Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Book Review: The Weather Experiment

The Weather Experiment: The Pioneers Who Sought to See the Future
Peter Moore
Science, biography

An interesting and very well-structured book on the 19th-century researchers who invented the idea of predicting the weather. I don't mean that the put the notion on a scientific basis; if Peter Moore is correct, the idea that weather could be predicted at all was a novel invention. (One fellow was laughed at in Parliament for saying, in the 1850s, that it might be possible to forecast London's weather a full day in advance.)

Moore wisely keeps his cast of characters down to a manageable size, focusing particularly on Robert FitzRoy. FitzRoy is usually remembered, in the unlikely event that he is remembered at all, as the captain who brought Charles Darwin on board HMS Beagle, and who later denounced natural selection as atheistic. It turns out that there's a great deal more to his story than that. It doesn't hurt that many of the other actors were equally colorful and interesting personalities.

My only substantive complaints are:

1. I would have liked a little more actual scientific nitty-gritty. That, I presume, would not be to everyone's taste.

2. There's a substantial portion of an early chapter devoted to one of my favorite painters, John Constable--specifically, to how he painted his wonderful cloudscapes.
(Image hosted at Wikimedia)
It's a great aside, but still, it's an aside. It interrupts the narrative to no special purpose. It could have either been left out, or made into a book of its own!

An obvious crossover read is Richard Holmes's terrific The Age of Wonder. More tightly focused in subject matter is Tracks in the Sea, by Chester Hearn.


  1. You are more influential than you thought. The image is pixellated and unviewable even with clicking through...

    1. I can view it fine using three different browsers on two different machines. The URL is

      Anyway, just searching for "Constable clouds" will get you more results than you could possibly want.