An Ocean Of Air – Gabrielle Walker: Book Review

By Barath S. (L&T RBG)

An Ocean of Air:

Why the Wind Blows and Other Mysteries of the Atmosphere

Ms. Gabrielle Walker, a consultant to New Scientist magazine, brackets her narrative with two opposite journeys through the atmosphere: Air Force test pilot Joe Kittinger’s extraordinary plunge from the edge of hostile space to the New Mexico desert in 1960, and the ascent of a weather balloon in Greenland in 2006. Between is a fascinating account of the very nature of the protective blanket that surrounds our earth.

We not only live in the air, we live because of it. And air is about much more than just breathing. The author also discusses topics like climate change, the effects of chlorofluorocarbons on the atmosphere, carbon dioxide levels and their repercussions, and other subjects one would expect in a book such as this one. The important information that this book provides is about how we have come to think about our ocean of air through the insights and experiments of the historical figures who were themselves enraptured with the phenomenon.

The book explains about oxygen, creator and destroyer, foundation of the atmosphere, the revolutionary element that quickens life and hastens death through its ferocious reactivity. Oxygen-burning, ever-aging mitochondria from the male expend energy seeking out cool, unaged mitochondria in the female egg, which guarantee that the human embryo’s biological clock starts at zero. Romance is in the air.

While Walker is a scientist, her writing style is akin to that of a novelist. The descriptions are vivid, the prose is fluid, the text unassuming – making the book a page-turner. It was so captivating to know the history of the intellectual thought behind our evolving understanding of the atmosphere wherein we reside.

Readers will find this informative book to be a breath of fresh air.

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