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210 × 148 mm
232 pages
99 illustrations, 57 in colour
18 Aug 2014

Air Nature and Culture Peter Adey

Air has always been essential to life, from the atmospheric composition that gave life to the forests and gigantic insects of the Carboniferous age some 300 million years ago to the air that fuels the most important technologies today. We are immersed in a great ocean of air; from internal combustion and jet engines to modern cities with artificial climates, air is remarkable because it is so widespread and at the same time so intimate. But by managing and manipulating air as a natural resource, humans have been taken to the limits of their survival at the extreme situations of high-altitude mountain peaks and the lows of subterranean worlds. Yet rarely are we aware of air and its incredible properties.

Air is an innovative cultural and scientific history that focuses on our attempts to understand air, to engineer and grapple with it, to make sense of it and find meaning in it. For as essential as air has been to our philosophical, scientific and technological pursuits, Peter Adey shows that it is through air that the artistic and literary imagination has been lifted.

Exploring the work of established figures such as Marie Curie, Joseph Priestley and John Scott Haldane, as well as lesser-known pioneers, and including perspectives from painting, literature and poetry, this richly illustrated book will appeal to anyone interested in the science as well as the culture of this pervasive, often unregarded yet vital substance.

Air drifts delightfully over a wide range of subjects, never dwelling on any for too long, but revelling in the connections and cultural context of our relationship with air. It is also a physically beautiful volume, full of oil paintings and architectural diagrams, wind tunnels and prehistoric dragonfl ies. Adey’s writing style is elegant – he addresses complex issues without slipping into jargon, and is able to inject excitement into the subject without the text becoming stylised or distracting . . . It is [his] ability to show us diff erent perspectives and build new connections between ideas that enables Adey to turn everpresent, everyday air into something strange and magical.’ – The Lancet

‘How do you write a cultural and scientific history of something that is usually invisible and completely taken for granted? Peter Adey has accepted the challenge and attempts to make sense of air and the ways it has shaped our physical and technological development . . . The author effortlessly merges geography with social history and scientific theory and explains, for example, how the growth of towns and cities was closely linked to man's sudden harnessing of air.’ – Geographical Magazine

‘Adey is skilled in multidisciplinary analysis and chooses his subjects carefully. In doing so, he follows in the footsteps of many of the people he studies: he renders air visible, thinkable; he exposes it to the possibility of study . . . Adey has much in common with one of his subjects: French scientist Jules Etienne Marey, who used smoke and water vapor to make air visible as objects (planes, balloons) moved through it. His work resulted in stunning photographic prints. Adey has done with text (and one hundred superb, startling illustrations) what Marey did with smoke: he has produced results not only useful but beautiful, written in a language with the agility and grace to match his subject’s complexity.’ – Criticism

‘an excellent exploration of how air has been represented in the arts for centuries.’ – The Biologist

‘Air has always been essential to life and to our philosophical, scientific and technological pursuits. In this richly illustrated, informative book one discovers its incredible properties.’ – Western Morning News

‘In vivid detail, Peter Adey reveals how we have managed to view air simultaneously as our prime source of misery and as the cure for our miseries; to make air our technological and artistic playground and then abuse it as our dumping-ground; and – ignoring the fact that our species evolved in this rich, warm mixture of gases and shouldn’t expect to do any better than that – to persist in our attempts to improve and “condition” air. A wonderfully written and designed book.’ – Stan Cox, author of Losing Our Cool: Uncomfortable Truths About Our Air-Conditioned World

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Peter Adey is Professor of Human Geography at the Department of Geography, Royal Holloway, University of London. He is author of Aerial Life: Spaces, Mobilities, Affects (2010) and Mobility (2009).