Clouds have been objects of delight and fascination throughout human history, their fleeting magnificence and endless variety having inspired scientists and daydreamers alike. Described by Aristophanes as “the patron goddesses of idle men,” clouds and the ever-changing patterns they create have long symbolized the restlessness and unpredictability of nature, and yet they are also the source of life-giving rains. In this book, Richard Hamblyn examines clouds in their cultural, historic, and scientific contexts, exploring their prevalence in our skies as well as in our literature, art, and music. As Hamblyn shows, clouds function not only as a crucial means of circulating water around the globe but also as a finely tuned thermostat regulating the planet’s temperature. He discusses the many different kinds of clouds, from high, scattered cirrus clouds to the plump thought-bubbles of cumulus clouds, even exploring man-made clouds and clouds on other planets. He also shows how clouds have featured as meaningful symbols in human culture, whether as ominous portents of coming calamities or as ethereal figures giving shape to the heavens, whether in Wordsworth’s poetry or today’s tech speak. Comprehensive yet compact, cogent and beautifully illustrated, this is the ultimate guidebook to those shapeshifters of the sky.
As any scientist will tell you, there is no substance more vital than water. Our history is necessarily a history with water, whether we have irrigated our fields with it, cooled our machines, washed ourselves, drank it down deeply, or even worshipped it. In Water, Veronic Strang ladles through the rich history of our interaction with water, offering an accessible examination of the crucial properties that make water so unique alongside the complex story of our evolving relationship with it. As Strang shows, our attitudes about water and the things that we rely on it for have changed dramatically over time. Once a mystical source of regenerative powers, it has since played various roles as our attitudes about hygiene, health, and disease have developed; as it has become useful to our industry; as agriculture has become ever more complex; and, of course, as we have learned to make money from it. Today water—who controls it, and how—is one of the largest issues facing our society, influencing everything from the welfare of the billions of people living on earth to the vitality of its natural habitats. Balancing history, science, and environmental and cultural studies, Strang offers an important, multi-faceted view of a critical resource.
Majestic and awe-inspiring, there is nothing like the sight of a mountain on the horizon. Throughout all of human history mountains have been linked to the eternal, attracting us to their dizzying heights, stunning us with their natural beauty, and often threatening us with their dangers. Through a compelling journey to both real and imaginary peaks, this book explores how the mountain has figured in our history, culture, and imaginations. Veronica della Dora explores the ways mountains have functioned spiritually as a boundary between life and death, a bridge between the earth and the heavens. Interlacing science, culture, and religion, she sketches the mountain as a geological phenomenon that has profoundly influenced and been influenced by the human imagination, shaping our environmental consciousness and helping us understand our—quite small indeed—place in the world. She also explores their significance as objects of human feats, as prizes of adventure and sport, and as places of serene beauty for vacationers. Magnificently illustrated and showcasing famous peaks from all around the world, Mountain offers a fascinating dual portrait of these giants in nature and culture.
Throughout history, swamps have been idealized and demonized, purged and protected. Today, they are simultaneously considered metaphorical places of evil, pestilence, and death, and treasured as diverse biological ecosystems teeming with life. Covering not only swamps and bogs but also marshes and wetlands, Swamp ventures into the cultural and ecological histories of these mysterious, mythologized, and misunderstood landscapes. Anthony Wilson takes readers into swamps across the globe, from the freshwater marshes of Botswana’s tremendous Okavango delta, to the notable swamps between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, to the peat bogs in Russia, the British Isles, and Scandinavia, which have been used as energy sources for centuries. It explores ideas and representations of wetlands across centuries, cultures, and continents, considering legend and folklore, mythology, literature, film, and natural and cultural history. As it plumbs the murky depths of swamps from the distant past to an uncertain future, Swamps provides an engaging, accessible, informative, and lavishly illustrated journey into these fascinating landscapes.
Shortlisted for the Tratman Award 2015 To enter caves is to venture beyond the realm of the everyday. From huge vaulted caverns to impassable, water-filled passages; from the karst topography of Guilin in China to the lava tubes of Hawaii; from tiny remote pilgrimage sites to massive tourism enterprises, caves are places of mystery. Dark spaces that remain largely unexplored, caves are astonishing wonders of nature and habitats for exotic flora and fauna. This book investigates the natural and cultural history of caves and considers the roles caves have played in the human imagination and experience of the natural world. It explores the long history of the human fascination with caves, across countries and continents, examining their dual role as spaces of both wonder and fear. It tells the tales of the adventurers who pioneered the science of caves and those of the explorers and cave-divers still searching for new, unmapped routes deep into the earth. This book explores the lure of the subterranean world by examining caving and cave tourism and by looking to the mythology, literature, and art of caves. This lavishly illustrated book will appeal to general readers and experts alike interested in the ecology and use of caves, or the extraordinary artistic responses earth’s dark recesses have evoked over the centuries.
