Climate: a very short introduction by Mark Maslin. Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2013. No. of pages: xii+159. Price: UK£7.99. ISBN 978-0-19-964113-0 (paperback).


A geologist has always required an unusual breadth of knowledge, but even more so at the present day than, say, 20 or 30 years ago. One of the subjects that have been added to our curriculum since I was an undergraduate is climate. Climate is something of concern to all of us, particularly change in climate. People look to Earth and environmental scientists to cast light on exactly why the climate is changing for the worse based on what has happened in the past. If you are a geologist of similar vintage to me, then climate wasn't an important part of your undergraduate course, so we have to absorb information, patterns and details about climate from what we read, and what we hear from our colleagues.

So, I am delighted to report that Oxford University Press has just shed a strong light in our darkness. The new volume Climate by Mark Maslin is a first-class introduction to the subject which will not break the bank, is unusually clear and will slide easily into your pocket so you can read it on your travels. It will give you more food for thought than just grabbing the ‘Metro’ at the station in the morning.

The structure of the book is entirely logical. As I've already intimated, Climate is well written and should appeal to a wide audience. I particularly appreciated the brief explanations of the derivations of names attached to climatic phenomena; thus, I now know that Hadley Cells are named after an 18th-century English lawyer and amateur meteorologist (p. 20). I also thank Maslin for being at pains to explain the acronyms used in climatology. There are ample detailed figures to support the text. I was delighted to see so many illustrations that clarified the questions that I was asking while reading the book. Captions are, unfortunately, short, which seems to be a negative feature of this series, but Maslin has been wise enough to include ample explanatory text within figures, where necessary. The index appears comprehensive and ‘Further reading’ includes, amongst others, ‘Fiction inspired by climate’!

It is important to realize how important geological features and processes are to climate. This is emphasized throughout Climate, but particularly by Chapter 5, ‘Tectonics and climate’. Three influences are of particular note, the arrangement of the continents (‘Supercontinents are extremely bad for life’; p. 76), the influence of mountain ranges and major plateaus and the effects of major volcanic eruptions. More than I had understood previously, the Tibetan-Himalayan and Sierran-Coloradan plateaus are major influences on air circulation in the Northern Hemisphere (fig. 27). I was at a conference in Denver in late October, when I was reading Climate, and saw at first hand the cooling effect of the Sierran-Coloradan uplift.

This book is yet another winner in the OUP ‘A Very Short Introduction’ series. Who should read Climate? Everyone and anyone can benefit from Maslin's excellent text. Speaking as I am to an audience of geologists, it is a first-class primer to climate, and anyone who teaches a course in, say, Earth history and climate change could do no better than recommend this inexpensive volume as background reading, at least. It has the great advantage of readability and affordability; students will actually be able to buy this book and will enjoy reading it.