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Weather or Not

Peter Robinson

Encyclopedia of Climate and Weather (2 volumes). Stephen H. Schneider, ed. Oxford University Press, 1996, $250.

Any encyclopedia must serve many purposes for many audiences. Given the current interest in the atmosphere and in climate change in particular, the Encyclopedia of Climate and Weather is no exception. One large audience for this book is likely to be scientists with an interest in weather (and its future course) and those needing specific research information.

How well do these volumes serve such an audience? The 200 contributors have been given free rein and space to develop their subjects in some depth. Most articles are by well-established authorities, so the readers need have little concern about the scientific quality, factual accuracy or timeliness of the entries. The articles that require a strong math or physics background say so at the beginning. Most articles should seem both intellectually satisfying and readily understandable to scientist readers. Anyone with a specific question related to the atmosphere is likely to find useful information. Within the limitations imposed by the encyclopedia format, therefore, this is a successful effort.

There are, of course, drawbacks as well as advantages to the encyclopedia format. The volumes are most rewarding when consulted about a single fact or subject. Although no encyclopedia is designed to replace a textbook, here, unfortunately, there are relatively few links between the individual entries. Hence it is difficult to follow a theme other than that dictated by the editor. As partial compensation, each entry concludes with a short list of related topics. The subjective choices required by the encyclopedia format are most clearly seen in the inclusion of seemingly random biographies. Some people included are certainly ensconced in the atmospheric pantheon, but the inclusion of others seems curious. Who defines greatness in a field? Finally, the entries themselves may not always provide either the information or the depth of treatment expected of an encyclopedia. As an example, the "Transportation" article briefly mentions the impact of weather on transport, but devotes most of the space to consideration of the impact of transportation on the atmosphere. The addition of a diagram in "Tornadoes" would aid understanding, but (to be perverse) the diagrams in the "Jet Streams" entry are rather too complex. These are, however, minor quibbles about a major contribution to the dissemination of climate and weather information to a wide audience.—Peter J. Robinson, Geography, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

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