Book review: The Madhouse Effect by Michael E. Mann and Tom Toles

Posted by David Eicher
on Thursday, November 03, 2016

The cover of The Madhouse Effect by Michael E. Mann and Tom Toles.

A few times per year a science book rolls along that should be required reading for every responsible person on the planet. Such is the case with a new book about global warming denial, The Madhouse Effect: How Climate Change Denial is Threatening Our Planet, Destroying Our Politics, and Driving Us Crazy. The work, by Michael E. Mann and Tom Toles (174 pp., hardcover, Columbia University Press, New York, 2016, $25; ISBN 978–0–231–17786–3), presents a highly entertaining narrative infused with simple logic, concrete science, and a dash of humor. Mann is Distinguished Professor of Atmospheric Science and Director of the Earth Systems Science Center at Penn State. Toles, his friend, is the Pulitzer Prize winning cartoonist at the Washington Post. And of course the book is then host to 53 cartoons scattered throughout, which add a lively dynamic. 

The message of this book comes through loud and clear in the powerful writing. As I have written variously over the past months, the resistance to understanding the science of climate change among certain people or groups, chiefly in the United States, is baffling. The science could hardly be more simple; atmospheric carbon dioxide traps heat, and the more carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere, the more heat is trapped. It’s not rocket science, folks. 

This book walks very simply through the meaning of science, beginning by quoting my old hero and friend Carl Sagan, and then examines the basics of industrially induced climate change. Perhaps the most entertaining bits in this work survey the many groups, modes of thought, and politics that seek to shove the collective head in the sand, choosing to ignore science when the results don’t satisfy for various reasons. (Usually economic.) 

The Madhouse Effect delivers a strong, concise, and exceptionally clear version of the circus that has often surrounded public perceptions of climate change, never letting go of the scientific realities. It ought to be required reading for anyone interested in either the universe at large or the planet they live on. (That should include most of us!) And it ought to embarrass some of the denying public who are far quicker to weigh in with their opinions on the meaning of climate change than they are to comprehend the science behind what’s really going on. 

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