Windswept: The Story of Wind and Weather

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The must-read natural history book of the season from the Governor General’s Award-winning author of Water.

Wind makes life on earth possible. It moderates climate, dispersing the sun’s rays and carrying moisture from the oceans to the land, where it falls as rain. Its action created the great rivers that nurtured the world’s earliest civilizations and permitted the development of the first technologies not dependent on human or animal energy. Winds affect human history, too. A ...

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Windswept: The Story of Wind and Weather

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Overview

The must-read natural history book of the season from the Governor General’s Award-winning author of Water.

Wind makes life on earth possible. It moderates climate, dispersing the sun’s rays and carrying moisture from the oceans to the land, where it falls as rain. Its action created the great rivers that nurtured the world’s earliest civilizations and permitted the development of the first technologies not dependent on human or animal energy. Winds affect human history, too. A Saharan sandstorm foiled the Persian invasion of Egypt in the fourth century B.C., and the Spanish Armada went down in defeat because the winds conspired with the British to blow in the wrong direction. Winds taught mankind to sail, and then to fly.

This book delves into the origins of wind and weather. It looks at the power of the oceanic storms, at hurricanes, tornadoes, dust devils, and at the way the human species is tampering with the global climate. But wind is the most forgiving of our natural phenomena and in it nature has given us a perpetual motion machine that we can use to make things better. Always engaging and often provocative, Marq de Villiers has once again given us a compelling investigation of the natural world.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Editorial Reviews

Elizabeth Royte
Windswept moves breezily through the meaning of wind — what it represented for the ancients, and how it was personified as arbitrary and angry — to a history of our understanding of it, from early measurements of air pressure to the discovery that storms travel, and then on to the science of accurate measurement, the art of prediction and the appearance, on Jan. 11, 1954, of the first TV forecast. "Well-coiffed weather people have been with us ever since," the author writes. Some of the liveliest bits cover how wind smashes up structures and how it has been used for sailing, flying, cooling, grinding corn and generating power. Throughout, de Villiers stresses that winds are important agents of planetary self-government, and as such make life on earth possible. Winds, both gentle and giant, redistribute air, moisture and heat vertically and latitudinally, they scrub the air of pollutants, and they accelerate the movement of the great ocean currents that keep our planet stable.
— The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
Wind is personal for de Villiers, winner of Canada's Governor General's Award for Water: The Fate of Our Most Precious Resource. A gust from a ferocious gale in South Africa came close to blowing him over a cliff when he was a child, a fearful experience that invests this articulate study of the history and nature of moving air with notable immediacy. Winds figure in the creation myths of almost all cultures, he notes. But it wasn't until the mid-18th century that scientists began to develop a cogent theory about wind and its relation to weather. Two centuries later, during WWII, high-altitude flyers discovered the jet stream and "a real understanding of winds was, finally, in place." De Villiers has marshaled an absorbing if daunting array of historical, cultural, environmental and scientific facts to detail that wind, despite its destructive power, makes life on Earth possible. But the book's grace notes lie in entertaining did-you-know nuggets. Among them: a great storm that lashed London in 1703 caused windmill blades to rotate so fast that friction set them on fire; Cuban meteorologists, more advanced at the turn of the last century than Americans, warned fruitlessly about the path of the hurricane that devastated Galveston. B&w illus. (Apr.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Natural history author de Villiers (Sable Island: The Strange Origins and Curious History of a Dune Adrift in the Atlantic) combines science, mythology, history, and reminiscences in this engrossing survey of wind and weather. He examines subjects ranging from hurricane forecasting to wind farms, although some relevant topics (e.g., tornadoes, Mt. Washington's notorious winds) are given surprisingly short shrift. De Villiers presents little new scientific information, but readers will enjoy his evocative writing and inclusion of myriad accounts of personal experiences with extreme weather. Appendixes include detailed explanations of various wind and storm scales and compilations of data on several different storm types. Consider purchasing this title for academic and public libraries, but note that a reissue of Jan DeBlieu's Wind: How the Flow of Air Has Shaped Life, Myth, and the Land (Shoemaker & Hoard)-similar in coverage and style but less expensive-is due out in June. Recommended for academic and public libraries. (Index not seen.)-Nancy R. Curtis, Univ. of Maine Lib., Orono Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
School Library Journal
Adult/High School-A readable, cogent introduction to wind. Woven throughout the text is the story of Hurricane Ivan, which started as a storm in Africa and gained power as it headed west toward the Americas. Chapter by chapter, the author examines the place of wind in mythology, ancient scientific beliefs about air and wind, composition of the atmosphere, wind scales and patterns, historical and modern weather forecasting, the mechanics of hurricanes, how wind moves pollution around the globe, and technology utilizing wind power. The book includes 12 appendixes, each providing statistics about storms or lists of such events as the Beaufort wind, Saffir-Simpson hurricane, or the Fujita tornado scales. The illustrations, reproductions, and graphs are clear and easy to read. This book could lead students to further research, but it is also entertaining on its own.-Susan Salpini, formerly at TASIS-The American School in England Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
From the Publisher
“A refreshing narrative of meteorology.”
New Scientist

