I’m very fond of Chris Turney‘s book, Bones, Rocks, and Stars. It’s a slender, simple description of the many tools scientists use to figure out how old something is, and when arguing with young earth creationists, it’s become the first thing I recommend to them. It’s short and easy to read, and focuses on explaining how dating methods work.
Its virtues are the same as his previous book, the careful documentation of exactly how we know what we know, and less dictation of the conclusions. This is useful, because as we all know, climate is a phenomenon that shows a lot of variability, exhibits patterns in its history, and also has large degrees of uncertainty, phenomena that denialists can seize upon to magnify that uncertainty into a basis for an unwarranted rejection of well-supported hypotheses. So while we can see distinct variations from simple linear uniformity of climate change like the Little Ice Age and the Medieval Warm Period, that doesn’t change the fact that greenhouse gases profoundly influence earth’s temperature, and it’s clear that CO2 has risen to levels the planet hasn’t seen in at least 650,000 years. The past tells us what we can expect in the future, and it’s grounds for serious concern. Yes, Turner comes down firmly on the side of an anthropogenic cause for the current trend of global warming, and he explains exactly why, step by step.
Where Turner departs from the formula of his last book, though, is that this one, while still fairly short, is much denser and more technical. Anyone can read it — I managed, despite knowing next to nothing about climatology — but it’s not the kind of thing you’ll be able to do in an evening or two of light reading. There are a few places where the level of detail slowed me down to a steady slog rather than a fast flit, but face it, any book that tries to untangle ocean currents, monsoons, El Nino, and past current reversals is going to occasionally demand the same level of studious, focused attention you’d need to clean up a snarled fishing reel. This is a book that is describing some extraordinarily complicated stuff.
If you want just one book, not too thick or too technical, that will give you the intellectual tools to at least understand what the climate change experts are talking about, this is the one. I recommend bringing it to the beach and reading it there — you’ll appreciate the rising tide and the ocean beaches a little more, and perhaps regard them with a little more respectful dread.