Picks and Pans Review: Braving the Elements
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)