“Bad weather almost always makes good copy, and those who study wind and weather can be counted on to do all sorts of neat things.”
New York Times Book Review

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780802714695
  • Publisher: Walker & Company
  • Publication date: 4/18/2006
  • Pages: 352
  • Product dimensions: 5.73 (w) x 8.52 (h) x 1.24 (d)

Meet the Author

Born in South Africa, Marq de Villiers is the author of nine books on exploration, history, politics, and travel, including Water: The Fate of Our Most Precious Resource, which won the Governor General’s Award for Non-Fiction. With his wife, Sheila Hirtle, he is also the author of Into Africa: A Journey through the Ancient Empires, Sahara: A Natural History, and A Dune Adrift: The Strange Origins and Curious History of Sable Island. Formerly a nationally renowned journalist, and executive with the Key Magazine group, Marq now devotes himself to writing books from his home in the teeth of the weather in Port Medway, Nova Scotia.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One
Wind’s Mystery and Meaning

The story of Hurricane Ivan: It began, as these things so often do, long ago and far, far away. Long ago, at least, in the reckoning of weathermen, and far away at least as seen from the Ca­rib­be­an and the east coast of North America, where the storm’s full fury would in due time be unleashed. In the course of its tumultuous and destructive life, the cyclone they came to call Ivan would exemplify all the perilous uncertainties and complex patterns of global climatology (and exaggerate my own rather paranoid view of hard weather), but its beginning was hidden, even secretive, and could only be seen in rueful hindsight.

In the spring of 2004, it rained in Darfur, the Sudanese hellhole wracked by de­cades of civil war. Darfur is on the southeastern fringes of the endless emptiness of the Sahara, and its soil, beaten down from too many cattle and too many goats over too many years of drought, couldn’t hold the water. It pooled and then gathered in little muddy torrents that swept away the scattered huts of the countryside. A few days before, the refugees in their grim camps had been dying of thirst–an ostrich egg of water having to do for a family for a ­whole day–but ­were now forced to scramble to keep their pathetic scraps of food and their meager possessions from washing away. They ­were still starving, though now sodden and burdened with cholera and dysentery in addition to their other miseries.

All along the Sahel, the southern fringes of the Sahara, the rains came. Lake Chad, which had been shrinking for de­cades, stopped shrinking briefly, andthe remaining hippo channels winding through the papyrus and water hyacinths filled up. The dusty plains north of Kano, the Nigerian trading city, looked lush for the first time in fifteen years. Outside fabled Timbuktu the ground took on a shiny green sheen, before the goats in their insatiable hunger nibbled the new plants down to a stubble, then trampled the residue into the mud. In Niger, Mali, even in ­ever-­arid Mauritania, the rains fell for the first time in a de­cade. Not enough, really, to unparch the desert, but more than usual.

No one in the Sahel knew why it was raining, or, except for a few aid agencies, cared; they ­were just grateful the water was there. In the outside world hardly anybody paid much attention. There ­were a few exceptions–the paranoid actuaries for the giant insurance company Munich Re, for example, who are paid to worry, and a few analysts in hurricane centers across the Atlantic, who ­were wrestling with the complex causative cycles of violent weather–but more people should have been concerned than that, for they ­were about to get a brutal lesson in the interconnectedness of natural systems. Who would have thought that, say, a rural tavern in Pennsylvania would be threatened by a ­storm-­born flood that was linked in complicated ways to the ending of a drought half a world away?
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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 4, 2012

    An unexpected treat

    When I bought this book, I figured an interesting subject would help overcome some ponderous prose. Was I surprised; a somewhat heavy, scientific topic is made extremely readable by de Viliers' style. This book is a joy to read!

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