A light History of Hot Air

Nobel Prize-winner Peter Doherty is not, if this book is any indication, your typical idea of a stuffy eccentric genius in a lab coat with a habit of talking in incomprehensible sentences. In fact, it seems that he would be as at home in a room full of writers as in a lab full of scientists. He has the rare gift of making writing look easy, and distilling complex ideas into easily digestible prose – without ‘dumbing down’ or patronising the reader. In fact, he approaches the subject of global warming and its causes via a meandering journey through time, employing both narrative history and memoir. He begins the book with an indignant note about the way that Australian schools and universities tend to divide students into science and humanities streams, rather than encouraging a solid grounding in the basics of both. Every intelligent high school student, he writes, should be compelled to read Primo Levi’s The Periodic Table, a perfect example of the blending of science and literature. If his advice would produce more thinkers and writers like him, it may be a good idea.

This is a fantastically quirky, yet deadly serious, look at the technological progress we have made (refrigeration, transport, heating and cooling, electricity), how it has changed our lives for the better in an incredibly short time span, and the enormous damage our comfortable lifestyles have wreaked on our environment.

Jo Case is Editor of Readings Monthly