Greenhouse: The 200-Year Story of Global Warming. Gale E. Christianson. Walker & Company.

Greenhouse: The 200-Year Story of Global Warming Book Cover Greenhouse: The 200-Year Story of Global Warming
Gale E. Christianson
Walker & Company
May 1999

There is no longer any doubt that the Earth is warming; the question remains, why? For historian Gale Christianson, the emergence of global warming is one of the most compelling stories in the history of humankind, made all the richer for having been a slowly developing phenomenon.

In his brilliantly constructed book Greenhouse, Christianson blends the research of a scholar with a novelist’s storytelling skill, offering an invaluable perspective on what may be the most remarkable change in nature since the retreat of the glaciers some 10,000 years ago. Like a train coming at you from a distance, global warming is first a faint, echoing whistle, and a puff of smoke, and ultimately, with a rush, an unavoidable reality.

Finding the clues to global warming both deep in the past and right before our eyes, Christianson introduces a memorable and unlikely cast of characters and events. From the demise of the Anasazi in the American Southwest and the Vikings in Greenland, which unveil the close connection between global warming and cooling, to the politics behind the 1997 Kyoto Conference on the Environment, Christianson delves deep into the connection between human beings and the planet. Scientists, inventors, and other pioneers are woven into the narrative – among them, Joseph Fourier, the French natural philosopher who, at the turn of the nineteenth century, first envisioned the Earth as a bell jar, Richard Arkwright, who launched the modern factory system, and chemist Charles Keeling, who accidentally discovered, in 1955, that carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere were rising. Their stories, in Christensen’s crystal prose, urgently lead us to rethink what used to be called “man’s place in nature.”

By gradually bringing the full range of its elements and focus, Christianson allows readers to make up their own minds as to the causes and consequences of global warming. For anyone interested in history of science and the fate of planet Earth, Greenhouse is a unique and landmark book that will help shape the issues of the inevitable public debate to come.

Gale E. Christenson is Distinguished Professor in the College of Arts and Sciences and teaches history at Indiana State University. He is the author of several books, including Edwin Hubble: Mariner of the Nebulae and In the Presence of the Creator: Isaac Newton and His Times. The winner of many awards, including a Guggenheim Fellowship, Christensen teaches a variety of courses on several subjects, including science and society and world civilization. He lives in Terre Haute, Indiana.