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The Cloudspotter's Guide: The Science, History, and Culture of Clouds Paperback – June 5, 2007
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From Publishers Weekly
With tongue firmly in cheek and more than a little irony, Pretor-Pinney, founder of the Cloud Appreciation Society, clears up any confusion readers may have about what separates a stratus from a cirrus from a cumulonimbus. He starts at the bottom-that is, at sea level-and discusses the types of clouds that form at each level in the atmosphere. The result is an amusing and remarkably informative jaunt through the heavenly vapors that draws on classical poetry, physics, geekery and pop culture. Despite this improbable mélange, Pretor-Pinney succeeds in fleshing out subtleties and making difficult concepts like convection, advection, condensation and atmospheric optics comprehensible to almost any reader. The author has included dozens of illustrations, cloud photos (including one that looks like two cats dancing and another that resembles Thor hurling a lightning bolt) and diagrams showing the anatomy and lifecycles of clouds. Rounding out the volume are a chapter on the human effects on clouds and a narrative about the author's pursuit of the "Morning Glory," which he calls "the most spectacular cloud in the world." By mixing self-deprecating humor and hard science, Pretor-Pinney makes learning about clouds fun.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
"Charming...spills over with strange and interesting asides."
--The Boston Globe
"This book will entice readers of every stripe."
--The Seattle Times
"Lively, literate, and great fun to read."
From the Hardcover edition.
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Top Customer Reviews
Storm clouds are always amazing to see. I have even seen a few tornadoes and some amazing skies when I lived in Queensland, Australia for two years. There was a cyclone when I was there and that was literally a breath taking experience. The stinging rain comes sideways and it is hard to breath facing into the wind. I could even lean all my weight back into the wind and with my arms outstretched, it easily held me up. One of the wonderful aspects of this book is the way the author shares his love of the beauties in the lest dramatic types in a way that enthuses us to go and look for them on our own.
Gavin Pretor-Pinney is the founder of the Cloud Appreciation Society and if you love pictures of clouds I can't recommend his website strongly enough. Really, they are amazing in their variety, drama, and beauty. This book has thirteen chapters. The first ten take us through the ten main cloud types from the low cumulous up to the cirrostratus. Before the first chapter there is a handy chart of these clouds and their common altitudes that can guide you to the relevant chapter in the book.
Each chapter has a very helpful information page that describes how to spot the cloud type, some photos of the various ways the clouds can appear, what to look for in identifying it, and how to avoid confusing it with a similar cloud (particularly the various stratus types), and it various species and varieties. Each chapter then goes on to talk about the cloud in variety of ways. The author may tell us some new aspect of cloud formation, some anecdotes about the cloud, ways to appreciate that type of cloud, how it might have been represented in paintings, poetry, and even in history. There are plenty of pictures (but to see them in color - got to the cloud appreciation society website), charts, and informative illustrations. However, this is not a technical book. It really is for fun and succeeds admirably in not only holding our interest, but also in teaching us many new and enjoyable things.
The eleventh chapter takes us through a grab bag of attendant cloud formations that are often seen with other cloud types. The twelfth chapter is ostensibly about contrails (which the author rails against), but is really an enviro-alarmist bit about how high flying jets can be contributing to global warming (right). I notice that in the very next chapter on the Morning Glory formation in northernmost Queensland (no, I haven't been to that part of the state), the author did not hesitate to take a high flying jet liner (actually a series of them) to travel half the world away to see this cloud formation. Magnificent as the Morning Glory is and how nicely this chapter concludes the book, it does bespeak the sincerity and coherence of his concerns.
This wonderful book helps me to see our varied skies in new ways. I begin to see the ten main types of clouds in my local sky and now know much more about their altitudes, how they are formed, what they say about the weather cycle we are in, as well as catching the different species and varieties and sticking them more easily into my memory. I will be consulting this handbook many more times as I gain more skill in spotting the clouds overhead.
We start understanding things when we can categorize them, and over the years, observers learned there were differences in cloud types and they attached names to them. The first person to take on this task did not do so until the nineteenth century. Luke Howard, an English Quaker, in 1802 lectured his local scientific society on cloud types, and as was the Linnean fashion, sorted them into genera and species and gave them Latin names, like Cumulus and Stratus. It was a good system, but different nations and regions started adding their own cloud types and cloud names. The confusion was cleared up in 1896, the "International Year of the Clouds". Serious meteorologists formed a "Cloud Committee" and published _The International Cloud Atlas_, sorting clouds into ten genera accompanied by descriptions and photographs. Each of the ten clouds has a chapter in Pretor-Pinney's book, complete with description and lore, and photographs by members of the CAS, along with their membership numbers. For example, chapter one is on the Cumulus cloud, the low, puffy, detached clouds, the sort that children draw in their pictures: "Six year olds are generally rubbish at drawing, but being amongst the best cloudspotters in the world, they are actually quite good at drawing Cumulus." To explain the formation of the Cumulus, the author cheerfully describes the process as compared to a lava lamp, and in the meantime explains lava lamp physics as well. We think of clouds as filmy and light, but a typical Cumulus will have around 220 tons of water droplets in it. Certainly, though, not all is seriousness here. Seeing shapes in clouds is not just a child's game, and the author recommends it: "Clouds are for dreamers, and the contemplation of their shapes is a pursuit worthy of any cloudspotter... any cloudspotter who has become too sensible to see shapes in the clouds needs to re-evaluate."
Pretor-Penney has a great deal of fun with his hobby, fun that comes through in every chapter of his book. For example, in investigating the mackerel sky (a type of Cirrocumulus), he goes to the biggest fish market in London to see which fish had lent its pattern of scales to the name. He finds the mackerel sky within the scales of the king mackerel, but stops in his tracks when he realizes that the scales of the common carp reproduce Altocumulus stratiformis perlucidus, "soon to be known as a 'carp sky'". Few other people could have traveled across the world to see a particular cloud, but you can read his report on the Morning Glory, a type of Stratocumulus that forms in northern Australia in the spring, a huge roll of a cloud that can be six hundred miles long. It is favored by glider pilots who use it as surfers do an ocean wave. There are many other interesting asides here, caught with enthusiasm and humor, within the meteorological rigor. Many readers will want to keep their copy handy as it has "How to Spot..." guides for all the clouds, and how not to confuse them with others. This is one of the most entertaining reference books ever.