An Ocean of Air

An Ocean of Air : Why the Wind Blows and Other Mysteries of the Atmosphere

4.09 (327 ratings by Goodreads)
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Description

We spend our lives surrounded by air, hardly even noticing it. It's the most miraculous substance on earth, yet responsible for our food, our weather, our water, and our ability to hear. In fact, we live at the bottom of an ocean of air. In this exuberant book, gifted science writer Gabrielle Walker peels back the layers of our atmosphere with the stories of the people who uncovered its secrets: - A flamboyant Renaissance Italian discovers how heavy our air really is: The air filling Carnegie Hall, for example, weighs seventy thousand pounds.- A one-eyed barnstorming pilot finds a set of winds that constantly blow five miles above our heads.- An impoverished American farmer figures out why hurricanes move in a circle by carving equations with his pitchfork on a barn door.- A well-meaning inventor nearly destroys the ozone layer.- A reclusive mathematical genius predicts, thirty years before he's proved right, that the sky contains a layer of floating metal fed by the glowing tails of shooting stars.
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Product details

  • Hardback | 272 pages
  • 154.94 x 231.14 x 27.94mm | 521.63g
  • United States
  • English
  • 0151011249
  • 9780151011247
  • 2,123,480

Flap copy

In 1960, Captain Joseph Kittinger fell to earth from the edge of space and lived. He stepped from the basket of a gigantic helium balloon into an appalling, hostile environment which, without the protection of a pressure suit, would have simultaneously frozen his body and boiled away his blood. It is the air that Kittinger fell through that makes our lives on earth possible.
Air is about more than just breathing. Air transforms miraculously into solid food, and without it every creature on earth would starve; it wraps our planet in a blanket of warmth; radio signals bounce off a floating mirror of metal in the air to travel round the world; and the outer layer of our atmosphere soaks up flares from the sun more violent than all the world's nuclear warheads put together. In this exuberant work, Gabrielle Walker peels back the layers of our atmosphere with stories of the people who uncovered its secrets:
- A flamboyant Renaissance Italian discovers how heavy our air really is: The air filling Carnegie Hall, for example, weighs seventy thousand pounds.
- A one-eyed barnstorming pilot finds invisible winds [or giant rivers of air?] that blow with the force of a hurricane five miles above our heads.
- An impoverished American farmer figures out why storms move in a circle by carving equations with his pitchfork on a barn door.
- A well-meaning but ill-fated inventor creates wonder chemicals that nearly destroy the ozone layer (he also came up with the idea to put lead in gasoline [he did the lead first]).
- A reclusive mathematical genius with a predilection for painting his toenails cherry red figures out the technology that would come to the rescue of the Titanic.
An Ocean of Air is a triumphant celebration of the fragile complexity of Earth's atmosphere and a completely engaging work of popular science.
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Back cover copy

We don't just live in the air. We live because of it. . . .
"Who knew air could be so interesting? Like the scientific mavericks she profiles, Gabrielle Walker had the freshness of vision to realize that within its presumed-nothingness lay the most fascinating, profound revelations about life on earth. This is science writing at its best: clear, witty, relevant, unbelievably interesting, and just plain great."-- Mary Roach, author of Stiff: The Curious Lives Of Human Cadavers
"The subject is hot, the science is cool, and Gabrielle Walker's style is lighter than air. Warmly recommended." --Jonathan Weiner, author of The Beak of the Finch
"Extraordinary . . . The scientists are almost as interesting as their science."--Simon Singh
"[Walker provides] counter-intuitive delights... This is a fabulous introduction to the world above our heads."--Mail on Sunday (UK)
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Review quote

PRAISE FOR SNOWBALL EARTH"A thrilling tale of brilliant researchers . . . not only crystal-clear but also wonderfully dramatic."--THE WASHINGTON POST"[R]iveting in its vivid portrayal of the great icy catastrophes which may have gripped our planet nearly a billion years ago, and its depiction of the very human scientists involved . . . Both the geological and the human story are brilliantly told."--OLIVER SACKS
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Rating details

327 ratings
4.09 out of 5 stars
5 34% (112)
4 45% (148)
3 17% (57)
2 2% (7)
1 1% (3)
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