PERSONAL: Married John R. Gribbin (an astrophysicist and author). Education: Attended University of Sussex.
ADDRESSES: Home—Sussex, England. Agent—Chamberlain Bros. Publicity, 345 Hudson St., New York, NY 10014.
CAREER: Freelance writer. Visiting fellow, University of Sussex.
MEMBER: Royal Geographic Society (fellow).
NONFICTION FOR CHILDREN
Hearing, Silver Burdett (Morristown, NJ), 1985.
In the Air, Macdonald (London, England), 1987.
Big Animals, illustrated by Peter Bull, Ladybird (Loughborough, England), c. 1995.
Big Ocean Creatures, illustrated by Peter Bull, Ladybird (Loughborough, England), c. 1995.
Big Bugs, illustrated by Andrew Tewson, Ladybird (Loughborough, England), 1995.
Big Trucks, illustrated by Julian Baker, Ladybird (Loughborough, England), 1995.
Noxious Nature, illustrated by Peter Kavanagh, Oxford University Press (Oxford, England), 1999.
(Editor) John R. Gribbin, Q Is for Quantum: An Encyclopedia of Particle Physics, illustrated by Jonathan Gribbin, timelines by Benjamin Gribbin, Free Press (New York, NY), 1998, published as Q Is for Quantum: Particle Physics from A-Z, Weidenfeld & Nicolson (London, England), 1998.
Contributor to periodicals, including New Scientist and the London Guardian.
WITH HUSBAND, JOHN R. GRIBBIN
Weather (nonfiction for children), Rourke Enterprises (Vero Beach, FL), 1985.
The One Percent Advantage: The Sociobiology of Being Human, Basil Blackwell (New York, NY), 1988.
Children of the Ice: Climate and Human Origins, Basil Blackwell (Cambridge, MA), 1990.
Too Hot to Handle?: Greenhouse Effect, Corgi (London, England), 1992.
Time and Space (nonfiction for children), Dorling Kindersley (New York, NY), 1994.
Fire on Earth: Doomsday, Dinosaurs, and Humankind, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1996.
Watching the Weather, Constable (London, England), 1996.
Companion to the Cosmos, illustrated by Jonathan Gribbin, timelines by Benjamin Gribbin, Weidenfeld & Nicolson (London, England), 1996.
Richard Feynman: A Life in Science, Viking (New York, NY), 1997.
Time and the Universe (nonfiction for children), illustrated by Nick Dewar, Hodder Children's (London, England), 1997.
Chaos and Uncertainty (nonfiction for children), illustrated by Chris Priestley, Hodder Children's (London, England), 1999.
Ice Age, Penguin (New York, NY), 2001.
FitzRoy: The Remarkable Story of Darwin's Captain and the Invention of the Weather Forecast, Review (London, England), 2003, Yale University Press (New Haven, CT), 2004.
Big Numbers (for children), illustrated by Ralph Edney and Nicholas Halliday, Wizard (Cambridge, England), 2003.
How Far Is Up?: Measuring the Size of the Universe, Icon (Cambridge, England), 2003.
The Science of Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials, Knopf (New York, NY), 2004.
Annus Mirabilis: 1905, Albert Einstein, and the Theory of Relativity, Chamberlain Bros. (New York, NY), 2005.
"SCIENTISTS IN 90 MINUTES" SERIES; WITH JOHN R. GRIBBIN
Curie (1867-1934) in 90 Minutes, Constable (London, England), 1997.
Darwin (1809-1882) in 90 Minutes, Constable (London, England), 1997.
Einstein (1879-1955) in 90 Minutes, Constable (London, England), 1997.
Faraday (1791-1867) in 90 Minutes, Constable (London, England), 1997.
Galileo (1564-1642) in 90 Minutes, Constable (London, England), 1997.
Halley (1656-1742) in 90 Minutes, Constable (London, England), 1997.
Mendel (1822-1884) in 90 Minutes, Constable (London, England), 1997.
Newton (1642-1727) in 90 Minutes, Constable (London, England), 1997.
SIDELIGHTS: Mary Gribbin is a prolific author of popular science books for adults and children, often in partnership with her husband, John, who is a former astrophysicist. Together, the Gribbins devote much of their writing to explaining the wonders of the cosmos and telling the stories of the scientists who have helped humanity understand it. Of the latter, the Gribbins have drawn considerable critical attention for their books about Richard Feynman and Robert FitzRoy.
Richard Feynman: A Life in Science is a biography of the Nobel Prize-winning theoretical physicist who was one of the most prominent scientists of the twentieth century. Considered by many to be second in brilliance only to Albert Einstein, Feynman was most lauded for his work in quantum electrodynamics, though this was only one of his many accomplishments. One of his last contributions, in fact, was explaining how cold temperatures damaged the O rings that led to the space shuttle Challenger disaster in 1986. Since his death in 1988, several books have been written about Feynman, and some critics questioned whether another biography was necessary. For example, Isis critic David Kaiser felt that although "descriptions of Feynman's precedents within theoretical physics and of his own scientific contributions are nicely done," the Gribbins' book adds nothing new for readers to ponder. Kaiser concluded that the work "is nothing short of hagiography." A Publishers Weekly contributor also felt that most of the information here "is redundant of the famed scientist's own rememberances," but that the authors' "material [is conveyed] in a clear, well-organized fashion." On the other hand, Gilbert Taylor asserted in his Booklist assessment that Richard Feynman will help general readers understand the accomplishments of this important physicist and that the book "ought to jump off most science shelves."