Outside of yoga class, we don’t pay too much attention to the air we take in every day. Long one of the essential elements to life on earth—from the atmospheric composition that gave life to the coal-forming forests some three hundred million years ago to the air that fuels our most important technologies today—we think little of its incredible properties. In this innovative cultural and scientific history, Peter Adey takes stock of the great ocean of air that surrounds us, exploring our attempts to understand, engineer, make sense of, and find meaning in it. Adey examines how humans have managed and manipulated air as a natural resource and, in doing so, have been taken to the limits of survival, brought to high-altitude mountain peaks, subterranean worlds, and the troughs of new moral depths. Going beyond how vital air has been to our philosophical, scientific, and technological pursuits, he also reveals the way that the artistic and literary imagination has been lifted through air and how, in air, cultures have learned to express and inspire each other. Combining established figures such as Joseph Priestley, John Scott Haldane, and Marie Curie with unlikely individuals from painting, literature, and poetry, this richly illustrated book unlocks new perspectives into the science and culture of this pervasive but unnoticed substance.
From Charles Darwin’s enlightening voyage to the Galapagos Islands to moat-encased prisons incarcerating the world’s deadliest prisoners, islands have been sites of immense scientific, political, and creative importance. An inspiration for artists and writers, they can be lively centers of holiday revelry or remote, mysterious spots; places of escape or of exile and imprisonment. In this cultural and scientific history of these alluring, isolated territories, Stephen A. Royle describes the great variety of islands, their economies, and the animals, plants, and people who thrive on them. Royle shows that despite the view of some islands as earthly paradises, they are often beset by severe limitations in both resources and opportunities. Detailing the population loss many islands have faced in recent years, he considers how islanders have developed their homes into tourist destinations in order to combat economic instability. He also explores their exotic, otherworldly beauty and the ways they have provided both refuge and inspiration for artists, such as Paul Gauguin in Tahiti and George Orwell on the Scottish island of Jura. Filled with illustrations, Islands is a compelling and comprehensive survey of the geographical and cultural aspects of island life.
Uprisings for the Earth delves into a new kinship with nature while acknowledging the treasures of urban life and the unique stake each person has in resolving critical and timely challenges. While avoiding doomsday scenarios, Lake offers a frank inquiry into a variety of causes leading to our current global peril while also providing a deep well of hope and profound insight. She weaves together history, ecology, culture, governance, women's leadership and the arts to map out an integrated approach to working in partnership with nature while creating a more just and sustainable future. Her wisdom, lyrical style, and thorough research frame chapters such as ?Around the Fire: From Global Warming to a Renewed Hearth”, ?Anthem to Water”, ?Democracy Ancient and Modern” and ?Honor the Women.” Lake takes us along wild rivers as she explores water conservation and the mysteries of water science; sits us around a fire along with great minds of past and present to contemplate the climate crisis; and takes us to several continents where we navigate deeper into history of culture and land. Consider this book required reading for its inspiration, innovation and hope for the Earth and future generations.
From spoons to bullets to sterling coins, silver permeates our everyday culture and language. For millennia we’ve used it to buy what we need, adorn our bodies, or trumpet our social status, and likewise it’s been useful to vanquish werewolves, vampires, and even our own smelly socks. This book captures all of these facets of silver and more, telling the fascinating story of one of our most hardworking precious metals. As Lindsay Shen shows, while always valued for its beauty and rarity—used to bolster dowries and pay armies alike—silver today is also exploited for its chemistry and can be found in everything from the clothes we wear to the electronics we use to the medical devices that save our lives. Born in the supernovae of stars and buried deep in the earth, it has been mined by many different societies, traded throughout the world, and been the source of wars and the downfall of empires. It is also a metal of pure reflection, a shining symbol of purity. Featuring many glistening illustrations of silver in nature, art, jewelry, film, advertising, and popular culture, this is a superb overview of a metal both precious and useful, one with a rich and eventful history.
Sand. Cacti. Lizards. Mirages. Deserts call to mind exotic places, a sense of adventure and freedom, but also thirst and desolation. In Desert, Roslynn D. Haynes takes a fresh look at this geographical feature and cultural entity as it becomes an increasingly threatened environment. Considering the immense geographical diversity of deserts from the Sahara to Antarctica, Haynes explores the intriguing and often bizarre ways plants and animals adapt to such a hostile environment, as well as the diverse peoples that have inhabited deserts and evolved unique lifestyles and cultures in response to their surroundings. She asks why Judaism, Christianity, and Islam all originated in the deserts of the Middle East and traces the connections between the minimalism of desert existence and the pursuit of a spiritual dimension. Finally, she describes the allure deserts have exerted on the West, the significance of desolate landscapes in literature and film, and the revolution in artists’ responses to the desert as an empty space and as an inspiration for new visual techniques with which to view it. Ending with a look at how commercial and military interests threaten desert ecologies, Desert casts new light on our view of these seemingly barren places.
