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West on Books: The Cloudspotter’s Guide

Cloudspotters-guide

Reviewed by Richard West

Gavin Pretor-Pinney’s The Cloudspotter’s Guide may be the most valuable guidebook you buy, for it’s obviously not of a place but a guide to everywhere above you. Pretor-Pinney is founder of The Cloud Appreciate Society, founded from his love of nature’s free abstract art gallery and, tired of hearing depressing expressions like “under the weather” and a “perfect summer’s day” — meaning one cloudless — felt someone should stand up for clouds.


    It exists only as a website, but for a few dollars, you can join, receive a pin and certificate, and perhaps send in your picture of a dramatic cloud scape to be viewed with many others from around the world.
    His guide is delightful. Each chapter is devoted to a cloud type (“Cumulus”, “Altostratus”, etc.) described with wisps of science, folklore, poetry, mythology, and most important to travelers, what, say, the appearance of cumulonimbus, those “towering thunderclouds that scare us senseless” might forecast (rethink your hike). I live in a tornadic part of the country and only learned, reading the cumulonimbus chapter, that the tornado’s finger cloud lowering to the ground is called a tuba.
    It’s also the cloud Shakespeare had in mind when he wrote in “King Lear”:
       “Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! Rage! Blow!

    I also recommend the wonderful pocket-size The Cloud Collector’s Handbook, a ready-reference guide filled with remarkable clouds sent by society members. 

The Cloudspotter’s Guide, Gavin Pretor-Pinney, Hodder & Stoughton, 320 pgs., $13.95.


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