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The Met Office Book of the British Weather – John Prior ***

The book trade is a strange one. Many authors have what they think are really good ideas for books that publishers won’t touch. But then you see a book put out by a proper publisher and you can’t help but ask ‘Why?’ This is such a book. I have to ask why they thought anyone would want to buy it?
It’s not that the basic concept is unappealing. If you are British (I can’t see it would go down too well in Australia, say), then you are interested in the British Weather. It’s a given. And so the book may have some success with people buying it for someone else. (The press release helpfully points out that it has ‘attractive gift packaging’.) But if you do, any thank-you you get will be purely for show.
The trouble is, the vast majority of the book is page after page of maps of the UK showing how (for instance) hours of sunshine, rainfall and average temperature vary across the British Isles. It has all the readability of an atlas, and to be honest, to classify it as popular science seems a bit of a cheek. Admittedly there are short, quite interesting introductory passages of a couple of small pages – the we’re back to page after page of maps again. The only part that captured my interest briefly was a little bit at the back where it presents different scenarios for the way temperature and such will vary into the future, given the predictions of climate change. But even these quickly palled.
The press release tells me that the book gives us that the ‘Profile of local weather is relevant to everyone in Britain.’ Well, yes. But only in the way the VAT regulations are relevant to everyone in Britain. They are important – but you aren’t going to sit down and wade through them for entertainment. Or even for education. Relevance is not the same as interest.
Sorry, Met Office people. I really don’t know where you are going with this one. I’ve given it three stars because the book is nicely produced and the maps are pretty… but frankly, as a popular science book it only deserves two.

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Review by Brian Clegg

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