Frank Vanderwal is a brilliant microbiologist, an avid rock climber and a bit of an amateur anthropologist who tends view human behavior somewhat dispassionately in terms of social psychology and primate evolution. After a year in DC he is increasingly frustrated with the politics and bureaucracy that he believes is preventing urgently needed action on climate change.
Anna Quibler is the Bioinformatics Director at the National Science Foundation in Washington D.C. She works there with Frank and she and her husband Charlie share Frank's concern over global warming and political inaction.
Charlie writes environmental legislation for Senator Phil Chase. Chase is impassioned and charismatic, and a rising figure in US politics. He is of the opposing party to the administration and Charlie sees in him an opportunity to push for action on the climate issue.
Anna finds out that the small island nation of Khembalung has an embassy in the same building as her NSF offices, she makes friends with two monks who serve as their ambassadors due to her and Charlie's interest in the same issue that threatens the islanders homeland; rising ocean levels. She invites them to her home and they become friends with her family and with Frank.
Meanwhile, in San Diego, the lab that Frank normally consults for is in financial trouble due to some bad acquisitions and a scientific problem with no apparent solution. Frank decides to return to San Diego and quits the NSF with an angry letter than he leaves in the office before the weekend. However two things happen after that; he attends a lecture by the Khembali monks and he has a romantic interlude after getting stuck in an elevator with a woman whose name he never learns. Inspired by these incidents he meets with the directors at the NSF and confesses his frustration, urging them to use the NSF's powers to act quickly and urgently on climate change. He discovers that most of the board feels the same way and it is agreed he will stay on for another year and they will move forward with several daring projects.
The book is the first in trilogy, and ends with massive storms on both coasts. There is massive coastal property damage along the California beaches and Frank's colleague at Torrey Pines Generique watches as his own cliff side house collapses into the ocean. The Capitol is flooded with the entire National Mall underwater. Frank is out helping with the flooding recovery and sees the woman from the romantic encounter, he manages to get her phone number and she agrees to see him again.
Finally, Charlie contacts Senator Chase and points out that this is the perfect basis to run his election campaign on but even in the midst of the crisis the best he can get for an answer is "I'll see what I can do".
Best part of story, including ending:
The climate science is fascinating and the way the characters and their various personal concerns all tie together with the overall issue of the weather is very deftly handled.
Best scene in story:
Frank tries to climb into his office after hours to retrieve his resignation letter, using his rock climbing experience, it's perfectly in character for a man who is both brilliant but a little socially odd and quite a gripping scene.
Opinion about the main character:
The characters all get almost equal footing, but Frank is probably the one whose head you spend the most time in. He is sometimes frustratingly analytical, thinking about every behavior he sees and trying to interpret it scientifically.