If you've ever groused about the weather (who hasn't?) or the meteorological shamans who get it wrong (ditto), here are a pair of books that open a window on the atmospheric ballet and the crap-shoot of forecasting it.

by David Laskin

Although Steven Spielberg's Twister portrays storm chasers and tornado hounds as a new breed of nature hero, weather historian Laskin reminds us that Ben Franklin was the first of the daredevilish breed, with his legendary kite-and-key experiment, and that the history of American weather is often terrifyingly violent.

America's Plains states, for instance, were once prey to black blizzards—a rolling cloud of topsoil that could flay the skin off anyone caught in it—and claim a near-monopoly on tornadoes: Three-quarters of the world's twisters hit the U.S., the majority forming over the Great Plains from spring to early summer. Laskin tells us that through the centuries weather was viewed as everything from a stern Fed-Ex from God to, in Thomas Jefferson's case, a bracing symbol of colonial freedom. (Doubleday, $23.95)

edited by Richard Whitaker and John Zillman

Are you a weather wonk who can recite the names of cloud formations in your sleep or a climatically challenged type still torn between Celsius and Farenheit? Either way, this wide-angled work on the elements promises entertainment and enlightenment for seasons to come. The photographs are stunning throughout, with the section on fluffy altocumulus and wispy cirrus clouds rivaling the raw beauty of Van Gogh's canvases.

Although you won't be able to anchor the Weather Channel after reading the book, chances are you'll never look at a cantaloupe-colored summer sky the same way again. (The Nature Company/Time Life Books, $24.95.)

by Sarah Bradford

When a dog belonging to one of Queen Elizabeth's private secretaries died some years ago, she wrote the man a four-page letter of condolence; yet when one of the private secretaries died, she could not bring herself to write to his widow. As queen of a people famous for emotional reserve, the frosty Elizabeth may represent the best, and worst, of the British character.

A woman who adheres to duty as a way of life, the monarch has never been comfortable guiding her family. She has worried over the fate of all her kin—especially that of her younger sister, Margaret, and her eldest son, Charles. But from a desire to avoid confrontation, she has let family crises simmer, as she did when her sister wanted to marry the divorced Peter Townsend and her son resumed his affair with Camilla Parker Bowles.

In this insightful biography, Bradford confirms rumors that Prince Philip has been unfaithful, but never mind that. "On one dreadful occasion," she says, Elizabeth's pack of corgis fought with the corgis owned by the Queen Mother with fatal consequences for one royal canine. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $30)

by Edward Tenner

Luddites, rejoice! Your fear of technology isn't irrational after all, according to Tenner, a geologist at Princeton University, whose new book shows how the best of scientific intentions can have disastrous consequences. Sure, desktop computers ease everyday chores. But the author writes that more than 31 million victims of carpal tunnel syndrome, video-terminal eyestrain and lower-back pain can testify to the downside of the computer revolution.

(previously killed off by the oil-and chemical-tainted water). The worms devoured 12-inch-thick pilings, causing hundreds of millions of dollars in damage. Exxon's $2 billion cleanup of the Valdez oil spill in Alaska—using hot water applied with high-velocity pumps—scalded beaches, killing barnacles, clams and limpets that had miraculously survived the oil.

In hundreds of vivid anecdotes, Tenner tells us what we've suspected all along—when it comes to enjoying the wonders of new technology, we'd be wise to watch our backs for nature's revenge. (Knopf, $26)

by George Jones with Tom Carter

It's an irony befitting any Nashville songsmith worth his Jim Beam: George Jones, 64, country music's purest singer, was for years one of its most impure characters. For Jones, a seventh-grade dropout, the ABCs were alcohol, brawling and cheating. The son of a hardworking, alcoholic handyman, the Texas native was born into a world of pain, literally. While delivering him, a clumsy doctor dropped the 12-pound future legend, fracturing his arm. That limb would be broken often during Jones's rough-and-tumble life, including once in a drunken fistfight with singer Mel Tillis and again when an angry husband caught Jones in bed with his stripper wife and slammed him with a chair.

In this anecdote-rich memoir, Jones makes no excuses for his behavior. When he drank, he turned mean—and Jones loved to drink, even onstage. For more than 20 years, he trashed bars and hotel rooms and shagged a blur of willing female fans.

