Summaries of reviews of

Climate Change: Biological and Human Aspects (Cambridge University Press)

(2013  2nd edition) Jonathan Cowie, trade paperback, xvii + 558 pages, ISBN 978-1-107-60356-1.

This page contains excerpts from reviews of this book's second edition.
The review quotes are longer than CUP can use on its promotional material but,
as most journals have on-line versions, you can use Google Scholar to see many of the whole
reviews. Having said that, you may need to use a terminal within an academic library that
subscribes to the journal to get free access, and so for some others this page may be useful.

This 2nd (2013) edition has a 40% greater word count
compared to the 1st (2007) edition. The very slightly larger page size, smaller page margins
and slightly smaller font, means that the page count has not proportionally increased.
This in turn has helped Cambridge U. Press keep the book's real-terms cost down.

You can buy the book here.

See here for summaries of the 1st (2007) edition's reviews.
Summaries of 2nd (2013) edition's reviews are below…


Teaching Biology

"Top Books of 2012: Environmentalism and Climate Change... 8. Climate Change: Biological and Human Aspects.  Every year sees the release of an excellent academic text on climate change summarising all aspects of what we know. This is this year’s version of that book, and it’s a useful tome for anyone looking for the most current and up-to-date resource book on climate change."

Note: Though the 2nd edition officially came out in 2013, advance copies were available in December 2012 and Cambridge U. Press did some advance promotion. This explains how come the 2nd (2013) edition got into Teaching Biology's 2012 top ten environmentalism and climate change listing.  The full listing is on the Teaching Biology's page here.


Geoscientist - magazine of the Geological Society

"Read this book and gain a new perspective on climate change. This is above all an interdisciplinary topic, and hard to grasp in all its essentials by those of us brought up in the old-fashioned 'single discipline' mode of instruction. Few people have put together in such a compelling and reader-friendly way the full extent of information about climate change and its effects, ranging all the way from changes with geological time to real or potential impacts on human health and welfare and on plant and animal life.

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) cited the first edition of this book (2007)as one of the top climate-change science books of the 21st Century. This second edition has been fully updated and substantially expanded, with major updates on climate impacts on early societies, and on biological impacts; updated graphs on energy production and consumption; new sections on climate thresholds, the Kyoto II conference, and the climate policies of Canada, Australia and NZ; and an Appendix with further thoughts for consideration to stimulate discussion.

This is an educational tome, suitable for the scientifically literate layman, high school and undergraduate students, as well as policy makers. Chapter 1 introduces the topic and its differentiation from weather. Chapter 2 is a useful primer on the modern approaches to measuring past climate change. Chapter 3 takes the reader on a useful tour of climate change in the Earth's 4.6 billion-year history. In Chapter 4, Cowie focuses on climate's links to biology, from the Oligocene through the Pleistocene Ice Age and right up to the Holocene.

In Chapter 5 he moves into the Holocene and present climate. Chapter 6 considers current warming and its biological symptoms, ending with a review of possible surprise responses to further global warming. In Chapter 7 we learn about the human ecology of climate change, and the nature and possible manipulation of photosynthesis in the interests of mitigating the problem. In the final Chapter, Cowie documents the development of environmental policy at the international level since the UN Conference on the Human Environment in 1972. He goes on to look at future energy options, and concludes by considering how humans may adapt to further climate change. No matter what we do, Cowie concludes, the biosphere will remain.

This is an invaluable, readable and well referenced guide to where we are now, how we got here, what is happening now, what may happen next, and what we can do about it."

Colin Summerhayes

Note: the above review can be found on the Geological Society's website at the bottom here: Climate Change: Biological and Human Aspects review and also as a PDF of how it appeared in the Geoscientist print magazine here.


Newsletter of the Astrobiology Society of Britain

"Whilst terrestrial climate change may not seem of direct significance to astrobiology, this comprehensive tome, now in its second edition, serves the perfect introduction to topics like solar energy budget, atmospheric composition and the resultant global climate that are all key factors on the habitability of any planet.

