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Earth's Climate Evolution

sfgjFirst things first. This is a marvelous book: the best serious, all-round, in-depth book on palaeoclimate I have encountered. If you have space on your bookshelf for just one properly substantial volume on this huge and many-faceted topic – well, look no further. This is it.

It is a scholarly book, excavating deep into its subject on the basis of primary literature (some 1400 scientific papers are cited), and focusing both on the processes that affect planetary climate, from the Sun’s radiation, to the forms of heat control exerted by oceans, atmosphere and land, to classically geological factors such as palaeogeography, while carbon dioxide plays a central role in the narrative, in the Earth’s deep past as today. The book explains complex themes in depth, from astronomical cycles, to carbonate chemistry, multi-proxy stratigraphic analysis and climate modeling.

The amount and range of subject matter here can be overwhelming, but the reader is helped by the style and narrative form: the story is told through the characters who built the science. This pattern is with the early days of climate science, taking in both the geological evidence assembled by the likes of Buffon and Buckland, Lyell and Agassiz, and the physico-chemical advances of such as Fourier, Tyndall and Arrhenius. The style is maintained in recounting more recent breakthroughs, where Nick Shackleton, Jane Francis, Bill Ruddiman, Maureen Raymo, Wallace Broecker and many others take their turn on centre stage. The combination of human and research interest allows the learning to be worn lightly, even as the author delves deeply into scientific detail. The momentum of the narrative is maintained by a clear and fluent writing style.

There is a focus, almost unavoidable, on the younger end of the geological column, mostly the Cenozoic and particularly the Quaternary.  Older events do figure – there is honorable mention of Phanerozoic carbon modeling, Cretaceous climates and so on. But it is the detailed record of the past few millions of years, and few millennia, that are highlighted. The new climate trajectories of recent times are nicely integrated into the wider palaeoclimatic context, and commented on pithily and appropriately.

There are some glitches. The index is of things only, and does not include people – an annoying omission that should be remedied in any new edition.  But this is a minor gripe. Overall, the book’s terrific.

Reviewed by: Jan Zalasiewicz

EARTH’S CLIMATE EVOLUTION by COLIN SUMMERHAYES  Wiley-Blackwell 2015. 410pp hbk. ISBN-13: 978-1-118-89739-3 List Price £60.00.  Kindle Edition £54.00 W:'s+Climate+Evolution-p-9781118897393