Monday, January 16, 2012

Defining the Wind - Scott Huler

Sub-title: The Beaufort Scale, and how a 19th-century admiral turned science into poetry

What a gem this book is!  I love the genre I think of as "history bites".  They are books that illuminate an obscure bit of history and tell a story of a key discovery or invention.  

In this work of non-fiction, Scott Huler, an NPR regular, tells how Francis Beaufort's name came to be attached to the scale describing the power of the wind.  He describes the scale as "110 words of poetry" and I came to appreciate his viewpoint.  Such a simple looking list giving so much information in such a concise manner.  It speaks to writing clearly for the layman, being precise, organization and consistency.  Beaufort kept track of the wind in notebooks for most of his life and they are still able to be viewed.

The book also describes the men at the end of the 18th century as science and technology emerged and defines the difference between the two as science being systematic knowledge about the real world vs technology which are things we create to solve problems or to do work  (p.91). Language then is one of the first and oldest technologies. 

The author spent many years researching the history of the scale because of his admiration for its writing and its writer to find out who they were and how they came to create the scale.

Links this book led me to:
The BBC Shipping Forecast that uses the scale in their daily broadcast

Published: 2004 Read: 1/2012

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