The Gribbins were more widely praised for their book FitzRoy: The Remarkable Story of Darwin's Captain and the Invention of the Weather Forecast, largely because it brings the scientific work of the largely neglected Robert FitzRoy to the attention of general readers who are much more aware of Charles Darwin. Darwin was the famous passenger on the HMS Beagle, the ship FitzRoy captained when Darwin traveled to the Galapagos Islands and formed his famous theories on evolution. However, FitzRoy was a brilliant man in his own right. He helped conduct surveys of the South American coast, taking Darwin along on his second trip, and upon his return to England served in Parliament. In the mid-1840s, he served for two years as governor of New Zealand. But one of his greatest efforts occurred in his later years, when he became a pioneer in the art of weather forecasting. He created an original design for an early weather station, which included a thermometer and barometer; he is also credited with creating a system for warning people about storms, which resulted in many lives being saved. Late in life, however, FitzRoy suffered from depression, a major cause of which was his belief that he had helped contribute to Darwin's research. FitzRoy was a religious man who opposed Darwin's theories of evolution. Apparently suffering from severe depression, he killed himself in 1864.
Peter Nichols, writing in the Spectator, had some criticisms of the Gribbins' biography, including the authors' neglect in not reporting the importance of FitzRoy's Navy superior, Captain Phillip Parker King, on his life, and for not being completely successful in pulling FitzRoy out from under Darwin's shadow. The reviewer, nevertheless, respected the writers for making a concerted effort to be sympathetic to FitzRoy's "severe depressive illness" On the other hand, Booklist contributor George Cohen considered FitzRoy a "meticulous biography [that] is important in helping to establish the captain's place in history." Dale Farris, writing in Library Journal, similarly declared the book "a superb biography."
When not writing biographies, Gribbin publishes books of more general interest to readers who enjoy science. For example, Ice Age, which she wrote with her husband, covers many topics related to the period in Earth's history when much of the world's surface was covered in ice. The Gribbins begin with Louis Agassiz, the Swiss scientist who first theorized that the Earth endured a long Ice Age period. They then discuss how this idea was developed and proved by later scientists, such as Milutin Milankovitch, and led to theories that the Ice Age may have been critical in the evolution of the human species. At only 105 pages, the book covers a lot of ground, but Rocks and Minerals writer John J. Ernissee felt the authors do a solid job, praising their "extremely clear prose."
In addition to the Ice Age, other factors have strongly influenced the history of the Earth, and the Gribbins write about this in such books as Stardust: Supernovae and Life—The Cosmic Connection and Fire on Earth: Doomsday, Dinosaurs, and Humankind. In the former, the husband-and-wife team explain how scientists have discovered that complex amino acids, the basis of all life, are formed in stars. The latter work explores how impacts from space objects have caused extinctions on Earth and influenced evolution; they then discuss how astronomers are currently trying to track asteroids and comets in an effort to find objects that might threaten our planet in the future. Reviewers of these books approved of the authors' ability to convey scientific information clearly to their audience. In an Astronomy review of Stardust by William Schomaker, for example, the critic wrote, "Gribbin's straightforward and unapologetic approach achieves simplicity without compromising factual integrity." And in Booklist Gilbert Taylor commented that Fire on Earth provides "usefully unified information that is otherwise scattered in such periodicals as Scientific American."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Asia Africa Intelligence Wire, review of How Far Is Up?: Measuring the Size of the Universe.
Astronomy, January, 2001, William Schomaker, review of Stardust: Supernovae and Life—The Cosmic Connection, p. 110.
Booklist, July, 1996, Gilbert Taylor, "Fire on Earth: In Search of the Doomsday Asteroid," p. 1788; June 1, 1997, Gilbert Taylor, review of Richard Feynman: A Life in Science, p. 1633; October 1, 2000, Gilbert Taylor, review of Stardust, p. 308; October 1, 2004, George Cohen, review of FitzRoy: The Remarkable Story of Darwin's Captain and the Invention of the Weather Forecast, p. 289.
Guardian (Manchester, England), January 25, 2003, P. D. Smith, review of Ice Age, p. 32.
Isis, March, 2001, David Kaiser, review of Richard Feynman, p. 207.
Library Journal, June 1, 1997, Gregg Sapp, review of Richard Feynman, p. 138; September 1, 2004, Dale Farris, review of FitzRoy, p. 168.
Nation, October 28, 1996, Mike Davis, review of Fire on Earth: Doomsday, Dinosaurs, and Humankind, p. 38.
New Statesman, September 25, 2000, Brenda Maddox, "The and Us," review of Stardust, p. 79.
Publishers Weekly, May 27, 1996, review of Fire on Earth, p. 59; June 9, 1997, review of Richard Feynman, p. 34; July 12, 1999, review of Almost Everyone's Guide to Science: The Universe, Life, and Everything, p. 83; August 23, 2004, review of FitzRoy, p. 51.
Rocks and Minerals, May-June, 2003, John J. Ernissee, review of Ice Age, p. 203.
Spectator, July 26, 2003, Peter Nichols, "Voyages without Maps," review of FitzRoy, p. 35.