DEFINING THE WIND: The Beaufort Scale, and How a 19th-Century Admiral Turned Science into Poetry

Scott Huler, Author . Crown $23 (304p) ISBN 978-1-4000-4884-7

While working as a copy editor two decades ago, Huler chanced across the Beaufort scale in Merriam-Webster's Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary. He was entranced by the scale's "quintessence of... verbal economy, the ultimate expression of concise, clear, and absolutely powerful writing, 110 words in six-point type" that describe the varieties of wind from "calm" to "hurricane." Huler soon turned to a successful career as a writer and NPR contributor, but the Beaufort scale stuck with him, and he decided to learn more about the man whose definition of a "strong breeze" reads: "large branches in motion; telegraph wires whistle; umbrellas used with difficulty." Huler's admittedly obsessive narrative ranges from the late–18th-century ships of the British West Indies Company to a wind tunnel at the University of Michigan, leading "through sailing and engineering and science and technology." But at its heart is a fascination with the language we use to describe the world around us. Less a piece of science writing than a writer's meditation on science, this gem of a book is equal parts history, mystery, textbook and memoir, as much a story about how we think about the wind as it is about the wind itself, and deserves a wide audience among readers interested in writing, nature and history. 30 illus.(Aug.)

Reviewed on: 06/07/2004
Release date: 08/01/2004
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 290 pages - 978-1-4000-4885-4
Open Ebook - 167 pages - 978-0-307-42055-8
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