Radiating fire and ice, comets as a phenomenon seem part science, part myth. Two thousand years ago when a comet shot across the night sky, it convinced the Romans that Julius Caesar was a god. In 1066, Halley’s Comet was interpreted as a foreshadowing of the death of Harold the Second in the Battle of Hastings. Even today the arrival of a comet often feels auspicious, confirming our hopes, fears, and sense of wonder in the universe. In Comets, P. Andrew Karam takes the reader on a far-ranging exploration of these most beautiful and dramatic objects in the skies, revealing how comets and humanity have been interwoven throughout history. He delves into the science of comets and how it has changed over time; the way comets have been depicted in art, religion, literature, and popular culture; and how comets have appeared in the heavens through the centuries. Comprehensive in scope and beautifully illustrated throughout, the book will appeal not only to the budding astronomer, but to anyone with an appreciation for these compelling and remarkable celestial bodies.
An extraordinary yet little-known scientific advance occurred in the opening years of the nineteenth century when a young amateur meteorologist, Luke Howard, gave the clouds the names by which they are known to this day. By creating a language to define structures that had, up to then, been considered random and unknowable, Howard revolutionized the science of meteorology and earned the admiration of his leading contemporaries in art, literature and science. Richard Hamblyn charts Howard’s life from obscurity to international fame, and back to obscurity once more. He recreates the period’s intoxicating atmosphere of scientific discovery, and shows how this provided inspiration for figures such as Goethe, Shelley and Constable. Offering rich insights into the nature of celebrity, the close relationship between the sciences and the arts, and the excitement generated by new ideas, The Invention of Clouds is an enthralling work of social and scientific history.
From Niagara Falls in the United States to Angel Falls in Venezuela, Victoria Falls in Africa, and Hannoki Falls in Japan, waterfalls provide some of the world’s loveliest panoramas. With their glistening spray and deafening roar, these astonishing natural wonders attract hordes of people each year who seek out, with cameras in hand, these terrifying and sublime examples of natural beauty. While waterfalls have often been considered in terms of their picturesque qualities, their rich cultural background has been neglected. In Waterfall, Brian Hudson portrays these marvels in a new light. He explores the many myths and legends waterfalls have inspired in cultures ranging from Native American to Celtic and Indian, and how they have been depicted in art, literature, film, and music. He also examines their influence on architecture and landscape design, as manmade waterfalls begin to be a staple of parks, gardens, and backyard landscaping. Hudson also discusses the ecology of waterfalls and the conflict that arises from their importance as both a source of hydroelectric power and tourist attractions in many countries. As erosion takes its own toll, the additional environmental impacts of human exploitation could be devastating. A superb addition to the library of any nature lover, this beautifully illustrated book provides a fascinating look at the history and value of these stunning cascades of water.
In Ice, Klaus Dodds provides a wide-ranging exploration of the cultural, natural, and geopolitical history of this most slippery of subjects. Beyond Earth, ice has been found on other planets, moons, and meteors—and scientists even think that ice-rich asteroids played a pivotal role in bringing water to our blue home. But our outlook need not be cosmic to see ice’s importance. Here today and gone tomorrow in many parts of the temperate world, ice is a perennial feature of polar and mountainous regions, where it has long shaped human culture. But as climates change, ice caps and glaciers melt, and waters rise, more than ever this frozen force touches at the core of who we are. As Dodds reveals, ice has played a prominent role in shaping both the earth’s living communities and its geology. Throughout history, humans have had fun with it, battled over it, struggled with it, and made money from it—and every time we open our refrigerator doors, we’re reminded how ice has transformed our relationship with food. Our connection to ice has been captured in art, literature, movies, and television, as well as made manifest in sport and leisure. In our landscapes and seascapes, too, we find myriad reminders of ice’s chilly power, clues as to how our lakes, mountains, and coastlines have been indelibly shaped by the advance and retreat of ice and snow. Beautifully illustrated throughout, Ice is an informative, thought-provoking guide to a substance both cold and compelling.
