Skip to main content

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.
Paperback:  
Review by Brian Clegg

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

I, Mammal - Liam Drew *****

It's rare that a straightforward biology book (with a fair amount of palaeontology thrown in) really grabs my attention, but this one did. Liam Drew really piles in the surprising facts (often surprising to him too) and draws us a wonderful picture of the various aspects of mammals that make them different from other animals. 

More on this in a moment, but I ought to mention the introduction, as you have to get past it to get to the rest, and it might put you off. I'm not sure why many books have an introduction - they often just get in the way of the writing, and this one seemed to go on for ever. So bear with it before you get to the good stuff, starting with the strange puzzle of why some mammals have external testes.

It seems bizarre to have such an important thing for passing on the genes so precariously posed - and it's not that they have to be, as it's not the case with all mammals. Drew mixes his own attempts to think through this intriguing issue with the histor…

Foolproof - Brian Hayes *****

The last time I enjoyed a popular maths book as much as this one was reading Martin Gardner’s Mathematical Puzzles and Diversions as a teenager. The trouble with a lot of ‘fun’ maths books is that they cover material that mathematicians consider fascinating, such as pairs of primes that are only two apart, which fail to raise much excitement in normal human beings. 

Here, all the articles have something a little more to them. So, even though Brian Hayes may be dealing with something fairly abstruse-sounding like the ratio of the volume of an n-dimensional hypersphere to the smallest hypercube that contains it, the article always has an interesting edge - in this case that although the ‘volume’ of the hypersphere grows up to the fifth dimension it gets smaller and smaller thereafter, becoming an almost undetectable part of the hypercube.

If that doesn’t grab you, many articles in this collection aren’t as abstruse, covering everything from random walks to a strange betting game. What'…

A Galaxy of Her Own - Libby Jackson ****

This is an interesting book, even if it probably tries to be too many things to too many people. I wondered from the cover design whether it was a children's book, but the publisher's website (and the back of the book) resolutely refuse to categorise it as such. The back copy doesn't help by saying that it will 'inspire trailblazers and pioneers of all ages.' As I belong to the set 'all ages' I thought I'd give it a go.

Inside are featured the 'stories of fifty inspirational women who have been fundamental to the story of humans in space.' So, in some ways, A Galaxy of Her Own presents the other side of the coin to Angela Saini's excellent Inferior. But, inevitably, given the format, it can hardly provide the same level of discourse.

Despite that 'all ages' comment and the lack of children's book labelling we get a bit of a hint when we get to a bookplate page in the form of a Galaxy Pioneers security pass (with the rather worrying…