Skip to main content

Extraordinary Weather – Richard Hamblyn ***

Probably the next most photogenic aspect of science after astronomy is the weather. From red skies and dramatic thunderstorms to snow scenes and lightning, the weather can truly hit you between the eyes.
This new book from David & Charles and the Met Office, put together by Richard Hamblyn, aims to show us some of nature’s most dramatic views thanks to the weather. The photographs are great, at least as far as the subjects go. A lot of effort has gone into finding some amazing shots of weird and wonderful weather phenomena. The only criticism I’d have is that they have often come out too dark – the colour doesn’t jump off the page. Instead they can be rather murky and low contrast, which with a subject like this (and despite fancy glossy pages) is a real disappointment.
Even so, there are, just as the title suggests, some extraordinary weather effects here, including storms, ice and snow, heat and drought, bizarre clouds and my favourite ‘strange phenomena’. This is very much a picture book. After a rather lyrical couple of pages of introduction, Hamblyn limits himself to extended captions. The only trouble with this is that you have to know quite a few meteorological bits and pieces to be able to keep up. So, for instance, the captions for several photographs refer to supercells, which sounds like they are a kind of battery, but appear to be serious thunderstorms. The word is used as if it’s common parlance (‘I was on the way down to the shops and I saw an amazing supercell!’), and it just isn’t.
I enjoyed thumbing through this book – it was more of a thumb-through than a read – and I really don’t mean this as an insult to say it would be a great book to keep in the toilet. It’s the sort of title that you can dip into for a couple of minutes and really get something out of it. As long as you aren’t expecting more than this, there is everything to recommend about Extraordinary Weather – but don’t expect too much in the way of scientific insights.

Paperback 
Using these links earns us commission at no cost to you
Review by Martin O'Brien

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

The Magicians - Marcus Chown *****

The title may seem an odd one for a popular science book, but it refers to what Chown describes as ‘the central magic of science: its ability to predict the existence of things previously undreamt of which, when people went out and looked for them, turned out to actually exist in the real universe’. That may be true of all branches of science, but physics – which is what the book is about – is a special case, because its theories are rooted in mathematical equations rather than words. This makes the matter completely black-and-white: if the equations predict something you had no inkling of, then either the maths is wrong, or that thing really does exist. This book describes some remarkable instances where the maths was right.

Actually, I’m not sure the title is strictly accurate. It’s true that it centres on people – both the theoreticians who came up with the predictions and the experimentalists who proved them right – but in most cases the ‘magic’ is something the human players simpl…

Infinity Plus: Quintet (SF) - Keith Brooke (Ed.) ****

When I was younger there was nothing I liked better than a good, deep, dark (frankly, often downright miserable) science fiction story, and this collection delivers excellent modern examples that would have fit easily into a thoughtful if downbeat 70s collection such as the 'New Writing in SF' or the Interzone magazine of the day (one was actually first published in Interzone, in 1987 - the rest date between 1989 and 2010).

If I'm honest, I prefer more upbeat fiction now, but that doesn't stop me appreciating the quality of these five stories, put together by the SF website and publisher Infinity Plus. I've rarely seen a better contradiction of Margaret Atwood's putdown of science fiction as being limited to 'talking squids in outer space.' What we have here is pure character-driven storytelling with not a mention of space, spaceships, ray guns or aliens. It's the inner world, not the outer trappings of sci fi tropes that interest these writers.

On…

Until the End of Time: Brian Greene ***

Things start well with this latest title from Brian Greene: after a bit of introductory woffle we get into an interesting introduction to entropy. As always with Greene's writing, this is readable, chatty and full of little side facts and stories. Unfortunately, for me, the book then suffers something of an increase in entropy itself as on the whole it then veers more into philosophy and the soft sciences than Greene's usual physics and cosmology.

So, we get chapters on consciousness, language, belief and religion, instinct and creativity, duration and impermanence, the ends of time and, most cringe-making as a title, 'the nobility of being'. Unlike the dazzling scientific presentation I expect, this mostly comes across as fairly shallow amateur philosophising.

Of course it's perfectly possible to write good science books on, say, consciousness or language - but though Greene touches on the science, there far too much that's more hand-waving. And good though he i…