The Science, History, and Culture of Clouds
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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 5th, 2006
ISBN: 0-399-53256-0
Page count: 304pp
Publisher: Perigee/Penguin
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1st, 2006