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The Discovery of Global Warming

By: Spencer R Weart(Author)

230 pages, no illustrations

Harvard University Press

Paperback | Oct 2008 | Edition: 2 | #175926 | ISBN-13: 9780674031890
Availability: Usually dispatched within 4 days Details
NHBS Price: £17.95 $24/€20 approx

About this book

In 2001 an international panel of distinguished climate scientists announced that the world was warming at a rate without precedent during at least the last ten millennia, and that warming was caused by the buildup of greenhouse gases from human activity. The story of how scientists reached that conclusion – by way of unexpected twists and turns – was the story Spencer Weart told in The Discovery of Global Warming.

Now he brings his award-winning account up to date, revised throughout to reflect the latest science and with a new conclusion that shows how the scientific consensus caught fire among the general world public, and how a new understanding of the human meaning of climate change spurred individuals and governments to action.

for the first edition:

"Charting the evolution and confirmation of the theory [of global warming], Spencer R. Weart, director of the Center for the History of Physics of the American Institute of Physics, dissects the interwoven threads of research and reveals the political and societal subtexts that colored scientists' views and the public reception their work received."
– Andrew C. Revkin, The New York Times Book Review

"[The Discovery of Global Warming] is a well-written, well-researched and well-balanced account of the issues involved [...] This is not a sermon for the faithful, or verses from Revelation for the evangelicals, but a serious summary for those who like reasoned argument. Read it – and be converted."
– John Emsley, The Times Literary Supplement

"This is a terrific book [...] Perhaps the finest compliment I could give this book is to report that I intend to use it instead of my own book [...] for my climate class. The Discovery of Global Warming is more up-to-date, better balanced historically, beautifully written and, not least important, short and to the point. I think the [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] needs to enlist a few good historians like Weart for its next assessment."
– Stephen H. Schneider, Nature

"I was very pleasantly surprised to find that Spencer Weart's account provides much valuable and interesting material about how the discipline developed – not just from the perspective of climate science but also within the context of the field's relation to other scientific disciplines, the media, political trends, and even 20th-century history (particularly the Cold War). In addition, Weart has done a valuable service by recording for posterity background information on some of the key discoveries and historical figures who contributed to our present understanding of the global warming problem."
– Thomas J. Crowley, Science

"Weart has done us all a service by bringing the discovery of global warming into a short, compendious and persuasive book for a general readership. He is especially strong on the early days and the scientific background."
– Crispin Tickell, The Times Higher Education Supplement

"This short, well-written book by a science historian at the American Institute of Physics adds a serious voice to the overheated debate about global warming and would serve as a great starting point for anyone who wants to better understand the issue."
– Maureen Christie, American Scientist

"It is almost two centuries since the French mathematician Jean Baptiste Fourier discovered that the Earth was far warmer than it had any right to be, given its distance from the Sun [...] Spencer Weart's book about how Fourier's initially inconsequential discovery finally triggered urgent debate about the future habitability of the Earth is lucid, painstaking and commendably brief, packing everything into 200 pages."
– Fred Pearce, The Independent

"The Discovery of Global Warming incorporates a vast amount of information into a short, readable and punchy narrative. It is an excellent introduction to the subject for the non-specialist and the academic reader alike. In addition, the companion online project will doubtless prove an invaluable resource to the field."
– Piers J. Hale, British Journal for the History of Science

"The evolution of the climate question from science to politics and back and forth has been the subject of surprisingly few in-depth treatments [...] Spencer Weart's The Discovery of Global Warming goes a long way toward rectifying this situation. Weart [...] is most effective at laying out the early scientific developments, and discussing how scientists moved the issue onto governmental research agendas [...] Weart highlights the importance of the actions of networks of scientist in constructing a bridge form science to policy on an arcane issue of no apparent urgency to the general public. He correctly points to the key leadership role of Swedish climatologist Bert Bolin in shepherding his colleagues toward consensus, beginning in the late 1960s. Weart's exploration of the science-policy interaction in the 1970s, which focused largely on increasing support for research, is thorough [...] One of the most useful features of this book is the timeline of events following the last chapter [...] The clear value of this book to scholars, reporters, and the interested public will hopefully spawn additional efforts that will fill these gaps, and lead to a greater understanding of scientists as political actors. The Discovery of Global Warming has done us all a great favor by pointing the way."
– Michael Oppenheimer, Environmental History

"The Discovery of Global Warming [...] tells a marvelous story that is far more complex than the title indicates. This book is not just the history of the study of rising atmospheric [carbon dioxide] concentrations, global warming, and associated politics. In addition, it is the history of climate science in a much broader sense, and how climate science grew out of diverse fields such as meteorology, astrophysics, and oceanography. The book provides not only a superb summary of the history of this field, but also outlines the path that led the science of global change into the political arena [...] I have nothing but praise for The Discovery of Global Warming. It is concise, well written, and delightful to read. For the non-scientist, there is much to be gained by reading this book. At the same time, a person with a scientific background and some knowledge of this subject matter will also enjoy the book [...] The book is marvelously referenced, so the interested reader can easily go back into the original scientific literature and find the papers discussed here. As an added bonus (and this is a big bonus), The Discovery of Global Warming also has a phenomenal companion web site, with two-dozen essays interconnected by several hundred hyperlinks, along with over 1,000 historical and scientific references not included in the book."
– David J. Burdige, Limnology and Oceanography Bulletin

"A soberly written synthesis of science and politics."
– Gilbert Taylor, Booklist

"It took a century for scientists to agree that gases produced by human activity were causing the world to warm up. Now, in an engaging book that reads like a detective story, physicist Weart reports the history of global warming theory, including the internal conflicts plaguing the research community and the role government has had in promoting climate studies."
Publishers Weekly



1. How Could Climate Change?
2. Discovering a Possibility
3. A Delicate System
4. A Visible Threat
5. Public Warnings
6. The Erratic Beast
7. Breaking into Politics
8. Speaking Science to Power
9. The Work Completed…and Begun



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Spencer R. Weart is Director of the Center for History of Physics of the American Institute of Physics. He is the author of Nuclear Fear: A History of Images.

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