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An Ocean Of Air: A Natural History Of The Atmosphere

4.11  ·  Rating details ·  379 ratings  ·  58 reviews
We don't just live in the air; we live because of it. It's the most miraculous substance on earth, responsible for our food, our weather, our water, and our ability to hear. In this exuberant book, gifted science writer Gabrielle Walker peels back the layers of our atmosphere with the stories of the people who uncovered its secrets:
- A flamboyant Renaissance Italian disco
Hardcover, 321 pages
Published by Bloomsbury UK (first published March 1st 2007)
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Apr 15, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Aug 12, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everyone
I love non-fiction books that give a new perspective on the things that surround us and that we often don’t think much of at all. In this case, I don’t think I will ever see air the same way again. In fact, if it had been up to me I would have titled it “The Sky Above Us” because it had a similar impact on how I saw the atmosphere as “The Sea Around Us” had on how I saw the ocean.

The book compares our atmosphere to an ocean, and based on scale alone (which I had never really thought of) the com
Jul 20, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: science, book-club
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 r
I got this book from the library, because everyone needs a bit of non-fiction once in a while (Or at least I felt that I did) It promised to be 'A Natural History of the Atmosphere'. It wasn't. Each individual chapter is fascinating, with all sorts of interesting sidenotes, and vivid people who leap to staggering yet true conclusions. Yet it is not a natural history of the atmosphere. It is a human history of the atmosphere, of the (white men) who discovered the conditions that make earth safe f ...more
Oct 06, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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 mechanism
Nov 01, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Air. So who ever thinks about it -- since air is everywhere, all the time? I never gave it much attention, until I discovered this book in the library.

Turns out that some really brilliant people have investigated air, starting with Galileo, and they have done some genius work to figure out what it is. Investigators include Antoine Lavoisier, Joseph Priestly, James Van Allen, and Robert Boyle, just to name a few. They were collectively very ingenious with their experimental projects,
Jul 01, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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.
Titus L
May 28, 2017 rated it it was amazing
An absolute eyeopener in terms of the scientific discoveries about our upper Ocean of Air that the author recounts as well as a delight in the many examples given such as this of an Aurora;

''This is from a boat trip at Talvik in Finnmark as late as 1881;

Immediately after nightfall the northern lights began to flame merrily in the sky. They gathered like ahuge fire in the deep-blue vault of the heaven, and great pencils of rays, mauve, blue and green, united and danced in
Karthik Vijayakumar
The book talks about how our understanding of the atmosphere evolved over time. That is all the way from the old thinking that air is an element to modern understandings of layers of the atmosphere, weather patterns etc. The book walks through this evolution by going over events in chronological order.

There were multiple occasions when I wanted to put the book down, catch a friend and tell them about this amazing story of how something was discovered.
Zach Galvin
Sep 01, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Great book! I sometimes found the explanations of different phenomenon difficult to understand, but that is ok because this isn't meant to be a textbook. My favorite part of the book was that it went through a brief life story of each scientist which made you feel like you were discovering how the atmosphere worked with them!
Jose Zapata
Feb 28, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science
An amazing view on what makes us live, our protection barrier against the dangerous and hostile outer space, the atmosphere, Walker carefully threads the stories of exploration of the layers, composition, behavior, responses, interactions, reactions of the sea above us.
Barry H.
Mar 28, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
3.5 stars rounded up.
Anoop Nayak
Jul 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Excellent collection of stories of scientists contributed in our present understanding of atmospheres we live in.
Duane Tilden
Oct 28, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Well written history of the scientific discovery of how our atmosphere works to protect and preserve the inhabitants of the Earth.
Justin Haley
Somewhat missed the mark. Loved the concept but the author focused too much on climate change preaching and not enough on atmospheric effects. Wouldn't recommend to others.
Alex Telander
Nov 02, 2007 rated it really liked it
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
Maurynne  Maxwell
Sep 21, 2014 rated it really liked it
An Ocean of Air opens with Joe Kittinger, an Air Force test pilot, in 1960, about to jump from a gondola hanging 20 miles in the air above New Mexico, at the edge of space, wondering if he's about to die. As he falls through the layers of atmosphere (landing safely), he is tracing the journey we'll follow to discover the wonders of wind and breath and the thinnest radiation shield ever--the layers of gases that surround our planet and make our lives possible.

How much does air weigh? Galil
Dec 21, 2007 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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 editor of Scientific American, and her br(;

May 09, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: info-gathering
This really was a book I should have loved, and I admit, at first I did. The atmosphere is a wonderful thing, and reading about its discovery and how various scientist found out how the various parts and elements functioned was quite enjoyable. However I found the rather romantic sounding descriptions of the various scientist tedious after about the second one. I really could care less about their luscious locks or pretty eyes, I was reading this book to learn more about the atmosphere, not abou ...more
May 09, 2014 rated it it was amazing
WOW! I can't believe I checked this book out three times before finishing it (or moving past the introduction. But I guess I was so in awe I knew I wanted to devote to it the time it deserved).
I think that everyone studying Earth, Climate, environment, or education should have this as a required read.
It was a page turner, full of educational information the whole way. By telling the story of the sky through the people that invented it, I was much more inspired than typical fact-delivery books.
Dec 15, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: everyone
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
Jun 16, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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 wa
Andrew Hoffman
Jun 24, 2014 rated it really liked it
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
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
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
Fate's Lady
May 29, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
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
Jul 18, 2011 rated it it was amazing
This wasn't quite what I thought it would be but I loved it. It read as fast as a novel and felt like one too. She includes mini-biographies of all the people whose discoveries led to what we now know about air and the atmosphere. She adds in interesting little tidbits about their clothing or how crazy they were. All of the science is described in terms that even I could understand without it feeling dumbed down at all. I really loved this and wish that most nonfiction were written in this style ...more
Aura Nelson
Mar 19, 2014 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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.
May 22, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nf
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.
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Dr Gabrielle Walker is an expert on climate change and the energy industry. She has been a Professor at Princeton University and is the author of four books including co-authoring the bestselling book about climate and energy: The Hot Topic, which was described by Al Gore as “a beacon of clarity” and by The Times as “a material gain for the axis of good”.

Gabrielle is currently Chief Scientis