cover image Reading the Glass: A Captain’s View of Weather, Water, and Life on Ships

Reading the Glass: A Captain’s View of Weather, Water, and Life on Ships

Elliot Rappaport. Dutton, $28 (336p) ISBN 978-0-593-18505-6

Nautical history, memoir, and meteorology come together in this well-crafted debut from sea captain Rappaport. He digs into the science of sailing and expounds on the complex weather phenomena sailors encounter, explaining how kites and balloons helped discover the jet stream and detailing how a microburst (a powerful downward gust of wind) sank the Concordia in 2010. Discussing the innovations that have influenced life at sea, he relates how British naval officer Francis Beaufort developed a scale for wind velocity in the early 19th century that’s still in use today, and highlights the contributions of Croatian engineer Milutin Milankovic , whose calculations linking Earth’s orbit and ice ages offered new insights into the climate. The author holds an obvious reverence for all things sailing, as when he recounts that in spite of GPS technology being able to remotely detect his ship getting pushed off course in the Pacific, he remained at the mercy of unpredictable currents, an experience that connected him “with all the others who have crossed this ocean previously.” Rappaport’s focus on science over adventure is a welcome departure, and evocative prose ensures it goes down smoothly (“A cloudy puff of north wind meets us like a drink of cold beer”). This will deepen readers’ appreciation of life at sea. (Feb.)