Lively, literate and great fun to read.




A handbook with pizzazz from the Oxford-educated founder of the Cloud Appreciation Society.

British journalist Pretor-Pinney brings enthusiasm and knowledge to the subject of clouds. All the basics of a field guide are here, with chapters on each of the ten fundamental types of clouds—the low-lying cumulus, cumulonimbus, stratus and stratocumulus; the mid-level altocumulus, altostratus and nimbostratus; and the high cirrus, cirrocumulus and cirrostratus—plus contrails and assorted others not recognized as true types. The author’s “How-to-Spot” page on each cloud describes its characteristics, and tells how to distinguish among its subtypes and variations. The author spells out clearly, with words and diagrams, just how clouds form and the weather associated with each kind. Such facts, however, are but a small part of his armamentarium. He treats the reader to mini-essays on clouds in Christian iconography, in English literature, in Greek drama and mythology and in the Hindu religion; on their impact on historic battles; on the development of the cloud harp, a musical instrument that creates music from the shape of clouds above it; on the Chinese chemist who makes short-term earthquake predictions based on the appearance of certain types of clouds. There’s even a dramatic story about a U.S. Air Force pilot who was forced to eject from his jet at 47,000 feet and was tossed around in the violent, icy heart of a cumulonimbus, or giant thunder cloud, for 40 minutes before his parachute landed him safely on earth. In the final chapter, Pretor-Pinney’s obsession with clouds leads him to travel from England to Australia for the chance to see a Morning Glory, a tremendously long cloud formation that cloudspotters consider the most spectacular in the world. Unfortunately, the tiny photos the author provides are inadequate to demonstrate this. Indeed, the book’s usefulness as a guide would have been greatly enhanced if the numerous black-and-white photos where supplemented with color.

Lively, literate and great fun to read.

Pub Date: June 5, 2006

ISBN: 0-399-53256-0

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Perigee/Penguin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2006

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Loads of good explaining, with reminders, time and again, of how much remains unknown, neatly putting the death of science...


Bryson (I'm a Stranger Here Myself, 1999, etc.), a man who knows how to track down an explanation and make it confess, asks the hard questions of science—e.g., how did things get to be the way they are?—and, when possible, provides answers.

As he once went about making English intelligible, Bryson now attempts the same with the great moments of science, both the ideas themselves and their genesis, to resounding success. Piqued by his own ignorance on these matters, he’s egged on even more so by the people who’ve figured out—or think they’ve figured out—such things as what is in the center of the Earth. So he goes exploring, in the library and in company with scientists at work today, to get a grip on a range of topics from subatomic particles to cosmology. The aim is to deliver reports on these subjects in terms anyone can understand, and for the most part, it works. The most difficult is the nonintuitive material—time as part of space, say, or proteins inventing themselves spontaneously, without direction—and the quantum leaps unusual minds have made: as J.B.S. Haldane once put it, “The universe is not only queerer than we suppose; it is queerer than we can suppose.” Mostly, though, Bryson renders clear the evolution of continental drift, atomic structure, singularity, the extinction of the dinosaur, and a mighty host of other subjects in self-contained chapters that can be taken at a bite, rather than read wholesale. He delivers the human-interest angle on the scientists, and he keeps the reader laughing and willing to forge ahead, even over their heads: the human body, for instance, harboring enough energy “to explode with the force of thirty very large hydrogen bombs, assuming you knew how to liberate it and really wished to make a point.”

Loads of good explaining, with reminders, time and again, of how much remains unknown, neatly putting the death of science into perspective.

Pub Date: May 6, 2003

ISBN: 0-7679-0817-1

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Broadway

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2003

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A tiny book, not much bigger than a pamphlet, with huge potential impact.

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A collection of articulate, forceful speeches made from September 2018 to September 2019 by the Swedish climate activist who was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.

Speaking in such venues as the European and British Parliaments, the French National Assembly, the Austrian World Summit, and the U.N. General Assembly, Thunberg has always been refreshingly—and necessarily—blunt in her demands for action from world leaders who refuse to address climate change. With clarity and unbridled passion, she presents her message that climate change is an emergency that must be addressed immediately, and she fills her speeches with punchy sound bites delivered in her characteristic pull-no-punches style: “I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. And then I want you to act.” In speech after speech, to persuade her listeners, she cites uncomfortable, even alarming statistics about global temperature rise and carbon dioxide emissions. Although this inevitably makes the text rather repetitive, the repetition itself has an impact, driving home her point so that no one can fail to understand its importance. Thunberg varies her style for different audiences. Sometimes it is the rousing “our house is on fire” approach; other times she speaks more quietly about herself and her hopes and her dreams. When addressing the U.S. Congress, she knowingly calls to mind the words and deeds of Martin Luther King Jr. and John F. Kennedy. The last speech in the book ends on a note that is both challenging and upbeat: “We are the change and change is coming.” The edition published in Britain earlier this year contained 11 speeches; this updated edition has 16, all worth reading.

A tiny book, not much bigger than a pamphlet, with huge potential impact.

Pub Date: Nov. 26, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-14-313356-8

Page Count: 112

Publisher: Penguin

Review Posted Online: Nov. 3, 2019

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