The sky's the limit

<strong>The Cloudspotter's Guide</strong>

Gavin Pretor-Pinney <em>Sceptre, 303pp, £7.99</em>

Cloudspotting sounds like a typical anorak hobby, but that is a presumption Gavin Pretor-Pinney sweeps aside in this charming book. A whimsical mixture of history, folklore and science, it is a fascinating collection of everything that the author, an avid cloud fan, knows about the subject.

The book’s quirky appeal rests on his boyish enthusiasm, and the unaffected wonder clouds induce in us. Discussing the popularity of the cumulus, for instance, he decides it is popular because "it looks so damn comfortable" – "Who hasn’t gazed up and dreamt of falling asleep in the cumulus’s plump, white folds?"

Whether we need to be reminded to look up and appreciate the sky may be debatable, but Pretor-Pinney makes a great case against "blue-sky thinking", calling for us to celebrate cloudy days as a spectacle of "nature’s poetry".

Split into cloud types, the book is best dipped in and out of, as each chapter’s scientific explanations can begin to pall. But you are never far from a good tale or humorous quip, such as the unforgettable story of the pilot who was tossed around an angry cumulonimbus for 40 minutes. Dreamily quixotic, this is a book to be tucked away for wet cloudy days.

This article first appeared in the 19 March 2007 issue of the New Statesman, Trident: Why Brown went to war with Labour