Chapter 1 offers a entry-level primer on the basics of terrestrial planetary climates, covering topics including the energy balance of absorbed solar radiation, reflected sunlight and re-radiated thermal energy; the effect of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and the relative contributions of different molecules, the carbon cycle and the major sources and sinks; and planetary periodicities such as the Milankovitch cycles driven by variations in the axial tilt, orbital eccentricity and precession of the equinoxes. Chapter 2 explains the indicators and proxies that can be used to infer temperature in the past, such as the ratio of oxygen-18 to oxygen-16 ratios, and so track Earth’s climatic conditions back through deep time. Also of particular interest to astrobiologists will be Chapters 3 and 4 which provide a clearly-written overview of past climate change on Earth (as inferred using the aforementioned proxies and indicators) from the prebiotic world around 4 Gya, through the great oxidation, evolution of vascular plants and through to the most recent ice ages and the current interglacial period.

Chapters 5 and 6 deal with the predicted effects of the surging atmospheric carbon dioxide levels today, in terms of likely temperature increases, sea level rise, ocean acidification, the response of ecological systems, extreme weather events like droughts or hurricanes, and shifts of oceanic and atmospheric circulation. Whilst these specifics are perhaps less directly relevant to astrobiology and exoplanetary habitability, they make for fascinating, if not somewhat alarming, reading nonetheless. The last few chapters cover the human impact of climate change, such as disease and food security, and the international policies intended to curb further carbon emissions. The book is well supported by clear figures and diagrams throughout.

All-in-all, Climate Change is a thoroughly-researched, comprehensive guide to this interdisciplinary science, encompassing everything from planetary to political processes, and is recommended for anyone wanting to learn more on this important topic."

Lewis Dartnell, Leicester University

Note: A PDF of how this review appeared in the Astrobiology Newsletter is here and formerly on


Landscape Ecology

"The book in review here is an important single source that brings together the science and the overview of global policy actions on climate change. First published in 2007, this is its second edition. The climate change data from experiments, observations, modelling and synthesis are reported in a wide range of journals and the resulting flux makes it difficult to write anything comprehensive and up-to-date on this subject. Thus, a reviewer has to judge how well an author has succeeded in selecting key investigations from diverse fields and knitting them together as a well-connected narrative. In that, the author has done very well...

...I found Chapters 3–6 very well done. The change in floristic elements during the glacial and interglacial cycles, plant evolution—for example, the rise of C4 grasses and their areal expansion over C3 grasses with increase in temperature, and changes in overall species’ phenology and other examples are of much importance and appropriately emphasized. I should have liked the discussion, besides the changes in species’ ranges, to have included recent studies on past and potential changes in the plant and bird species composition of major communities; these studies clearly show the loss of biodiversity and homogenization of species composition...

...This is a fine book, well-written and well-produced. It educates."

M. K. Wali, Ohio State University

Note: This review appeared in Landscape Ecology (2014) vol. 29, p359–360. If you have a subscription to the journal, you can find the full review here.


Biological Conservation

"This new edition reflects the need to revise and update text, data and figures according to the latest developments in the field. In particular, the new edition contains: a considerable expansion of the sections on climatic impacts on early societies; updated data and graphs on energy production and consumption; new sections on the Kyoto II conference, and on the energy and climate policies of Canada, Australia and New Zealand; and a new appendix titled ‘‘Further considerations’’ designed to stimulate discussion. This capillary work of revision and expansion has led the book to have a 30% greater word count compared to the first edition, although thanks to the use of a different page layout, the page count has not proportionally increased.

This book remains a ‘‘must have’’ for its particular organization. In recent years, many books have been published that deal with the causes and effects of climate change from different points of view. However, Cowie’s book remains unique in its attempt to embrace virtually the entire domain of climate change studies. This book presents, in reader-friendly language, an immense amount of information taken from primary literature from a great variety of disciplines connected with the study of climate change and its impacts. It is thus an invaluable reference not only for undergraduate students, but also for scientists.

Like the first edition, this edition presents, in the first four chapters, a detailed discussion of Earth’s climatic history, connecting (in some 200 densely packed pages) past events, current phenomena, and future processes. Although this section may appear of scarce interest from a conservationist’s point of view, nothing could be further from the truth. What occurred in the past can be viewed as a natural experiment that can shed some light on the effects of current, anthropogenic climate change. Few books have emphasized this aspect (I can recall one noticeable exception dedicated to butterflies: R.L.H Dennis’ Butterflies and Climate Change, published in 1994 by Manchester University Press), and Cowie’s book deserves special attention for this...

...All in all, Climate Change: Biological and Human Aspects offers an interesting interdisciplinary synthesis of our current knowledge of global climate change and of interactions between humans, biological systems and Earth’s climate. It is both a fine reference text for undergraduates and stimulating reading for anyone interested in climate change."

