The Intersection

i-92953389dc96778c1a4644b0151d353c-thingamabobbercane.jpg

The infamous “Thingamabobbercane” off the coast of Oregon last November.

I’m excited to say that my book is reviewed today in the Sunday Times Book Review, available online here. I think it would be fair to call the review itself lukewarm (not quite warm enough for storm formation, let’s say). The reviewer, Lisa Margonelli of the New America Foundation, seemed to want a repeat of The Republican War on Science.

Most of the Times review attempts to recap the book, but because we don’t blanch from it at the Intersection, here is the paragraph of criticism:

Mooney has written a well-researched, nuanced book that suffers from poor organization and a lack of pizazz. This is a contrast with his previous book, “The Republican War on Science,” in which he juggled extensive research and sharp arguments the way chefs at Benihana toss big knives — with precision and a showman’s wink that made his unpromising subject fun. In “Storm World,” Mooney makes us wait until the end of the second appendix before revealing the “Thingamabobbercane” — an “oddball cyclone” that formed off the coast of Oregon last November.

I knew I should have said more about the “Thingamabobbercane.” The kids just love that wacky cyclone.

Anyways, as you can see, the Times review is mixed and more critical than other reviews of Storm World have been. For a sense of the full range of reviews so far, probably the best link is here.

P.S.: ScienceBlogs’ Kevin Beck just reviewed Storm World, and as a Floridian has a lot of hurricane experience. He seems to have really enjoyed the book….

Comments

  1. #1 Matthew C. Nisbet
    July 1, 2007

    On this review and the genesis of book reviews generally, see this post I have up that puts things in the context of framing:

    http://scienceblogs.com/framing-science/2007/06/ny_times_reviews_mooneys_storm.php

  2. #2 DarkSyde
    July 1, 2007

    You were extremely fair with that reviewer Chris: considering they didn’t even get the freaking title right. They repeatedly called it Storm Warning. Geez … I’d be embarrassed if I were them. Fair enough though, based on the review it looks like they did read the book. And they had some positive things to say. But on some portions, it’s almost like they read a different book than I did.

    If I recall correctly, the NYT reviewer stated in part that the context was unclear, referring to the chapters outlining how our understanding of hurricanes unfolded over more than one-hundred years, or something to that effect?

    Regardless if they did or didn’t, point is I found the historical portion of the book dealing with the development of hurricane science absolutely fascinating, as I’m sure any science reader would. It was an unexpected treat, and one that left me feeling way more informed than I was before reading the book. And good grief, I can’t imagine how you could have put the modern scientific and political controversy in any better context than by building it up from that delightful, historical foundation.

    I have my own review here on Daily Kos if anyone is interested.

  3. #3 Fred Bortz
    July 1, 2007

    Too bad the Times chose a reviewer with a “post-partisan” political axe to grind, quoting from the New America Foundation website. Her review breaks one of my two cardinal rules for reviewing: Review the book the author wrote, not the one you would have rather seen. (My other rule is review the book from the perspective of the audience the author hoped to reach.)

    She seems to have been looking for a book that finds partisanship, especially Republican or conservative partisanship, run amok. That’s not where the research led this time. As I note in my review (click my name for the full text), Storm World finds plenty of partisanship of the usual kind (inescapable, excessive, and undesirable, but not extraordinary). It criticizes the right more than the left, but finds plenty of blame to go around:

    Now a new hurricane season has begun with the publication of Storm World: Hurricanes, Politics, and the Battle Over Global Warming, Mooney’s latest foray into the contentious intersection of science and politics. This time, his research produced a much less partisan conclusion.

    The political battles over what to do about hurricanes, as described in Storm World, are far less intense than the full-fledged partisan warfare over human-induced climate change described in RWOS.

    To me, one of the strengths of RWOS is that the research did not set out to prove a systematic Republican war, but rather to investigate the political war on science and to understand why it is currently almost an exclusively Republican practice.

    In both books, Chris started with questions and did not draw conclusions until he had accumulated evidence. In the case of RWOS he succeeded in overcoming my skepticism about the word Republican in the title. In Storm World he showed the divisions are not as intensely partisan, at least as long as the science is comfortably unsettled.

    There’s another issue here, and that is the difference in reading tastes. RWOS was written to make a political argument. Storm World is more of a human narrative. I like that approach. I use it myself wherever possible in my writing for young readers (and in my latest, a high-school/college reference book on the 20th-century history of Physics — http://www.fredbortz.com/Physics20thCent.htm ). I deduced from my reading that Chris’ intent was to produce such a narrative. Thus my review includes the following:

    The book captures not only the scientific and political stories, but also the personal stories of those involved on all sides of this important scientific and political issue. It begins with a history of how scientists’ understanding of hurricanes has developed over two centuries.

    …Mooney genuinely seems to admire them all, visionaries and curmudgeons alike.

    Perhaps the Times reviewer is too much of a political junkie to appreciate the human side of Storm World. I found that to be its greatest strength.

  4. #4 Michael Mann
    July 1, 2007

    I reviewed Storm World here at the website RealClimate. I agree with the NYT reviewer that the book was both nuanced and well research. But I differ from the reviewer in that I neither found Chris’s book lacking in pizazz, nor suffering from poor organization.

