cover image The Cloudspotter's Guide: The Science, History, and Culture of Clouds

The Cloudspotter's Guide: The Science, History, and Culture of Clouds

Gavin Pretor-Pinney. Perigee Books, $19.95 (320pp) ISBN 978-0-399-53256-6

With tongue firmly in cheek and more than a little irony, Pretor-Pinney, founder of the Cloud Appreciation Society, clears up any confusion readers may have about what separates a stratus from a cirrus from a cumulonimbus. He starts at the bottom-that is, at sea level-and discusses the types of clouds that form at each level in the atmosphere. The result is an amusing and remarkably informative jaunt through the heavenly vapors that draws on classical poetry, physics, geekery and pop culture. Despite this improbable melange, Pretor-Pinney succeeds in fleshing out subtleties and making difficult concepts like convection, advection, condensation and atmospheric optics comprehensible to almost any reader. The author has included dozens of illustrations, cloud photos (including one that looks like two cats dancing and another that resembles Thor hurling a lightning bolt) and diagrams showing the anatomy and lifecycles of clouds. Rounding out the volume are a chapter on the human effects on clouds and a narrative about the author's pursuit of the ""Morning Glory,"" which he calls ""the most spectacular cloud in the world."" By mixing self-deprecating humor and hard science, Pretor-Pinney makes learning about clouds fun.