Drunk while recording his first No. 1 single, "White Lightning," in 1959, Jones needed 83 takes to get a usable version. However, about his news-making, six-year marriage to Tammy Wynette, Jones says he never beat or shot at the singing star, as was widely reported. Small consolation.

Two things redeem this tawdry story. One is the account of the rich music Jones has made during the past 40 years. The other is the tribute to his fourth wife, Nancy, who, after their 1983 wedding, helped him turn his life around. (Villard, $23)

by Darrell T. Hare

Bugs Bunny would be right to ask, "What's up, doc?" of this beguiling but facile fable about man's untapped divinity. The story begins in a meadow in the mysterious World-in-Between (a kind of karmic holding room where our spirits prepare for reincarnation). There, in a hollow log, we meet Ramar, a white rabbit with gossamer wings who has "the chance to bring the world some very great lessons it has somehow forgotten."

But before this New Age wascally wabbit can journey to Earth, he must be steeped in faith, love and compassion. His spiritual guides are the warm and wise Lydia the Cat, the Dove Who Rhymes with Love and a thoughtful butterfly named Leonardo. They all marvel at Ramar's intuitive wisdom and gawk as his sepia wings brighten into a rainbow of color each time he masters a life lesson.

Were its tone less earnest, this charming story (and its hero) might have taken flight in the manner of Jonathan Livingston Seagull. Sadly, Ramar never soars. Hare (that's his real name), a former ad executive, embroiders his tale with a kind of dream sequence, then clutters the text with aphorisms about life. Here's one he forgot: "Carrots are divine, you get a dozen for a dime." (St. Martin's, $16.95)

by Joseph Wambaugh

Page-Turner of the Week

IT HAS BEEN 22 YEARS (AND 15 BOOKS) since Joseph Wambaugh turned in his LAPD badge for the writing life, but he has never lost his policeman's nose for pretension—or his sense of cosmic humor about the good-and-evil biz. Here he takes on the conspicuous-consumption world of the America's Cup sailing regatta at the San Diego Yacht Club. Ambrose Lutterworth is Keeper of the Cup, the yacht club's designated old duffer who shows off the sailing world's revered trophy on ceremonial occasions. It's the most prestigious job he's ever had, but if New Zealand or Australia wins the races against the Americans, he'll be out of work. So he concocts a plot to sabotage the Kiwi's boat. Helping him are a prostitute, Blaze Duvall, and an alcoholic crane operator, Simon Cooke. On their trail are a pair of horny harbor patrolmen and a garlic-oozing detective called Letch Boggs. By the time this salty tale hits the beach, readers will be wet-eyed with laughter. (Bantam, $22.95)

>Petru Popescú

TWO DUELING CAVEMAN CHRONICLES

IN 1977, RUMANIAN NOVELIST PETRU Popescú, 27, defected to the U.S. from his Communist homeland after a brief stay in London and panicked. "I had found freedom," he says, "but I felt I had lost myself, since writing had been my whole life from an early age." It took Popescú 20 years of reading and writing in English to produce Almost Adam (Morrow), an accomplished piece of pop fiction that has already been sold to 20th Century Fox for $1.5 million. Indeed, this rollicking adventure of a present-day scientist who encounters a tribe of prehistoric humans shines compared with its competition, Neanderthal (Random House), by New York Times London bureau chief John Darnton.

While Darnton lumbers through a hackneyed plot, Popescú, now 47, ably conjures up complex characters, some racy sex scenes and the wild beauty of the remote East African outback. Despite Neanderthal's drawbacks, Steven Spielberg's DreamWorks shelled out seven figures for the film rights. Which prehistoric picture will make it to the screen first?

Popescú, who now lives in Beverly Hills, was struck by the idea for his novel in L.A.'s Franklin Canyon, while he watched his son Adam, now 11, bounding through the tall grass. (Popescú and wife Iris Friedman, a scriptwriter, also have a daughter Chloe). "I knew that Adam's enormous enjoyment of nature and curiosity about life would be the characteristics, too, of the young protohuman who is the first to encounter the scientist," says the author, who has lived in two worlds and understands that we may be a long way from Eden but not that far from Adam and Eve.

  • Contributors:
  • Wayne Kaylin,
  • Clare McHugh,
  • Mark Bautz,
  • V.R. Peterson,
  • J.D. Reed.