    This is tricky subject matter to translate into a narrative because there are so many things the writer must cover before the reader is ready to appreciate the current state of the debate. There is an important historical context, but there is also significant scientific background that must be provided, and there is an important political context in which the modern developments in the debate must be placed. All this has to be woven together in a way that holds the readers interest until they are ready to truly appreciate the current state of the debate. I for one can’t imagine how someone could have done a better job than Chris did. I know I speak for many of the scientists in my field when I say that he did us proud in the way he translated this difficult but important scientific debate.

  5. #5 Judith Curry
    July 1, 2007

    I have now finished reading the book (twice). The NYT review just plain missed the mark. Here is a review that i have prepared for amazon.com (I’ve posted it, but it hasn’t shown up yet for some reason).

    To provide a frame of reference for this review, I and my colleagues Peter Webster and Greg Holland are among the scientists that are featured prominently in Storm World. Our involvement in the issue of hurricanes and global warming began when we published an article in Science shortly before the landfall of Hurricane Rita, where we reported a doubling of the number of category 4 and 5 hurricanes globally since 1970. When Chris Mooney first approached me with his idea for writing a book on this topic, I was somewhat skeptical. I couldn’t see how this could be accomplished given the rapid changes in the science (I was worried the book would be outdated before it was published), the complexities of the technical aspects of the subject, a concern about how the individual scientists would be treated and portrayed, and a concern that the political aspects of the issue would be handled in a partisan way. Over the course of the past year and a half, it became apparent that Mooney was researching this issue extremely thoroughly and was developing a good grasp of both the history and technical aspects of the subject. Upon finally reading the book, I can only say Storm World has far exceeded any hope or expectation that I could have had for a book on this subject. The book is surprisingly rich in technical detail, and Mooney has grasped the nuances of the breadth of scientific arguments and uncertainties. He provides a fascinating history with rich insights into the current controversy. The individual scientists are portrayed accurately as well as sympathetically and colorfully. The political aspects are treated in an insightful and nonpartisan manner. I am most impressed by the fresh insights provided by this book, which besides being a “good read,” Storm World is an important and timely contribution that deserves careful consideration in the dialogue and debate on hurricane policy in the U.S. Storm World is science journalism at its absolute best.

  6. #6 Abel Pharmboy
    July 1, 2007

    At least the Times caught their mistake on the book title while the Book Review section was in press: they note the error in Corrections on page two of the main paper.

  7. #7 kate
    July 1, 2007

    though i’m only a few chapters in, i was delighted by the introductory narratives. not many people give the history of a scientific question its fair due (b/c history = boring), but it’s the only fair way to launch off the ground. good science and scientific reasoning are always done in context, and important forward movement can’t be made without understanding where people have already been and how technical advances contributed to the evolution of the question(s).

    so, well done, there. unfortunately, the reviewer seemed to miss the deeper implications of this setup, or a few of her comments might be less warranted.

  8. #8 Chris Mooney
    July 2, 2007

    All I can say is thanks to you all for your kind words about the book.

    As for the title, it was wrong twice in the text of the print version of the book review. But it was fixed online, and yes, a correction seems to have run in the paper

    http://www.nytimes.com/2007/07/01/pageoneplus/corrections.html

  9. #9 Chris Mooney
    July 2, 2007

    Folks,
    I packed Sheril off to South Africa with a copy of Storm World to read on the flight, and she adds her take here
    http://scienceblogs.com/intersection/2007/07/of_thingamabobbercanes_and_sto.php

  10. #10 Kevin Beck
    July 2, 2007

    I am mystified by Ms. Margonelli’s review, not so much because I disagree with her assessments (which she fails to support) as because, as some here have notied, it’s not really a “book review” at all.

    Margonelli opens with a couple of boilerplate introductory paragraphs, closes with a half-dozen paragraphs that do not so much describe the book as practically replicate brief extracts, and in the middle inserts one paragraph that qualifies as a “review”:

    Mooney has written a well-researched, nuanced book that suffers from poor organization and a lack of pizazz. This is a contrast with his previous book, “The Republican War on Science,” in which he juggled extensive research and sharp arguments the way chefs at Benihana toss big knives — with precision and a showman’s wink that made his unpromising subject fun. In “Storm World,” Mooney makes us wait until the end of the second appendix before revealing the “Thingamabobbercane” — an “oddball cyclone” that formed off the coast of Oregon last November.

    The “poor organization” claim is simply strange. Chris lets the story unfold in chronological order and with due detail. At no point did I have the sense of being unable to keep the events described in the book straight. There were a finite number of scientists upon whose work and personalities Chris expanded and confusing them with one another was not an issue. And when she mentions a lock of “pizazz,” I can only assume that she was disappointed that the presentation was, by dint of the issues involved and Chris’s objectivity, not nearly as one-sided and therefore not as glibly triumphant as TRWOS.

    Either way, don’t be fooled. One can discern that Margonelli enjoyed and learned from this book even if she demurs in her giving it well-earned props.

  11. #11 Steve Bloom
    July 2, 2007

    Hey, Chris, when are you coming back to the Bay Area? I bought the previous book at your Pacific Institute appearance, and will do the same this time if you show up there again (or some other centralish location).

    I somehow missed the thingamabobbercane when it happened, but didn’t you blog on an even more fascinating Czecho-cane within the last couple of years? (I would have thought it was reality imploding on Vaclav Klaus, but as he still seems to be there I suppose it was just a storm.) And what about those Medi-canes?

    OT, what’s the deal with the new photo? Is this some sort of cutest blogger photo contest with Sheril?

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