I have been a fan of John Gribbin's books for many years. I believe the first I read dealt with climate change in the days when our biggest concern was an impending ice age. I also loved his lucid accounts of modern physics, volumes ranging from quantum physics to cosmology. Of late he has teamed with Mary Gribbin on a number of books including volumes on the influence of ice age climates on the rise of our species. Their writings, as individuals and as collaborators, are among the clearest voices in explaining science today.
When I saw the impending release of FitzRoy: The Remarkable Story of Darwin's Captain and the Invention of the Weather Forecast, I knew I had to read this one. It was made even more compelling by the second part of the subtitle: "the Invention of the Weather Forecast" because my research into the history of weather and weather science has brought FitzRoy's name to the forefront in many areas of science and service.
Robert FitzRoy is perhaps one of the least recognized giants in the field of geography and earth sciences. His lack of recognition, in part, stems from his being hidden from view by the shadow of one of the true giants of all time in the sciences, Charles Darwin, with whom he will be forever linked. (Part of the reason for this lack of recognition, the authors tell us, stems from the backlash of the supporters of Darwin when FitzRoy opposed Darwin's views on evolution, relegating him to "just" the captain of HMS Beagle.)
Had FitzRoy not invited Darwin aboard to serve as Beagle's naturalist and his social companion (that is, someone not of the British Navy to whom FitzRoy could speak freely during the five-year voyage), we would likely view FitzRoy today as a great explorer in the same vein as Cook and Vancouver, perhaps even more so because of his post-exploration accomplishments. FitzRoy lead the formation of what today is the British Meteorological Office and was among the first to issue regular weather forecasts for both sea and land. He coined such standard weather terms as synoptic, gale warning and weather forecast.
FitzRoy was also a very private, public figure, and thus, the Gribbins had the difficult task of reconstructing his life story without the usual body of personal correspondence that many figures of the time provided to their biographers. Luckily, men such as Darwin did provide insight into the personal man, and the authors weave such documents into the well documented professional life curriculum vitae left to us in the records. FitzRoy descended from royalty but his mark on life today exceeds that of all his blue-blooded ancestors.
With one exception, I greatly enjoyed this biography. My disappointment is that FitzRoy's influence on the weather sciences and services did not receive more attention, particularly since his role was mentioned prominently in the subtitle. My research indicates he also invented a form of barometer known as the FitzRoy storm glass and that he was one of the first to apply Beaufort's wind force scale and weather notation to his weather records while at sea.
If you love the series of weather biographies and histories that have come out recently (Luke Howard, Francis Beaufort, etc.), this one should be of particular interest. But I would be remiss if I did not say this biography will also delight those interested in many other areas such as marine exploration, evolution and the life of Charles Darwin (as well as fans of John and Mary Gribbin, individually or as a team). I highly recommend FitzRoy: The Remarkable Story of Darwin's Captain and the Invention of the Weather Forecast.
Weather Doctor's Book Review: FitzRoy: The Remarkable Story of Darwin's Captain and the Invention of the Weather Forecast ©2004, Keith C. Heidorn. All Rights Reserved.
Correspondence may be sent to: Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.