A Sideways Look at Clouds

A Sideways Look at Clouds

by Maria Ruth


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2017 Silver Nautilus Book Award in Science and Cosmology

  • Written by a critically-acclaimed natural-history author
  • Shares author’s fun journey to understanding clouds
  • Written for the curious—but non-science—minded

Author Maria Mudd Ruth fell in love with clouds the same way she stumbles into most passions: madly and unexpectedly. A Sideways Look at Clouds is the story of her quite accidental infatuation with and education about the clouds above.

When she moved to the soggy Northwest a decade ago, Maria assumed that locals would know everything there was to know about clouds, in the same way they talk about salmon, tides, and the Seahawks. Yet in her first two years of living in Olympia, Washington, she never heard anyone talk about clouds—only the rain. Puzzled by this lack of cloud savvy, she decided to create a 10-question online survey and sent it to everyone she knew. Her sample size of 67 people included men and women, new friends in Olympia, family on the East Coast, outdoorsy and indoorsy types, professional scientists, and liberal arts majors like herself. The results showed that while people knew a little bit about clouds, most were like her—they had a hard time identifying clouds or remembering their names. As adults, they had lost their curiosity and sense of wonder about clouds and were, essentially, not in the habit of looking up.

A Sideways Look at Clouds acknowledges the challenges of understanding clouds and so uses a very steep and bumpy learning curve—the author’s—as its plot line. The book is structured around the ten words used in most definitions of a cloud: “a visible mass of water droplets or ice crystals suspended in the atmosphere above the earth.” A captivating story teller, Maria blends science, wonder, and humor to take the scenic route through the clouds and encourages readers to chart their own rambling, idiosyncratic course.

Whether you are outside under the clouds, inside planning your next adventure, or curled up anywhere with a good book, A Sideways Look at Clouds will engage, inform, and inspire.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781680511185
Publisher: Mountaineers Books, The
Publication date: 09/30/2017
Pages: 224
Sales rank: 408,567
Product dimensions: 6.20(w) x 9.10(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

Maria Mudd Ruth has been researching, watching, photographing, and blogging about clouds for many years. She is the author of more than a dozen books on natural history topics for young readers, general audiences, and accidental naturalists like herself. Her books for young readers include The Ultimate Ocean Book, The Butterfly, The Beetle, Hawks and Owls, Snakes, and four titles in a popular “Ecosystems of North America” series. In 2005, she published Rare Bird: Pursuing the Mystery of the Marbled Murrelet, a critically-acclaimed natural history for adults that was reissued in 2013 (Mountaineers Books). Maria lives in Olympia with her husband and their two sons. You can learn more about her fascinations at www.mariaruthbooks.net.

Table of Contents

Prologue: A Guide to the Sky 9

A Note of Caution 15

Cloud 17

The Danger Zone

Cloudy All Day

Cloud Survey Question

A Checker'd History

How to Talk about Clouds

How High Is That Cloud?

In the Field

Cloud Survey Question

Visible 44

Why Clouds Are Visible

Cloud Survey Question

The Five-Minute Cloud


Fluent in Fog

A Swim in the Stratus

Fogged In

Mass 66

Cloud Survey Question






Look! Clouds!

Lifting the Clouds

Cloud Ch'i

Water 90


Mickey Mouse



The Cap Cloud


Droplets 104

The Dance of Sunlight and Water

Drop It

The Fly


On the Bright Side

Cloud Survey Question

Ice 119

Ice Nuclei


Collecting Clouds

Crystals 128

Sunlight in Ice

Cloud Survey Question


Cloud Survey Question

Strange Skies

Suspended 140

Not a Flotation Device

In the Cloud


Cloud Survey Question

Atmosphere 150

Where the Clouds Are



Two-Wheeling in the Atmosphere

Clouds on Other Planets


The Cloud Forest

Above 167

Judging Distances

Calibrating the Clouds




Earth 175

The Sphere of Influence

The World Was Beautiful Once


How It Rains

The Rainbow

Healing Clouds

Epilogue 189

General Sources 191

Notes 193

Gratitude 201

Index 203

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