisier (named oxygen and proved that air was made up of different gases) and Boyle...more
Etta Mo
even for a pop-science book, this was a little too light on the facts and too heavy on the hyperbole. the first section of the book was nothing anyone who has taken basic chemistry and watched "an inconvenient truth" wouldn't already know. the last two-thirds were on more interesting topics (trade winds, the upper atmosphere, respectively) but Walker spent more time describing the personalities of the players than delving into the science they were doing. all in all, this book seems geared towar...more
If you wanted to learn about air where would you start? I love early science stories, because I can really follow what they are doing. It is all about the glass bulbs and pipes and rubber corks. These are wonderful stories about how humans began to figure out what this stuff is that we are surrounded by all the time and how does it work, and what does it do.
An easy-to-read book about atmospheric science and the scientist who discovered air. I enjoyed reading about how these early scientists deduced the workings of the atmosphere. The only disappointment I had with the book is the lack of illustrations and that fact that it moved away from wind and the weather much too quickly.
Mar 09, 2008 Gretchen rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people who breathe air
Air! A whole book about it. Also, the characters who leant to the discovery of our atmosphere. Thought provoking; ranges in topics from the chemical makeup of air, hurricanes, ozone layer, trade winds, jet streams, the northern lights. If you can stomach history and science -together- an interesting read.

A science book that is very accessible to laymen, and without being overly politicized (esp. in the ozone chapter); an engaging, educational read! It was just as interesting for me to learn about the lives behind the (often eccentric) scientists who discovered the amazing mysteries of our atmosphere.
Jake Cooper
I would prefer a higher fact:story ratio, but I'll overlook it when the historical vignettes are so gripping (and hey, the book is still plenty informative). Especially noteworthy is the story on the Titanic's radio operators. Chilling, gripping, so very real -- an incredible stand-alone tale.
Sep 21, 2008 LB rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone filled with wonder about what we take for granted: like air.
The prologue of this book is simply STUNNING. I checked the book out of the library, and I've ended up buying it. The exposition of how oxygen came to be on our planet, what role it has played, how it affects our bodies, and how it affects our species was amazing.
Why there is oxygen, the winds blow the way they do, Corollis effect (discovered by the American Ferrel), ionosphere, Van Allen belts, northern & southern lights.
The author is a British science journalist.
Catherine Ebey
Gabrielle Walker explains her points about global warming through biographical accounts of the scientists who discovered the mysteries of the atmosphere. Good, yet told in an alarmist vein.
This was an easy to read history of science book. I have read many from this genre and as a result have heard some of the stories before... but was enjoyable to read..
A must-read for science lovers in general. Understandable even to a layperson. Good examples used throughout the narrative. Informative and interesting.
She is a spectacular author that paints a great narrative in a chronological order that credits the great (sometimes accidental) inventors and scientists.
The fascinating story of what we know about the atmosphere and how we know it, including the counterintuitive discovery of the ocean of air itself.
Good science writing is always wonderful to read. This exploration of the ocean of air above us is wonderfully informative and entertaining.
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