The Invention of Clouds: How an Amateur Meteorologist Forged the Language of the Skies

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9780330391948: The Invention of Clouds: How an Amateur Meteorologist Forged the Language of the Skies
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A tantalizing mixture of biography, history, and science. The Invention of Clouds takes as its focus a specific scientific advance of the early nineteenth century, but it also addresses other issues of the day, such as culture, religion, aesthetics, literature etc. At the time such things weren't divided into separate disciplines, a mentality that is reflected by the book itself.It tells the story of a shy young Quaker, Luke Howard, and his pioneering work to define what had hitherto been random and unknowable structures - clouds. Howard was catapulted to fame in December 1802 when he named the clouds, a defining point in natural history and meteorology. His poetic names and groundbreaking work made him internationally famous. He became a cult figure for Romantics like Shelley and Goethe. His work is still the basis of modern meteorology, but he himself has been overlooked. In this book Hamblyn means to restore both him, his cultural context and the science he loved, to life.

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British science writer Richard Hamblyn skillfully blends biography with scientific and cultural history to capture for modern readers the remarkable achievement of Luke Howard (1772-1864), the quiet Quaker whose classification of cloud types we still employ today. "Cirrus," "cumulus," and "stratus" now seem almost self-evident descriptions, but when Howard gave his epochal lecture at London's Askesian Society in 1802, the bewildering variety of clouds was more obvious than anything else. Howard's great achievement, writes Hamblyn with characteristic elegance, was "the penetrating insight that clouds have many individual shapes but few basic forms." His graceful résumé of meteorology from the time of the ancient Chinese shows just how difficult generations of scientists found it to make sense of clouds, which frequently served as a metaphor for the awesome complexity of the natural world. Hamblyn's marvelous portrait of English cultural life at the turn of the 19th century reminds us how enthralled the general public was by scientific lectures and demonstrations, which served as a form of popular entertainment as well as a valuable tool in the dissemination of knowledge. "People cheered at lectures," he notes, and young men like Howard, a pharmacist by trade, "refused to allow the circumstances in which they found themselves to deflect them from [a] heroic sense of destiny." This was the great age of amateur scientists, many of them Dissenters like Howard whose religious unorthodoxy barred them from government service and aristocratic clubs. They forged their own place in England's burgeoning industries and in the scientific revolution unleashed by Isaac Newton. Howard, a devoted husband and father active in educational work and the antislavery movement, was representative of the remarkable autodidacts who reshaped European culture. Their work "served the equal demands of pleasure, instruction, and imagination," states Hamblyn, whose delightful book fulfills the same admirable purpose. --Wendy Smith

About the Author:

Richard Hamblyn was born in 1965 and is a graduate of the universities of Essex and Cambridge, where he wrote a doctoral dissertation on the early history of geology in Britain. He lives and works in London, and is currently completing a collection of stories about natural disasters in history.

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Richard Hamblyn
Published by Picador (2001)
ISBN 10: 0330391941 ISBN 13: 9780330391948
New Hardcover Quantity Available: 1
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(Portland, ME, U.S.A.)

Book Description Picador, 2001. Hardcover. Condition: New. book. Seller Inventory # M0330391941

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