Book Review--August, 2005
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There was a bit of a delay in posting this month's book review, but it was worth the wait. The July, 2006 Hurricaneville Book Review has a book that is a must read for hurricane trackers and budding meteorlogists alike. The book, Divine Wind by Kerry Emanuel of MIT, is one that looks at both the history and science of these powerful tropical storms. Emanuel's work is an integrated approach toward the study of hurricanes that not only looks at the physics and math that goes into these storms, but also some of the historic storms as well as sculpture, paintings, poetry, and music that is centered around them.



Isaacs Storm

Nearly twenty years ago, when I was a junior in high school, I took an interdisciplinary course of Calculus and Physics. The class was held in the same room with two different teachers teaching the math and physics. However, there were times in the course, where the class had to solve problems in Physics that required Calculus. The teacher that I had for Physics was great in combining the two disciplines. Well, here in Kerry Emanuel's Divine Wind, the MIT professor and researcher not only combines the historic hurricanes of the past with the science that made them memorable, but he also integrates cultural aspects of these storms such as those produced in paintings, sculpture, poetry, and music.

This interdisciplinary approach to the subject of hurricanes in this book is done in such a way that the reader maintains his or her interest in the material, and wants to keep on reading more. Emanuel, who has written many research papers on the science, particularly the thermodynamics of these monsters of the sea, can get very heavily involved with the math and physics. Realizing that, and the limited capacity some of the readers may have toward those areas, he tries to not only make it as simple as possible, but he does what all good teachers should do, and that is give us a break for a bit by branching of into the history and culture surrounding these storms. The book was divided up into thirty-two chapters with several appendices. Those thirty-two chapters were effectively divided up between the math and science behind tropical cyclones, historic storms, breakthroughs in meteorology, or how ancient civilizations such as the Mayans, Aztecs, and early inhabitants of the Caribbean interpreted these tropical menaces.

Emanuel, who has been noted recently as suggesting there is a link between global warming, particularly in the oceans and the increased number of intense hurricanes, goes from explaining the thermodynamics of a hurricane's heat engine in one chapter, to explaining how that heat engine behind in say a classic hurricane such as the Labor Day Hurricane of 1935. So, like in my interdisciplinary Physics and Calculus class junior year, there is a combined theoretical and applied approach used in this book. Emanuel even goes further by discussing the social impacts and aftermath of these storms, and not only for those that have occurred in U.S. History such as Hurricane Andrew, but also those storms such as the Great Bhola Cyclone of November, 1970 that killed between 300,000 to 500,000 people in what became Bangladesh. For instance, I learned in my reading that the cyclone that hit East Pakistan at that time, created tremendous political problems, and ultimately a Civil War that resulted in Bangladesh gaining its independence.

Interspersed between these lessons of both history and science would be poems, songs, excerpts from literary works, photos of drawings, paintings, and sculptures devoted to hurricanes. Emanuel points out that the ancient civilizations may have been more advanced on this particular subject than we think. He proves this by pointing out the similarities between the likeness of the Cuban god of wind, Huracan, and an actual hurricane or tropical cyclone symbol that is used today. Hurricanes have also made a great impact on wars. Some of the greatest armies throughout history including those led by Mongolian warlord, Kublai Khan, were thwarted by the exploits of typhoons of the day. Hurricanes even played a role in helping the United States gain its independence during the Revolutionary War. Emanuel supplements his book with numerous sources of further reading as well as great appendices for notable tropical cyclones, hurricane records, and even for his hurricane modeling software.

I downloaded a copy of this hurricane modeling software, and installed it on my Virtual PC running Windows XP on my Apple PowerBook. I played around with the different aspects of the application, and although I still need to learn more about it, I certainly liked the added bonus to a great book. I know that I have a tendency to say every book I've read is a great read, but this book is superb. In the past,, I've studied Emanuel's work and research, and I used some of it to write my own paper on Category Five Hurricanes, which I also wrote an article about on this site several years ago. However, I really enjoyed this book, and I was very glad that I bought it. As a result, I strongly urge all of you, who have not purchased, or read this book, to buy it. While I know that all of you are not math and science oriented like I am, I think you will still find certain aspects of this book quite enjoyable.

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