By Daniel Fierman
Updated October 19, 2001 at 04:00 AM EDT

BBC journalist Jago delivers the latest in an increasingly wearying line of pop-science histories (see: Mark Kurlansky, Dava Sobel, Simon Winchester). Her subject? Norwegian scientist Kristian Birkeland, who uncovered the cause of the Northern Lights and produced ahead-of-his-time scholarship in the field of electromagnetic theory. All the familiar tropes of the genre are here: battles with the elements, a closed-minded scientific establishment, and love destroyed by obsessive work. Jago is a good writer and a tremendous researcher: Northern Lights brims with astonishing detail. But Birkeland himself isn’t especially compelling, and when other characters drift into his life — I was particularly fond of Helland, who used dried fish as bookmarks — you may wish you could stop the proceedings and follow them instead.