Thunder & Lightning: Weather Past, Present, Future is an illustrated nonfiction book about the weather that I recently read. Written and illustrated by Lauren Redniss, the book explores how weather affects nature and humanity and how humans cause changes in the weather. It was an informative, thought-provoking read that left me curious about some of the subjects, places, and people mentioned in the book.
The book is huge and thick, but that’s because of the large, beautiful illustrations that are sometimes spread across two pages. There’s a lot to read, but the amount of text isn’t overpowering since they are interspersed with illustrations and the font size allows for easy reading. (No need to strain your eyes.)
The book is divided into 12 chapters, all headed by subjects that affect or relate to weather (rain, fog, war, profit, etc.). Chapter lengths vary and some have more text than others. Actually, one of them has no words at all. Redniss not only explains the chapter’s subject, but also explains its relation to the concept of weather and presents facts and sometimes data about it. She also includes stories of people’s personal experiences, like Ben Livingston, who was a cloud physicist for the U.S. Navy during the Vietnam War: “He flew dozens of cloud-seeding missions [to create rain] in Southeast Asia in 1966 and 1967.”
Of the chapters, one of my favorites was Cold because I learned about Svalbard, “a place that is entirely hostile to agriculture, inhospitable to life in almost every form” but is the “ideal spot for protecting the world’s harvest.” It houses the Global Seed Vault, which stores seeds from all over the world just in case something catastrophic happens and we have to replant every damn thing. Svalberg was nationless until 1920 when the Spitsbergen Treaty made it a territory of Norway. It’s one of the most interesting places I learned about in this book.
I also liked the chapter on Fog, partly because I love it when outside is foggy, because I learned about Cape Spear and sailors’ use of foghorns and lighthouses to navigate in thick fog. I also learned “fog is a cloud near the ground,” which is obvious now that I know, but I’ve never thought of it that way before. “Moisture from the air condenses into tiny water droplets, or ice crystals, that hover over earth’s surface.”
“In the fog we’re tense. Your senses are honed. You’re waiting and you’re looking.” — Captain David Fowler
“You get pretty itchy after a while and you start doubting yourself.” — Paul Bowering
The chapter on Wind was also interesting. Redniss talks about Diana Nyad’s impressive attempt to swim from Cuba to Florida in September 2010 when Nyad was 60 years old and also how “winds can shape the personality of a place.” Redniss includes an excerpt from Herman Hesse’s 1904 novel Peter Camenzind, in which Hesse’s protagonist describes the Fohn, “a dry, down-slope wind notorious in Central Europe.” That excerpt made me want to read Peter Camenzind and experience that wind, though I’m sure I won’t like it.
War and Profit, separate chapters but related, were also good ones. In War, we learn how the U.S. used weather to their advantage in past wars and how they manipulated it. And Profit is self-explanatory. I found that chapter interesting because of a company mentioned, Planalytics, which helps companies understand how weather affects their business. Dominion, which precedes these chapters, is a good one also, but it scared me. In it Redniss includes a discussion on an invention to manage global warming; but if misused, that invention could cause dire consequences.
Of all the chapters, I think Forecasting was my favorite because it’s almost entirely about the Old Farmer’s Almanac, which has “predicted the weather for more than 220 years.” That chapter was hilarious.
As I said above, the illustrations are colorful and beautiful. Most are large and many spread across two pages. They are simple, but they present well the subjects and ideas Redniss decides to illustrate. They are a wonderful supplement to the book and they also help to break up the flow of text so it doesn’t seem daunting to read it. I also like how the book is packaged. The cover is eye-catching and makes people want to touch it because the illustrations on it are embossed.
Thunder & Lightning was a great read. There’s loads to learn in it and the accompanying illustrations makes reading it enjoyable. The book touches on science, politics, and history and is easy to read and understand. It’s not a children’s book, but because of the illustrations and how well everything is explained, I think it is a book parents can read to their children to teach them about the weather as well as different places in the world and some history.
Another major thing I learned was why it’s quiet when it snows. Apparently,
“Falling snowflakes interfere with sound waves, limiting the distance they travel and contributing to the muffled quietude that accompanies a snowstorm.”