He Knew He Was Right, By John & Mary Gribbin

A life touched by chaos
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The Independent Culture

Born in 1919, James Lovelock was raised by a feminist mother and artistic father, and has gone on to become a ground-breaking scientist, radical, free thinker and inventor. So, what has he been right about? Mainly that the most critical global problem facing us is environmental.

There are complex rights and wrongs that John and Mary Gribbin must fit into their biography, but the science writers do so with elegance, distilling scientific theories for the layperson.

In 2006, awarding him the Wollaston Medal, the Geological Society praised Lovelock's "multidiciplinarity" and the wonderful richness of insight that has flowed from it, breaking down artificial barriers and creating a unifying worldview. Lovelock is, of course, most renowned for the Gaia hypothesis and theory – the view of the planet and the life that lives on it as a single complex system, "in some ways analogous to a homeostatically self-regulating organism". There is a helpful prologue to He Knew He Was Right consisting of "A Beginner's Guide to Gaia", in which we learn the origin of the term Gaia: it was suggested by Lovelock's friend and neighbour, the novelist William Golding, and taken from the name of the Greek goddess of the Earth.

Once ridiculed by the scientific establishment, with Lovelock regarded as a hysterical prophet of doom, the notion is now appreciated that the world really is warming at an unprecedented rate, due to the activities of mankind.

This lively biography is also a timely account of the interwoven stories of Gaia theory and global warming. "Interesting things happen on the edge of chaos, and one of those interesting things is life – in particular, life on Earth," write the Gribbins. The edge of chaos is also a dangerous place to live – and we here see how humankind is making such a damaging change to the environment.