I had been a cloudspotter and didn’t know it. While reading Gavin Pretor-Pinney’s The Cloudspotter’s Guide (Penguin Books, 2006), I kept remembering the cloud-related posts I have been putting up on this blog. The latest one of which was about a snail that prefers to look at clouds from above.
I was delighted to learn from this book that the taxonomy of clouds follows a Linnean system, with genera, species and varieties, similar to that used for animals and plants. Depending on the atmospheric conditions, clouds conforming to the definition of one species can even change into other species, evolve so to speak, just as do animal and plant species. Is it a coincidence that the branching clouds I once observed out of my airplane window reminded me of cladograms that one frequently encounters in papers on evolutionary biology?
The book is divided into many, many sections, some of which are only a page or two long. Each section can be read more or less independently of the others without having to worry too much about discontinuity. That and the many photographs and diagrams make it an easy-to-read book.
Moreover, there is something interesting on almost every page ranging from scientific explanations of various atmospheric phenomena to cloud related snippets from art, history and culture. For example, I learned that the “explanation” that thunder was the sound of colliding clouds that my mother told me when I was a little boy goes all the way back to Aristotle. Who would have guessed that Mom was dispensing Aristotelian wisdom all those years right under our noses!
One complaint I have: why are all the distances and heights in this book in feet and miles? Is it because I am reading the U.S. edition?
A little more than a year ago, I had a post inspired by the ephemeral and one-of-a-kind shapes of some clouds passing above my house. Thanks to this book, now I know those were Cumulus humilis. Clouds may not stick around for very long, but The Cloudspotter’s Guide is going to have a permanent spot in my library.
The author, Gavin Pretor-Pinney, is also the founder of The Cloud Appreciation Society.