Saturday 20 October 2012

The Invention of Clouds by Richard Hamblyn

 interesting cloud formation in the Dells, Water of Leith.

Richard Hamblyn's The Invention of Clouds is a fascinating book that looks at the history of how clouds were classified into the types by which we know them today (eg cirrus, altostratus, cumulus), It centres on Luke Howard, the meteorologist who first came up with a properly workable and universal cloud classification (there had been other attempts, but they hadn't been successful).

The book is an excellent biography of Howard, but it is also offers excellent insights into the long history of meteorology and the broader history of science around the time (early nineteenth century).

Volcanic eruptions in 1783 caused huge disruptions to the weather across the world (I'm guessing this year's poor summer would look relatively normal in comparison!). These events had a huge impact on scientists and artists, including the young Howard.

Howard became a prominent member of the Askesian Society, a scientific grouping organised by the Quakers. At that time Quakers and other Dissenters were barred from the Universities and had to fall back on organising their own education through societies such as the Askesians. Howard was later a founding member of The Meteorological Society of London, though this was a group much riven by disagreements in its early days and it only much later became the respected Royal Meteorological Society.

The book also looks at the relationship between science and the arts during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century. The British poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge, for example, attended scientific lectures to, as he said "renew my stock of metaphors" while the great German poet Goethe wrote a long poetic tribute to Luke Howard.

The book also manages to cover a brief history of the development of scientific journals and gives us fascinating nuggets of weather related information such as the Revolutionary French calendar that was used between 1793 and 1805 and renamed all the months according to their place in the agricultural year.

This is a fascinating book for anyone interested in meteorology or the history of science. After reading it, though, I felt I wanted to learn more about clouds themselves and so immediately picked up The Cloud Spotters Guide, which I'll review here in a week or so.

The Invention of Clouds by Richard Hamblyn, published by Picador

As ever, red text contains hyperlinks that take you to other webpages where you can find out more.


Pamela Terry and Edward said...

I saw gorgeous ones in the mountains this week. High up enough to feel a part of each one.

eileeninmd said...

I love watching the clouds. Gorgeous clouds and sky shot!

Ms Sparrow said...

My 18-year-old grandson Allen has planned on becoming a meteorologist since he was 7 years old. I will have to recommend this book to him. It sounds very interesting!

Draffin Bears said...

Hi Juliet,

Always enjoy looking up at the clouds and thanks for sharing this book - will look out for it.
Hope you are enjoying the weekend


Carol Steel said...

This sounds like a good read for my husband, perhaps a Christmas gift. He spends lots of time wondering at cloud shapes, always noticing them. Thanks for sharing this information.