This fascinating book deftly explores the dramatic history, critical importance, and scientific wonder of the tides. Hugh Aldersey-Williams is a marvelous guide who takes the reader on a sweeping and thought-provoking adventure into the heart of one of the most captivating, mysterious, and elemental forces of nature.
Prepare for a voyage with the best of companionsHugh Aldersey-Williams is a storyteller supreme, and he’s found a subject worthy of his talents.
A wonderfully enjoyable exploration of the mysterious rhythms of the sea. I loved the combination of literary, historical, scientific, and experiential accounts of the tides, each ebbing and then flowing to allow the others to wash up on the pages of this remarkable book.
A superb book [and] a delight to read. . . . Imagine, if possible, a gently studious Bill Bryson crossed with an upbeat and relaxed WG Sebald.
James McConnachie - Sunday Times
Exposes new facts and ideas every other page.
English science writer Aldersey-Williams (In Search of Thomas Browne) capably serves as a guide to the tide, a powerful, often underappreciated force of nature. He begins his examination by experiencing a full tidal cycle in his home county of Norfolk before traveling to the Euripus Strait, where Aristotle studied one of the few areas of the Mediterranean with significant tides. Aldersey-Williams also discusses Charybdis, Odysseus’s famous whirlpool, starting with Homer’s description and working forward; he notes that the Strait of Messina has been identified as the potential source of the legend. The ineffective attempt by Canute (the 11th-century Danish king of England) to command the tide receives a thorough consideration, as do the much later tidal calculations that preceded the amphibious landings on D-Day—made possible by the tidal harmonic analyzer, a mechanical device created by a team lead by the future Lord Kelvin. No discussion of tides would be complete without a visit to the record-holding Bay of Fundy, to which Aldersey-Williams devotes an entire chapter. Inevitably, his final thoughts turn to global climate change and the rise of the tides. Throughout the book, Aldersey-Williams’s inclusion of a range of stories gives a broad view of humans’ continued fascination with the movement of the waters. Agent: Antony Topping, Greene & Heaton. (Sept.)
Journalist Aldersey-Williams (Anatomies: A Cultural History of the Human Body; Periodic Tables: A Cultural History of the Elements, from Arsenic to Zinc) has penned a detailed, wide-ranging account of the history, science, and literature of tides. He begins with observations of the cycle of the tide at a beach in Norfolk, England, describing the events that occurred over 12 hours from ebb tide to flow tide. The author traveled to Novia Scotia to experience strong tides and to Norway to see the famous maelstrom, and he shares insights into the science of tides, discussing Aristotle, Galileo, and Martin Ekman, who has spent his career studying the sea levels in the Baltic. Recounting myths, legends, and historical references dealing with the tides and the dangers they present to people and property, and how the global rise in sea level will affect the billion people living in low-lying, coastal areas, Aldersey-Williams tells of the battles that were won or lost owing to knowledge or lack of knowledge of the tides, including the careful planning that went into deciding the date and time of D-Day. VERDICT This intriguing, accessible work will appeal to readers fascinated with tides, the history of science, climate change, and oceanography.—Sue O'Brien, Downers Grove P.L., IL
An exploration of “the discovery and science of the cosmic rhythm that governs our planet.”The words “time” and “tide” are connected through language as well as in nature, writes British science writer Aldersey-Williams (In Search of Sir Thomas Browne: The Life and Afterlife of the Seventeenth Century's Most Inquiring Mind, 2015, etc.), who delves into the scientific and cultural influence of the tides. Noting the linguistic link between “tide” and “zeit,” the German word for time, as well as other linguistic references, the author makes insightful connections among science, language, culture, and tradition. The author also examines how metaphors coupling “time” and “tide” are preserved in memorable sayings. “The aphorism time and tide wait for no man,” has incorrectly been attributed to both Shakespeare and Chaucer but predates both of them. The tide exerts a strong force through the action of waves and the corresponding rise and fall of the water level. Observation of the twice-daily variation between high and low tides helped Isaac Newton expand on some of Galileo's theories. He was able to explain “why, in most places, there are generally two tides a day,” which occur at roughly 12-hour intervals. “Tidal forces,” writes the author, “raise a tide on the side of the earth facing the moon…but there is…also a new force of acceleration to be taken into account, acting on the earth in the opposite direction, away from the moon, owing to its orbital motion.” Newton formulated this model in Principia, which laid the basis for his mathematical explanations of the interplay among the gravitational pulls of the sun, the moon, and Earth. Today, writes Aldersey-Williams, oceanographers are studying below-the-surface forces to determine their potential impact on climate change and coastal erosion. As in previous books, the author makes the science accessible and makes important connections to other relevant disciplines. An engaging exploration of the profound historical relationship between science and culture, written in a lively style with clear scientific explanations.