The Wavewatcher's Companion

Bookshelf: The Wavewatcher’s Companion

The Wavewatcher's Companion
The Wavewatcher’s Companion

The Wavewatcher’s Companion – Gavin Pretor-Pinney

Gavin Pretor-Pinney is probably best known for The Cloudspotter’s Guidea chatty, informative companion for the daytime sky-gazing enthusiast that covered everything that there is to know about clouds (and a bit more). In The Wavewatcher’s Companion (lent to me by Christo, who read it during the course of our Red Sea liveaboard trip last year) he takes a similar approach to waves.

Pretor-Pinney is not concise or reverent, and frequently errs on the side of too much witty banter; this may irritate those who are seeking a serious scientific work, and I’d point you in the direction of something like The Power of the Sea if that’s what you’re after. The Wavewatcher’s Companion also does not focus exclusively on waves that are found in water – a fact which initially bothered me, as those are the waves that I’m interested in. My frustration was forgotten, however, because the sections on electromagnetic waves, sound waves and shock waves, for example, were very interesting, and helped me to understand some phenomena that I’m familiar with from other contexts.

I particularly enjoyed the sections on tides (despite Rachel Carson’s efforts, I still don’t completely understand them) and big wave surfing. The author goes surfing in Hawaii with Andrew Marr, a South African big wave surfer, much as Laird Hamilton took the author of The Wave with him on surf trips. Did you know that there’s a surf spot on the Eisbach River in Munich, Germany? Check it out.

The book is well illustrated with photographs and diagrams, and one of the photographs and the related text cleared up a question I’ve always had regarding a peculiar cloud formation that appears over the mountains around False Bay (there was a picture of it). It turns out to be a lenticular cloud, which is as a result of a standing wave that develops on the downwind side of the mountain under certain conditions.

I recommend this book for all but the purist who wishes for Serious Science, Seriously Presented. It is a perfect holiday read, digestible in bite sized chunks. Some of the more technical sections required repeat readings, which perhaps justifies the author’s efforts to channel Bill Bryson in the intervening paragraphs.

Get a copy here if you’re in South Africa, otherwise here or here.

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Clare

Lapsed mathematician, creator of order, formulator of hypotheses. Lover of the ocean, being outdoors, the bush, reading, photography, travelling (especially in Africa) and road trips.

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