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Wave-watchers of the world, you have a kinsman in physicist-popularizer Trefil (The Unexpected Vista, The Moment of Creation). In this charming book of essays, the U. of Virginia professor uses wind and wave, seafoam and skipping stone to ponder the universalities of nature. He leads off With seemingly artless questions of why there is so much water anyway--a discussion that inevitably introduces the unique mass and solar distance that defines Earth's privileged position as a planet supporting life. This excursion unfolds to revelations concerning plate tectonics and seafloor spreading, the existence of ""juvenile"" water (representing the new water upwelling from deep ocean ridges), and the ways-and-means by which both the amount of water and its salt content manage to remain relatively constant over the eons. Central chapters of the book deal with the many phenomena of waves, again jumping off from the behavior of sea and surf and moving on to the behavior of sound and light, explanations of how light pipes and fiber-optics can be constructed to perform such diverse tasks as carrying telephone messages or allowing specialists to peer into our internal organs. A chapter on bubbles and seafoam may remind old-timers that one of the pioneer science paperbacks dealt with soap bubbles--which prove, then as now, to be a topic of endless fascination. Trefil transports his bubbles to champagne glass and bubble chamber--citing both as examples of how bubbles can form when pressure is suddenly lowered in a supersaturated solution. Sailing on the seas and the construction of medieval cathedrals are illustrations, in another chapter, of how a few compression members are held in place by a collection of members in tension. The last chapter deals with the still unexplained phenomenon of why stones skip on sand or water, an example of yet another everyday phenomenon that may be the inspiration for some future Nobelist. All the material works (with diagrams) toward Trefil's avowed purpose: to show that the laws that govern the movement of sand on the beach, the waves. . . the tides. . . and even the orbit of the moon that raises those tides are the same. Well done and well suited for the curious of all ages.

Pub Date: Jan. 10th, 1984
ISBN: 048644564X
Publisher: Scribners