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Air: The Restless Shaper Of The World Hardcover – Aug 21 2012
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Air is... a spore-world of essays, essaylets, mini-biographies, gossip, whispers, lists, prose-poems and asides. ...Cheery, chatty and compulsively curious, Mr. Logan is able to draw the reader into pretty much any subject... In this lovely book, Mr. Logan makes the air airy again. — Robert Macfarlane (Wall Street Journal)
About the Author
William Bryant Logan is a Quill & Trowel Award-winning writer, a member of the faculty at the New York Botanical Garden, a sought-after lecturer and teacher, and a practicing arborist. He is the author of Oak and Dirt, the latter of which was made into an award-winning documentary. He lives in New York City and the Hudson Valley.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
On the other hand, I’d have thought you could write 350 pages about “Air” without scatology, but William Logan hasn’t done that.
This is a very strange book in which we learn more about the untouristy places William Logan has visited than we do about trace gases in the atmosphere. When he does refer to the physical characteristics of air, he doesn’t always get them right; notably when he writes that the mass of the air is 500 trillion tons. That’s only one-eleventh of the accepted value.
Perhaps if he had spent less time on the vaporings of Maritain and Merton and more with reference books, he’d have gotten it right.
“Air” is not without its moments. Though he cannot be bothered to discuss the gaseous constituents of air, he is eloquent about the particles that the air supports, like fungus spores. He writes interestingly about learning to fly an airplane and sail in a hang glider; about weather; and about smells.
He also spends way more pages writing about the sonata form in western music than you’d expect —I’d have expected nothing — but what that has to do with air is not stated. He does point out that the sounds of music travel through air, but they travel also through water and steel.
The failure to discuss the constituents of air and their relative proportions is a very serious thing. Though Logan makes less of a fuss about climate change than I’d have expected, it is clear that he is among those who believe that the air’s share of carbon dioxide is titrated so delicately at three parts per 10,000 that it is ideal for humans, but that 4 parts per 10,000 would be a disaster.
The closest he gets to discussing proportions of gases comes in a discussion of oxygen levels (which, typically, he sets too low), which today are around 21%. He mentions they were very low before the evolution of photosynthesis, but there’s no hint that they seem later to have been very high — perhaps 50% above current levels.
You’d think that a discussion about why they dropped back and have settled, for quite a long time, at a lower level would have been part of a book about “Air.” But, again, you’d be wrong.
It does have interesting information, lots of it. The book explores wind, storms, breathing, pollution, spores, pollination and more. At several points in the book Logan goes off on tangents about his own experience with a sort of biographical detail more or less relating to the book's topic, but not very germane. His life seems to have been a fascinating one, but let's put that in an autobiography and edit this one.
Three stars for the actual writing but four for a large amount of interesting information.
Over 78% of air is nitrogen - essential for life/proteins. Without decay and decomposition, the atmosphere would have been devoid of nitrogen long ago.
Air is set in motion by the sun heating areas near the equator more than at the poles. Rising air near the equator flows north and cools, lowering the pressure beneath it. Colder air from the poles is denser, flows south, and warms as it goes. Because the Earth spins while this occurs the air is deflected west of east, depending on whether it is in the northern or southern hemisphere, and the results quickly become unpredictable and ever-shifting.
Growing air pollution first masked the effects of climate change - temperatures declined slightly from 1945 til the 1970s.
Dust carried by the trade winds from Africa supplies much of the iron and calcium and over half the phosphorus the ocean's plankton require. The dust reaches Brazil, the Caribbeans, the SE U.S., etc. About one billion tons/year, mostly from the Sahara and nearby deserts. Little windstorms in the desert (no rainstorms) lift the fine soil, microbes, and spores into the upper air where it is move NE to SW across the Atlantic. Similarly with the Gobi desert - to eg. Hawaii.
There are 10 - 15 thousand spores in the average cubic yard of air, rising to as high as a million after a summer rain. These fungi, when not decaying the dead, are mostly responsible for plant diseases, though sometimes problems for humans as well (eg. athlete's foot, St. Anthony's Fire - serious problem, now prevented by treating rye plants). Bacteria, when aloft, create condensation nuclei.
EPA analyses post 9/11 near the WTC used samples from the ground, instead of from the air. Even so, the pH found was high (9 - 11), and long, slender fibers that could lodge in the lungs were present. Ten years later 43 of the 60 - 70 thousand site workers have incurred medical problems and biopsies have found silicates, asbestos, and carbon nanotubes in their lungs.
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