The Invention of Clouds

Thoughts  The Invention of Clouds by Richard Hamblyn, Farrar Straus and Giroux 2001, 403 pages

subtitle:  How An Amateur Meteorologist Forged The Language Of The Skies

Defin’d the doubtful, fix’d its limit-line,
And named it fitly – Be the honour thine!

LOVED THIS and yet I didn’t finish it before it had to go back to the library.  *sadface* However! I’m considering buying this as a gift though I am really not sure if the intended recipient will enjoy it. I think he might? But I also have no clue what his reading tastes are. I always seem to buy him books, though and I never remember to ask if he liked ’em. We don’t talk often. Sometimes that’s the way it is with family… Or maybe just my family. We’re not of the demonstrative types.


This book was sweet, in a way. It had poetry! It really showed a sensitive side to the author, methinks. You could suppose a history book — a biography book, to be cut and dried and just-the-facts, but we must consider this guy – the subject, not the author – was  ‘discovered’ around the end of the Age of Enlightenment and kicking off the Romantic era. [Not that I’m an expert – I had to go look that up.]

So, in 1802, Luke Howard presented his nomenclature for identifying clouds. And it was GROUNDBREAKING!  WHY had no one ever figured this out before?!  astonishing! I loved this part and learning about Luke’s early years and then his being thrust into fame.

I was not so keen as to the actual cloud details and who else had done some findings or tried to piggy-back on Howard’s labels and ideas. I just had too many other books shouting at me to read and this one was too quiet.

I did attempt to flip through and skim to the end. I’m a horrible skimmer. Impatient readers cannot skim. Thus the need for skimming and then the frustration and then guilt and then the downhill fall to just giving up.

I found it fascinating that these public lectures on the wonders of science put these guys into rock star acclaim.

I loved that his grandchildren were fond of him.

I was delighted at the bit about how Mr. Howard surely must have met Miss Jane Austen – his carriage is documented as traveling the road on which her house was set. Being of similar class and stature, it would not be at all unheard of that he would stop and pay a call. But not record exists of such.

I loved loved LOVED the poetry!

Science, illuminating ray!
Fair mental beam, extend thy sway,
And shine from pole to pole!
From thy accumulated store,
O’er every mind thy riches pour,
Exacted from low desires to soar,
And dignify the soul.
                              -Sarah Hoare, 1831

and how about this, written by Goethe and based on one of Howard’s essays?

When o’er the silent bosom of the sea
The cold mist hangs like a stretch’d canopy;
And the moon, mingling there her shadowy beams,
A spirit, fashioning other spirits seems;
We feel, in moments pure and bright as this,
The joy of innocence, the thrill of bliss.
Then towering up in the darkinging mountain’s side,
And spreading as it rolls its curtains wide,
It mantles round the mid-way height, and there
It sinks in water-drops, or soars in air.

There’s more to that – he has three more stanzas…

So. If you love science or the weather, or dreamily gaze up at the clouds, or love odd little biographies of interesting dudes from the early 1800’s, and certainly if you like poetry that was written during those times, I suggest this wonderful book.

And a big thank you to Vasilly for recommending a book that helps identify clouds: The Cloud Collector’s Handbook. I’m thinking of buying that for my nieces and nephews. Here’s another one that looks enticing:  The Cloudspotter’s Guide.

Do you not love white fluffy clouds in a bright blue spring sky?


Copyright © 2007-2012. Care’s Online Book Club. All rights reserved. This post was originally posted by Care from Care’s Online Book Club.  It should not be reproduced without express written permission.

19 thoughts on “The Invention of Clouds

  1. The Invention of Clouds sounds so interesting. I never thought to even learn about them until one of my professors told my class all about them. Too bad you didn’t finish the book before it was due back. I hope The Cloud Collector’s Handbook helps.

    Poetry is always great! 🙂

    1. I really need to go to a bookstore. Since Borders closed, I don’t think I’ve been! wow, that sounds very sad and makes me want to wander a bookstore more! unfortunately, I expect all of these books will require online ordering rather than browsing-discovery.

  2. Aw, clouds! Learning the different kinds of clouds is one of my clearest memories from first grade — I remember being out in the playground and we were all staring at the sky going “Cirrus clouds! Cirrus!” :p

  3. We had a really long weather sequence when I was in grade school science, so I do pride myself on knowing the clouds pretty well. But not in poetic format! That’s way cooler.

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