Simone Fattorini, Universidade dos Açores

Note: This review appeared in Biological Conservation (2014) vol. 177, p35.  Full review here. (Three reviews, average 5/5 star reviews)

5.0 out of 5 stars I owned the first edition, two different times. December 21, 2014
by T.G.M.

"I owned the first edition, two different times, and both copies were borrowed. I now own and am reading the second edition, especially the parts about isotope and other geoscience indicators of past climate.

This is the best lay person's introduction to the facts and science of climate change that I have found. A review of the IPCC scenarios is included and represented in a very informative way as well."


5.0 out of 5 stars An EXCELLENT academic treatment of a serious issue March 27, 2014
by Weather Guy

"This is really a textbook, rather than something targeted at a general lay audience. It is NOT an "easy read" and is not for the faint of heart. But...for those who are interested in the real science of climate and climate change, this book contains a wealth of information. I consider it an indispensable addition to my library. Be prepared to read carefully and put in the effort to understand the evidence from the past and the implications for the future, Those who are intimidated by scientific language and scientific analysis will find it heavy going. Climate change sceptics will attempt to grasp every nugget of uncertainty or ambiguity--and there are those--but this IS science, not fairy stories about the world as we wish it were. The sceptics will find little comfort in Cowie's careful analysis and documentation of changes in climate over the course of history. I do recommend that those without a background in climatology or meteorology read Barry & McKim's Essentials of the Earth's Climate System first.

The Cowie book provides a very detailed look at the climates of the past. [A good background in geology and geological history is also helpful.]. From this analysis, we can learn a great deal about potential future scenarios for the Earth's climate. This is as sober and sane an analysis of the climate issue as I have seen."


5.0 out of 5 stars One of the best books on climate change I've read January 25, 2014
by Big B

"And I've read a lot of them, over 3 dozen. This book is packed with details about how the climate changed in the past, including biological factors, which can be important. The author doesn't hide the uncertainties and often gives more than one theory for the cause of past changes. He then writes about current climate changes and about future possibilities. It is over 500 pages, so it is not a quick read. But once you read this book, you will know far more about this extremely important subject than the vast majority of people, including probably all our politicians."


In addition there is an, 4 out of 5 star review of the first edition over on the first edition reviews page. Together these are all the Amazon reviews of this title as of July 2014. average 4.8/5 star reviews

As of November 2015, 6 people have rated Climate Change: Biological & Human Aspects on Good  They are asked to rate books out of 5.  Six people have rated the book to give it an average (mean) score of 4.83 out of 5.


And finally there is always one... actually two

Antoinette M. Mannion, Reading University has reviewed Climate Change: Biological and Human Aspects in Biologist and also in the British Ecological Society Bulletin.

Here is an excerpt from Mannion's review in the British Ecological Society Bulletin...

"The introductory chapters consider the various components of global climate (e.g. the greenhouse effect, carbon cycle and hydrological cycle), and how they are interact (sic). Then the all-important techniques of climate reconstruction are described. Biotic indicators including pollen analysis and dendrochronology are used, though there is no mention of beetles or snails, alkenes(sic) and 18O isotopes. Examples of abiotic indicators are isotopes of water and carbon content of ice cores. A notable absence is a discussion of amino acid racemisation, an innovation developed in the last 30 years, to date fossil biological materials such as bone or shell."

You can read Mannion's full review in all its glory here. Enjoy.

Now I do not want to dwell too long on this here. A straight reading of the above review excerpt seems fair. At least (ignoring the technical error) it may seem fair until you actually read the book (which prospective readers, by definition, will not have) and then you will discover that the above contains a number of falsehoods: not just one but a number!

If you are really interested, I have detailed the problems with Antoinette M. Mannion's review here and commented on how such reviews not only do a disservice to the authors and publishers, but prospective readers too. (I do not mind someone writing a review criticising my work as being poor, or even bad, provided the points they make are factual: if not, don't be surprised if I speak out.)


Quick links below to the 1st (2007) edition
reviews by the following:-
            United Nations Environment Programme recommended
            British Ecological Society Bulletin
            Petroleum Review
            Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society
            Choice Reviews On-line
            Eos: Transactions of the American Geophysical Union
            Physics in Canada
            Global Environmental Politics
            Meteorological Applications Royal Meteorological Society