Few phenomena inspire more awe than lightning. Streaking across the sky, it daunts us with its power and amazes us with its beauty. In Lightning, Derek M. Elsom explores this natural phenomenon and traces the long history of our study of it. From early civilizations’ assumptions that it was the work of gods, through eighteenth-century scientific analyses (and, yes, Ben Franklin’s kite), Elsom tells about our efforts to understand and explain lightning. He explores the many surprising folklore beliefs about lightning protection and contrasts these with today's scientific approaches. Alongside scientific explorations, he also tracks the path of lightning through our culture, from myths and legends to art and design. In addition, Elsom offers handy tips for avoiding getting struck by lightning. Beautifully illustrated with stunning photographs and artistic renderings, this striking book will appeal equally to weather buffs and folklorists, scientists and artists.
David Suzuki's lifelong work as an environmentalist, naturalist, and scientist have influenced countless others in their fight to save the planet, 20 such devotees of them have contributed to this inspiring collection. These journalists, scientists, writers and environmentalists have taken their enthusiasm for Suzuki's philosophy and funneled it into their own personal recollections, manifestos, and essays: Rick Bass describes his love for the Yaak Valley in Montana; Richard Mabey takes readers to a moonlit May evening in Suffolk; David Helvarg tells us of a stirring seaside memory from his childhood. No matter what journey these writers take us on, the unifying theme of their work is always the same: a deep and abiding love of nature — inspired and shared by David Suzuki.
Now in paperback: the runaway British bestseller that has cloudspotters everywhere looking up. Where do clouds come from? Why do they look the way they do? And why have they captured the imagination of timeless artists, Romantic poets, and every kid who's ever held a crayon? Veteran journalist and lifelong sky watcher Gavin Pretor-Pinney reveals everything there is to know about clouds, from history and science to art and pop culture. Cumulus, nimbostratus, and the dramatic and surfable Morning Glory cloud are just a few of the varieties explored in this smart, witty, and eclectic tour through the skies. Illustrated with striking photographs (including a new section in full-color) and line drawings featuring everything from classical paintings to lava lamps, The Cloudspotter's Guide will have enthusiasts, weather watchers, and the just plain curious floating on cloud nine.
From the flood that remade the earth in the Old Testament to the 1931 China floods that killed almost four million people, from the broken levees in New Orleans to the almost yearly rising waters of rivers like the Mississippi, floods have many causes: rain, melting ice, storms, tsunamis, failures of dams and levees, acts of vengeful gods. They have been used as deliberate acts of war to cause thousands of casualties. Flooding kills far more people than any other natural disaster. In this cultural and natural history of floods, John Withington tells stories of the deadliest floods the world has seen while also exploring the role of the deluge in religion, mythology, literature, and art. Withington describes how aspects of floods—the power of nature, human drama, changed landscapes—have fascinated artists, novelists, and filmmakers. He examines the ancient, catastrophic flood that appears in many religions and cultures and considers how the symbol of the flood has become a key icon in world literatures and a component of the contemporary disaster movie. Withington also depicts how humans try to defend themselves against these merciless encroaching waters and discusses the increasing danger floods pose in a future beset by climate change. Filled with illustrations, Flood offers a fascinating overview of our relationship with one of humanity’s oldest and deadliest foes.
For over 400 million years, fire has been an integral force on our planet. It can be as innocent as a bonfire or as destructive and lethal as a wildfire. Human history is rife with fires that have leveled cities—the Fire of Moscow in 1812 that destroyed seventy-five percent of the city, the Great Chicago Fire in 1871 that took down 17,000 buildings, and the fire that obliterated San Francisco after the 1906 earthquake are just a few. Fire is a force of nature that can consume everything in its wake, and yet it also has tremendous powers of cleansing and renewal. At the end of the day, we can’t live without it. In Fire, Stephen J. Pyne offers a concise history of fire and its use by humanity, explaining how fire has been at the core of hunting, foraging, farming, herding, urbanizing, and managing nature reserves. He depicts how it gave humans power in ancient times, which resulted in humanity beginning to reshape the world for its own benefit. He describes how fire was used by aboriginal societies and the ways agricultural societies added control over fuel, but warns that our mastery of the science and art of fire has not given us complete control—fire disasters throughout history have defined cultures, and unexpected fires that begin as the result of other disasters have shocking effects. Pyne traces fire’s influence on landscapes, art, science, and even climate, exploring the power a simple spark has over our imaginations. Lavishly illustrated with a host of rare and unexpected images, Fire is a sizzling and accessible tale of our relationship with this primal natural force.
Describes what the author sees as a suppression of the feminine in Western culture, technology, and philosophy and opens a feminist postmodern space from which fresh differences may emerge. This title explores underdeveloped themes in American and Canadian feminism. It offers a deconstruction of the phallocentric dichotomies of nature and culture.

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