THE TIDE by Hugh Aldersey-Williams


The Science and Stories Behind the Greatest Force on Earth
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An exploration of “the discovery and science of the cosmic rhythm that governs our planet.”

The words “time” and “tide” are connected through language as well as in nature, writes British science writer Aldersey-Williams (In Search of Sir Thomas Browne: The Life and Afterlife of the Seventeenth Century's Most Inquiring Mind, 2015, etc.), who delves into the scientific and cultural influence of the tides. Noting the linguistic link between “tide” and “zeit,” the German word for time, as well as other linguistic references, the author makes insightful connections among science, language, culture, and tradition. The author also examines how metaphors coupling “time” and “tide” are preserved in memorable sayings. “The aphorism time and tide wait for no man,” has incorrectly been attributed to both Shakespeare and Chaucer but predates both of them. The tide exerts a strong force through the action of waves and the corresponding rise and fall of the water level. Observation of the twice-daily variation between high and low tides helped Isaac Newton expand on some of Galileo's theories. He was able to explain “why, in most places, there are generally two tides a day,” which occur at roughly 12-hour intervals. “Tidal forces,” writes the author, “raise a tide on the side of the earth facing the moon…but there is…also a new force of acceleration to be taken into account, acting on the earth in the opposite direction, away from the moon, owing to its orbital motion.” Newton formulated this model in Principia, which laid the basis for his mathematical explanations of the interplay among the gravitational pulls of the sun, the moon, and Earth. Today, writes Aldersey-Williams, oceanographers are studying below-the-surface forces to determine their potential impact on climate change and coastal erosion. As in previous books, the author makes the science accessible and makes important connections to other relevant disciplines.

An engaging exploration of the profound historical relationship between science and culture, written in a lively style with clear scientific explanations.

Pub Date: Sept. 20th, 2016
ISBN: 978-0-393-24163-1
Page count: 368pp
Publisher: Norton
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1st, 2016


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