Weather Matters: An American Cultural History since 1900

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Overview

Everybody talks about it—and why not? From tornadoes in the Heartland to hurricanes in the Gulf, blizzards in the Midwest to droughts across the South, weather matters to Americans and makes a difference in their daily lives.

Bernard Mergen's captivating and kaleidoscopic new book illuminates our inevitable obsession with weather—as both physical reality and evocative metaphor—in all of its myriad forms, focusing on the ways in which it is perceived, feared, embraced, managed, and even marketed. From the roaring winds atop Mount Washington to the reflective calm of the poet's lair, he takes a long-overdue look at public response to weather in art, literature, and the media. In the process, he reveals the cross-pollination of ideas and perceptions about weather across many fields, including science, government, education, and consumer culture.

Rich in detail and anecdote, Weather Matters is filled with eccentric characters, quirky facts, and vividly drawn events. Mergen elaborates on the curious question of the "butterfly effect," tracing the notion to a 1918 suggestion that a grasshopper in Idaho could cause a devastating storm in New York City. He chronicles the history of the U.S. Weather Bureau and the American Meteorological Society and their struggles for credibility, as well as the rise of private meteorology and weather modification—including the military's flirtation with manipulating weather as a weapon. And he recounts an eight-day trip with storm chasers, a gripping tale of weather at its fiercest that shows scientists putting their lives at stake in the pursuit of data.

Ultimately, Mergen contends that the popularity of weather as a topic of
conversation can be found in its quasi-religious power: the way it illuminates the paradoxes of order and disorder in daily life—a way of understanding the roles of chance, scientific law, and free will that makes our experience of weather uniquely American. Brimming with new insights into familiar experiences, Weather Matters makes phenomena like Hurricane Katrina and global warming at once more understandable and more troubling—examples of our inability to really control the environment—as it gives us a new way of looking at our everyday world.

This book is part of the CultureAmerica series.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal

Mergen (American studies, emeritus, George Washington Univ.; Snow in America) has written an engaging account on a subject we all complain about but can't change: the weather. He takes an original approach by expanding on the development of meteorology and institutional histories of the U.S. Weather Bureau, American Meteorological Society, and the Weather Channel. He also discusses how air and clouds have been studied with instruments such as the barometer and radar and depicted in paintings, photographs, and other artistic and cultural media, then goes on to examine the treatment of weather in American novels and poetry. The book concludes by assessing how people cope with the impact of weather, including natural disasters, and the author's own experiences with storm chasers out West. Merger draws on a wide array of sources to produce this fascinating study of a timeless human obsession. Recommended for all public and academic collections.
—Stephen L. Hupp

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780700616114
  • Publisher: University Press of Kansas
  • Publication date: 8/26/2008
  • Series: CultureAmerica
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 384
  • Product dimensions: 6.40 (w) x 9.20 (h) x 1.40 (d)

Meet the Author

Bernard Mergen is professor emeritus of American studies at George Washington University and author of Snow in America, which was awarded the 2002 Ullr Prize by the International Skiing History Association.
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Table of Contents

1 Talking about Weather 7

2 Managing Weather 61

3 Seeing Weather 129

4 Transcribing Weather 194

5 Suffering Weather 252

Notes 327

Selected Bibliography 379

Index 385

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