Until 1997, few people had heard of the seasonal current that Peruvians nicknamed El Niño. But when meteorologists linked it to devastating floods in California, severe droughts in Indonesia, and strange weather everywhere, its name became entrenched in the common parlance faster than a typhoon making landfall. Bumper stickers appeared bearing the phrase "Don't blame me; blame El Niño." Stockbrokers muttered "El Niño" when the market became erratic.
What's behind this fascinating natural phenomenon, and how did our perceptions of it change? In this captivating book, renowned oceanographer George Philander engages readers in lucid and stimulating discussions of the scientific, political, economic and cultural developments that shaped our perceptions of this force of nature.
The book begins by outlining the history of El Niño, an innocuous current that appears off the coast of Peru around Christmastime--its name refers to the Child Jesus--and originally was welcomed as a blessing. It goes on to explore how our perceptions of El Niño were transformed, not because the phenomenon changed, but because we did. Philander argues persuasively that familiarity with the different facets of our affair with El Niño--our wealth of experience in dealing with natural hazards such as severe storms and prolonged droughts--can help us cope with an urgent and controversial environmental problem of our own making--global warming.
Intellectually invigorating and a joy to read, Our Affair with El Niño is an important contribution to the debate about the relationship between scientific knowledge and public affairs.
"George Philander provides [an understanding of El Niño] simply and authoritatively. He does so, not by losing the reader in elaborate descriptions of data acquisition and mathematical modeling, but by the apt use of analogies drawn from the viewpoints of the poet, musician and painter."--Richard Shelton, Times Literary Supplement
"Our Affair with El Niño is a very readable, entertaining and instructive book that will appeal to scientists and non-scientists alike. . . . [Philander] writes with the enthusiasm of an eye-witness and the authority of an expert. The book skillfully weaves together descriptions of El Niño physics, the historical backdrop that led to widespread interest in El Niño, and the philosophical perspectives on the role of scientific research in addressing present-day environmental problems."--Michael J. McPhaden, Nature
"[Philander] presents the current scientific understanding of El Niño concisely, explaining the details of circulation in the ocean and atmosphere with lucid analogies and thoughtful examples. He describes the broad outlines of how this understanding emerged, piecemeal, along complex and tangled paths. It is as a work in the history of science that the book makes its greatest contributions."--Benjamin S. Orlove, American Scientist
"This is a provocative and useful summary of what we know, and what we would like to know about El Niño's influence on humankind. The book is a clear, scientifically definitive statement on an issue of concern to us all."--Brian Fagan, University of California, Santa Barbara
Table of Contents
Another Princeton book authored or coauthored by S. George Philander: