10 Books About Clouds For Cloud Lovers
The last time I flew in a commercial airline I got the window seat. (Despite being over 6′ tall, I always try to get the window seat). As I flew East over the Atlantic, I watched the sun set, and a few hours later watched it rise again. And I remember thinking to myself, with my forehead glued to the window, unable to look away, “Why would anyone ever bother with television?”
This may surprise you, but I love looking at clouds. I know – didn’t see that coming, did you? Another shocker here – brace yourself – but I think I may not be alone. So on the off chance that I’m not the only person on this planet who loves clouds, I’ll happily preach to the choir (or soloist, if it’s just the one of you).
They say your dog is a mirror, and though I find a lot to argue with in that axiom, I can see what they’re getting at. Well, I’m going to take it one step further and say that clouds are a mirror. And if that’s true, and if you love the cloud in the photo above like I do, then you and I have a flair for the dramatic, my friend, most assuredly indeed. I do so love the drama of clouds. Their dense, lush, depths of color and form pull me toward them and invite me to take a moment from my quotidian concerns to look up, and draw deeply from the beauty, complexity, and awe-some power of the natural forces that shape the sky above.
Often it’s enough to momentarily and naively admire that beauty, without needing to know more. To meet a cloud and acknowledge it and move on. I take a good bit of deliberate pleasure in this innocent form of cloud appreciation. But just as often perhaps, with my head cocked back and my eyes squinting against the sunlight, I find myself wishing for more. Most often in these moments I’m pulling at some thread of a question about the nature of what I’m seeing – the name of the particular cloud above me, for example, or what forces were (and are) at work in its formation.
Then there are those moments – less frequent but no less intense – when I wish I could simply reach out, godlike, and pull the clouds down out of the sky to hold them in my hands, to examine them closely, to know them intimately. And of course there are also many moments when I find myself wishing for clouds but can’t have them – when it’s dark, or there’s a roof over my head, or it’s been days since one any appearred in the sky. In all of these moments, offering satisfaction for my cusiority or consolation for my longing, there is a book about clouds that I pull off my shelf
There are surprisingly few good cloud books out there, and an especially-acutely-felt dearth of good large-sized books about clouds. Because while a handbook or pocket guide can be handy to grab as needed, or even to take with you out into the field, the convenience comes at the cost of the scale of the images. And gol’darn it, sometimes I want a really, really big, beautiful, full-color photograph, lush enough that I could squeeze water out of it, to hold on my lap and let my eyes roam over, and swim in, and sink into… For those moments when I’m filled with this particular desire, only a coffee table book about clouds will do the trick. Fortunately, there are books like this in the world that can scratch this itch.
For your consideration, I’ve chosen ten of my favorite books about clouds, and described them below. Here, immediately below, is the quick list with links to the books on Amazon, in case you prefer to skip past any more of my lesirely rambling to get on with the juicy bits. A note on authors: you may notice when you browse the titles that a couple of the authors have written more than one of the books in the list. This speaks, I believe, to the enthusiasm and passion that clouds inspire in many of us, whether it’s as aficianados like Mr. Pretor-Pinney, who founded The Cloud Appreciation Society, or Mr. Hamblyn, who has studied and written prolifically about clouds throughout his career. So without further ado, the 10 best books about clouds, according to me, in no particular order:
- Supercell, by Kevin Erskine – Click here to read my review below.
- The Cloud Collector’s Handbook, by Gavin Pretor-Pinney – Click here to read my review below.
- The Cloudspotter’s Guide, by Gavin Pretor-Pinney – Click here to read my review below.
- The Cloud Book, by Richard Hamblyn – and Pocket Version – Click here to read my review below.
- Clouds: Nature and Culture, by Richard Hamblyn – Click here to read my review below.
- The Big Cloud, by Camille Seaman – Click here to read my review below.
- The Book of Clouds, by John Day – Click here to read my review below.
- Extraordinary Clouds, by Richard Hamblyn – Click here to read my review below.
- The Architecture of Clouds by Howard Bluestein – Click here to read my review below.
- The Invention of Clouds, by Richard Hamblyn – Click here to read my review first below.
Supercell, By Kevin Erskine
(Photography) Though this ten-best list isn’t in any particular order, I put this book at the top because I find cloudscape photography books, especially in the larger coffee-table format, to be in tragically short supply. This, my friends, is a vaccuum crying to be filled, if you’re asking me. Kevin Erskine has done a heroically admirable job with Supercell, his book of gorgeous, large-format photographs of supercell storms. I really love the lush, large (the book itself measures 11″ x 15″, and many of the photos span both pages, across the spine), dramatic photos of some seriously intimidating stormclouds. Supercell’s focus is strictly visual, with very little text. Order on Amazon.
The Cloud Collector’s Handbook, by Gavin Pretor-Pinney:
(Non-fiction) This is a great book to bring with you into the field. I bought my copy in 2016, and have brought it with me on many a cloud-gazing outing since. And though I’ve had it for years, and never read it cover-to-cover, I’ve easily looked over every one of its 140-or-so pages half a dozen times each. It’s as useful as ever for the moments when I want to know more about the cloud I happen to be looking at, and I still learn something new every time I open it. At 5″ x 7″ and hardcover (only) it’s not exactly pocket-sized, but does fit well in a knapsack. The Cloud Collector’s Handbook includes dozens of well-chosen photos great for cloud identification, along with well-researched and interesting notes. Order on Amazon.
The Cloudspotter’s Guide: The Science, History, and Culture of Clouds, by Gavin Pretor-Piney
(Non-fiction) This volume, another from Pretor-Pinney’s Cloud Appreciation Society, is a great contribution to the public awareness of and appreciation for Clouds. His talks and writing about clouds combine a careful appreciation for scientific accuracy with the ability to convey deep detail in easily-digested and enjoyable prose, and the Cloudspotter’s guide is no different.
Less a field guide than an enjoyable read for a cozy sit in-of-doors or even out-, the book delves deeply into many of the most commonly-asked questions about clouds, yet still manages to convey meteorologically rigorous exactitude with wit, buoyant enthusiasm, and sheer unmitigated cloud boosterism. The Cloudspotter’s Guide is both a great read about clouds, but also an enjoyable argument for the value of cloudgazing as an “unproductive” activity. Order on Amazon.
The Cloud Book: How to Understand the Skies, by Richard Hamblyn
(Non-fiction) Another book about clouds by Richard Hamblyn, The Cloud Book is a collaborative effort with The Met Office, The UK’s weather forecasting service. The particular emphasis placed on Climate Change, makes The Cloud Book’s contributions to the cloud library especially valuable.
There’s also a Pocket Version, which, at 4.5″ x 6″, is rather well-suited to being carried along wherever you go, and will indeed fit in your pocket unless you’re wearing your trousers fashionably tight. Order the Full-sized Cloud Book here. And the pocket-sized Cloud Book here.
Clouds: Nature and Culture, by Richard Hamblyn
(Non-fiction) A third contribution to the cloud library by Richard Hamblyn, Clouds: Nature and Culture is a thorough investigation both into what clouds are as a useful plantary irrigation and water-circulation system, but also what clouds mean to us as a culture.
Clouds have been used by humans to make much spritual, artistic, and liguistic meaning over the centuries, and the book’s exploration of the many ways in which we collectively project parts of our selves onto clouds, bending them to our purposes as we likewise bend toward the clouds, is a fascinating study both psychoanalytically as well as meteorologically. Order on Amazon.
The Big Cloud: Spectacular Photographs of Storm Clouds, by Camille Seaman
(Photography) This is another excellent book of cloud photography by a photographer who has made a career out of documenting the intersection of humans and natural and the awesome power and delicate fragility of both. Her Ted talk about her work documenting Supercells is 3 minutes well spent. The Big Cloud, like Supercell reviewed above, is focussed on the tension between the beauty and the danger of Supercell storm clouds
I am endlessly fascinated by the fact that the very thing that makes clouds so dangerous – their speed and dynamism, their motion and power – is what makes them seem to make the sky come to life so beautifully – so suddenly and so closely, and gives shape to fluid, turbulent elements that otherwise feel so inconspicuous and remote. The Big Cloud is a masterful exploration of this very tension. Buy on Amazon.
The Book of Clouds, by John Day
(Photography) The Book of Clouds has over 180 pages of fascinating and evocative cloud photos, accompanied by a modest amount of fun and interesting cloud science. The author, well-known as The Cloudman, had a PhD in Cloud Physics (which I didn’t know existed until I read the book), and studied weather for over sixty years (he first published on clouds in 1957 – which also explains why some of the photos in The Book of Clouds appear to be quite old). His Field Guide to the Atmosphere, published in the ’80s, is considered a clasic of meteorology today.
Though The Book of Clouds was published in 2002, and is an aggregate of the cloud photographs the Cloudman took over a lifetime of study, the book remains as relevant as it is enjoyable. Buy on Amazon.
Extraordinary Clouds, by Richard Hamblyn
(Photography/Non-fiction) Extraordinary Clouds is a photography book that includes a good bit of meteorological erudition alongside every beautiful cloud photograph. Or, if you’d rather, is a book of cloud scholarship accompanied by colorful, high-resolution photos of clouds to embody the meteorological concepts discussed. However you put it, Extraordinary Clouds is an unambiguous a pleasure to read.
Hamblyn is a prolific scholar of clouds (he appears four times on this list), and has written several other excellent books about clouds and weather. Extraordinary Cloud’s unique contribution to this list is the selection of cloud photographs shot from above – often much higher above, by satellite – granting a perspective of scale and pattern I had never seen before reading this book. My only wish is that it (ie the photographs) were larger. Order on Amazon.
The Invention of Clouds: How an Amateur Meteorologist Forged the Language of the Skies, by Richard Hamblyn
(Non-fiction) The Invention of Clouds is a good book to settle into when to satisfy your love of clouds without leaving the house, and it’s a fascinating story as well. It tells the story of how the efforts of an amateur meteorologist bring us all closer to clouds. How his work classifying and understanding scientifically a phenomena that was as the time barely paved the way for the legitemization of Meteorology as a science, and for clouds to enter the public awareness.
I may know many clouds by name, but I’d never heard of Luke Howard before this great book, and had no idea how much we all owe to his work to illuminate the nature of clouds we live with. Though much of cloud phenomena remains a mystery, we know so much more now, thanks to this man, and so much morew about him thanks to this excellent book. Order on Amazon
The Architecture of Clouds, by Howard Bluestein
(Non-fiction) In truth, this book has not yet been been published, so has no place on this ten-best list. And yet, because I’m so looking forward to reading it as soon as it’s released (January 2024) that I can’t help including it as a post-script. I can’t comment on the best qualities of the book, but I can speak to the reputation of its author, a professor in the school of Meteorology at the University of Oklahoma, and his many other works.
Here’s the publisher’s description: “The Architecture of Clouds describes in a visual, poetic, and personal way how clouds are related to our everyday life and the weather. It expertly details how the art and science of clouds are interconnected with straightforward scientific explanations… alongside in-depth descriptions of the visual and artistic aspects of clouds... written in a style accessible to all readers.” They had me at “visual, poetic, and personal”. Pre-order on Amazon.