An American Cultural History since 1900
Louis J. Battan Author's Award given by the American Meteorological Society
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.
“Mergens boisterous book [is] delightful . . . . He organizes an astonishly diverse collection of sources into a flowing history of American weather discourse. . . . With a light touch and plenty of humor, he suggests that our talk about the weather reveals as much about ourselves as it does about the clouds around us.”
“An ambitious, richly illustrated survey of attention to weather in the United States since the turn of the twentieth century. . . . It is part of the impressive series Culture America.”
—American StudiesSee all reviews...
“A fascinating study.”
—Western Historical Quarterly
“By exploring the complex history of how we as a society experience weather, Mergen invites trained professionals and amateur witnesses alike to examine our assumptions about our relationship to the elements. . . . Mergen’s engaging look at American culture and weather makes it obvious how much we still need to know about the cross-cultural, international, and environmental histories of weather and of climate change.”
—American Meteorological Society Bulletin
“Exhaustively researched and footnoted, there is much to be learned and appreciated here by both professional meteorologists and weather enthusiasts. . . . a welcome addition to the shelf of anyone for whom weather is more than simply a token topic for conversation.”
“The weather’s meatphoric power—its chaos, its beauty, its pitilessness infliction of disaster—inspires Mergen’s thoughtful inquiries into our relationship to it, acted out in the obsessions of tornado chasers or the insouciant revels of hurricane partiers.”
“Using such disparate examples as Boy Scout merit badges and The Weather Channel, Mergen explores ways in which American culture has internalized the desire to manage weather.”
“Mergen 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. Mergen draws on a wide array of sources to produce this fascinating study of a timeless human obsession.”
“The definitive weather book for decades to come. From weather humor to the politics of weather disaster with Katrina, from weather lore to weather prediction, from weather watchers to weather consumers, this book offers a truly comprehensive and invaluable history of weathers enormous social and cultural impact.”
—Marita Sturken, author of Desiring the Weather and Tourists of History
“Mergen may know more about the cultural history of weather than anyone around and his latest book overflows with fascinating discussions. Whether or not we can do anything about it, Americans delight in talking about the weather, and Mergen is an expert listener.”
—Gary Alan Fine, author of Authors of the Storm: Meteorologists and the Culture of PredictionSee fewer reviews...
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.