Marvin's Reviews > Defining the Wind: The Beaufort Scale and How a 19th-Century Admiral Turned Science into Poetry

Defining the Wind by Scott Huler
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Sep 21, 11

Read in September, 2011

I never would have picked up this book on my own, but I'm glad my friend Mary recommended it. Even so, I didn't read all of it, because parts of it just didn't interest me very much. But that's certainly not the author's fault. What's really remarkable is that I spent as many hours as I did with it, because I wouldn't have thought that I'd have found ANY of it very interesting. It's a book, if you can believe it about only The Beaufort Scale, a table devised, sort of like the Richter Scale for earthquakes, to measure the intensity of wind, and about the man to whom it is credited. One could hardly imagine a book entirely about that. But here it is. And the author's intellectual curiosity and engaging writing are absolutely infectious. And, in fact, one realizes long before he says so explicitly 12 pages from the end that it's really a book about calling all of us to live lives devoted to “paying attention.” The Beaufort Scale [and, I would add, this book about it] is “about noticing whether smoke rises vertically or drifts, whether it's the leaves shaking or the whole branches, whether your umbrella turns inside out or just rattles around some. More, it's about taking note of those details, filing them away, in memory or . . . in the notebook you'd never leave the house without. . . . It's about being able to express what you've seen simply and clearly, in as few words as possible, so that others can share it. It's about the good of sharing that knowledge, of everyone paying attention so that, together, we can learn as much as possible. . . . It's a philosophy of attentiveness, a religion based on observation: an entire ethos in 110 words.” This is a book that, because of its subject, is unlikely to attract as large an audience as it surely deserves.
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