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An Ocean of Air: Why the Wind Blows and Other Mysteries of the Atmosphere    by Gabrielle Walker order for
Ocean of Air
by Gabrielle Walker
Order:  USA  Can
Harcourt, 2007 (2007)

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* * *   Reviewed by Alex Telander

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. Gabrielle Walker's An Ocean of Air is an excellent 235 page book that teaches everything you could ever want to know about the atmosphere, its many layers, and the very air we are constantly breathing. Part science book, part history book, An Ocean of Air provides a whole semester's worth of knowledge and learning in just a single volume.

Walker is an award-winning scientist with a Ph.D. in Chemistry from Cambridge University. As well as having served as climate-change editor for Nature and features editor for New Scientist, she is a visiting professor at Princeton University and has presented many programs for BBC Radio. In An Ocean of Air, she breaks down the atmosphere into its components, explaining each in detail and in clear layman's language, easy to understand for any reader. Along with the science, she goes into the history of when this air molecule or atmospheric layer was discovered, how, and by whom. Apart from learning the makeup of the atmosphere, the reader also learns about great scientists and inventors of the past who were able to discover so much about something that is essentially invisible.

The book is split into two parts. The first, Comfort Blanket, explains: what the air we breath consists of; the fascinating evolution of oxygen and why we cannot live without it, but at the same time how it leads to our inevitable deaths; and how wind is formed and develops into fierce and destructive hurricanes and tornadoes around the world. The second part, Sheltering Sky, is where Walker explains the various levels of the atmosphere, their history and discovery, from stratosphere to ionosphere which is constantly being bombarded with radiation from the sun, but causes a reaction that protects the complex life below. Here, Walker launches into the crux of the book, explaining the history of global warming from the invention of CFCs and the depletion of the ozone layer, to now when we are just beginning to look towards and understand the possibility of a doomed future.

Just as anyone can be amazed at the complexity of the human body and how it keeps living and moving with millions of different processes and reactions taking place constantly, we understand that our atmosphere is just as complex and in some ways as fragile. Walker keenly points out that while carbon dioxide levels have spiked in Earth's history, they are now at a level never recorded before, and continuously increasing. Her intent is to inform and educate readers on what is happening to the atmosphere, and therefore the world. A further reading section, lets us learn how to do our little bit to help this ailing planet.

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