A World Without Ice

Dr Henry Pollack, the author of A World Without Ice, is a geophysicist and an IPCC author. According to Al Gore, in the foreword, he is also “a scientist with the rare ability to engage ordinary people and to translate scientific ideas into everyday terms that are easy to understand”.

I couldn’t agree more. Pollack didn’t write A World Without Ice like a scientific journal, or like a textbook. Rather, he wrote it with the air of an enthusiastic science teacher introducing his students to new topics.

I was introduced to many new topics throughout the book – basic glaciology, the Earth’s geological thermostat, the Maunder Minimum – and I didn’t have to struggle to understand the terminology, or read anything twice. Pollack wrote with such clarity that learning new scientific topics felt almost effortless.

But absolutely top-notch were his metaphors. For example, this is how Pollack explains how the three factors of the Milankovitch cycles can combine to cause climatic change:

The composite is like listening to sound from an electronic synthesizer, which uses only three tones with different volume settings. The combination is usually some gentle cacophony, but from time to time there is some harmony between two of the tones, and on occasion with even one tone dominating, coming through loud and clear. The right combination of these Milankovitch factors sets the stage for snow accumulation at high latitudes and the beginning of an ice age.

Brilliant, no?

My one complaint about A World Without Ice was that Pollack tended to step too far away from his central topic of ice as a geological and climatic force. He ended up explaining everything that was even remotely related to ice, instead of sticking to what made his book unique.

For example, the North and South Poles are dominated by ice, so the first 30 pages were devoted to a history of polar exploration. Interesting stories, but not really necessary in a book about geology. It’s easy to find entire books about polar exploration if the reader is so inclined.

Later, when global warming came into the discussion, Pollack spent several chapters going through the basic lines of evidence for anthropogenic warming. I would wager that most readers of A World Without Ice are familiar with An Inconvenient Truth, or something similar, which has these explanations as its central purpose. Therefore, I don’t feel that running down this path well travelled is necessary for the audience at hand.

I feel that pieces of A World Without Ice could have been taken out, and the book as a whole would have actually benefited. So the next time I read it (and yes, I’m quite sure there will be a next time), I may not read the whole thing. I may skip the story of Captain Cook’s Antarctic voyage, or the explanation of the Keeling Curve. But I will read, many times over, the explanations of how ice is tied to geology, glaciology, and paleoclimatology. That’s what Pollack, this enthusiastic science teacher, intended the book to be about. And that’s what he does best.

TLC Book Tours is offering one free copy of A World Without Ice to a ClimateSight reader! The first person to correctly answer this question will be the winner:

What chapter of the IPCC AR4 did Dr Henry Pollack contribute to?

Leave your guesses in the comments. This contest is open to Canada and US readers only.


18 thoughts on “A World Without Ice

  1. Working Group 1, Chapter 2 (Paleoclimate). Your review’s convinced me to pick it up even if I’m not the first to submit that.

  2. Hi,
    Dr. Henry Pollack contributed to the IPCC Working Group 1 Fourth Assessment Report, Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis.


  3. Kate, great job on the review!! Thanks so much for getting the word out about this important subject, and thank you for all the time that went into reading and reviewing this book. It is much appreciated.

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