In 1865 Admiral Robert FitzRoy locked himself in his dressing room and cut his throat. His grand meteorological project had failed. Yet only a decade later, FitzRoy's storm warning system and "forecasts" would return, the model for what we use today.Read more...
In 1865 Admiral Robert FitzRoy locked himself in his dressing room and cut his throat. His grand meteorological project had failed. Yet only a decade later, FitzRoy's storm warning system and "forecasts" would return, the model for what we use today.
In an age when a storm at sea was evidence of God's wrath, nineteenth-century meteorologists had to fight against convention and religious dogma. Buoyed by the achievements of the Enlightenment, a generation of mavericks set out to decipher the secrets of the atmosphere and predict the future. Among them were Luke Howard, the first to classify clouds; Francis Beaufort, who quantified the winds; James Glaisher, who explored the upper atmosphere in a hot-air balloon; Samuel Morse, whose electric telegraph gave scientists the means by which to transmit weather warnings; and FitzRoy himself, master sailor, scientific pioneer, and founder of the U.K.'s national weather service.
Reputations were built and shattered. Fractious debates raged over decades between scientists from London and Galway, Paris and New York. Explaining the atmosphere was one thing, but predicting what it was going to do seemed a step too far. In 1854, when a politician suggested to the Commons that Londoners might soon know the weather twenty-four hours in advance, the House roared with laughter.
Peter Moore's "The Weather Experiment" navigates treacherous seas and rough winds to uncover the obsession that drove these men to great invention and greater understanding.
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2015-04-27
- Reviewer: Staff
Moore (Damn His Blood) examines the lives and works of 19th-century men of science as they developed the burgeoning field of meteorology in this excellent history. He proceeds more or less chronologically, concentrating primarily on the contributions of Britons, such as Francis Beaufort, developer of the scale of winds; noted landscape painter John Constable; Astronomer Royal George Airy; and James Glaisher, who was famed for his balloon ascents into the upper atmosphere. A few Americans also feature here: Benjamin Franklin and his lightning experiments, storm theorist James Espy, and telegraph inventor Samuel F.B. Morse. Moore’s true hero is Robert FitzRoy, a tragic figure who is mostly remembered today as the captain of the Beagle on Charles Darwin’s famous journey. FitzRoy’s contributions to meteorology came later in life when he began the first systematic forecasts of weather, which were based on reports from around the British Isles received via telegraph. Along with the many brief biographies and sketches of scientific squabbles, Moore also weaves in interludes describing a day of weather. This is a worthy investigation of the history of weather forecasting as seen through a British lens. (June)