Gavin Pretor-Pinney 2007. The Cloudspotter’s Guide. The science, history, and culture of clouds. New York: Perigee. 319 pp.
The title is accurate. With chapter titles following the kinds of clouds and related atmospheric and meteorological phenomena, this amounts to cultural and scientific variations on the theme of clouds. Numerous asides draw in many who have commented on clouds, of which there are of course many: Aristotle, Oscar Wilde, Thoreau and Kurt Vonnegut for example. It is easy to see how this has quickly become a minor cult classic. There can be few who have not gained pleasure and had curiosity awakened by the many beautiful forms that atmospheric moisture takes. This is certainly a guide to further that appreciation. I found it was sufficent to dip into rather than to read cover to cover, but will continue to do so. It was interesting to discover that clouds have a nomenclature that is binomial and hierarchical, just like the Genera and species of the biological world. Thus for example Cumulus congestus is one type of Cumulus. As with biological taxa, one kind of cloud can “evolve” into another. Some transformations are more common than others (Cumulus congestus often becomes Cumulonimbus) and it would be interesting to investigate whether meteorologists have analysed those transformations systematically and by what methods.