Friday, January 29, 2016

The Wave: In Pursuit of the Rogues, Freaks, and Giants of the Ocean by Susan Casey

“History is full of eyewitness accounts of giant waves, monsters in the hundred-foot range and beyond, but until very recently scientists dismissed them. The problem was this: according to the basic physics of ocean waves, the conditions that would produce a hundred-footer were so far beyond rare as to virtually never happen. Anyone who claimed to have seen one, therefore, was engaging in nautical tall tales or outright lies.” 

As we now know, waves seventy, eighty, even over a hundred feet high are real, and they are not unusual. Most people would want to avoid such waves as much as possible--waves much smaller than these monsters are dangerous and contain the potential for massive destruction, after all. Other people seek them out, and these are the folks Susan Casey meets in The Wave.

Traveling with big wave surfers like Laird Hamilton, and talking to mariners and scientists, Casey investigates what we’ve learned and what we still don’t know about waves. Also, what we might need to worry about in the future, considering how much of the world's population lives near the ocean, how much stuff is transported in massive cargo ships across oceans, not to mention climate change. Casey blends firsthand experiences on the ocean with scientific research and historical accounts of big waves (the Lituya Bay chapter, in particular, is hair-raising) into one engrossing book. Although The Wave was published in 2010, prior to the tsunami that hit Japan in 2011--and I don't think it's possible to read it now without wondering how the book would be different had it been written post-Japan tsunami--it is very much still worth reading, especially if you're interested in the ocean. Or surfing.

As one scientist tells Casey, “People have been studying waves for so many years, and we’re still struggling to understand how they work.” But Casey does a fine job of explaining is known to the rest of us, conveying the power and the beauty of the ocean's waves to readers of this book.

Book info:
The Wave: In Pursuit of the Rogues, Freaks, and Giants of the Ocean by Susan Casey
Adult Nonfiction
Published in 2010 by Random House/Doubleday (ISBN 9780767928847)

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