Book: The Power of the Sea

The Power of the Sea
This book is as dark and precise as its cover.

Disaster-focussed book mostly about deep-water dynamics.
320 pages, ★★★

I disagree with the gleaming reviews that this book has received on Amazon for purely personal reasons. First, The Power of the Sea is too disaster-focussed for me. It talks too much about maritime disasters and hurricanes, and there are two whole chapters dedicated to the December 26, 2004 tsunami. Second, this book concentrates mostly on what goes on below the surface, which is neither visible nor friendly to human beings. I was almost dragged out by a strong tide once, so I prefer to stay above water, especially while reading.

That said, I learned a lot from this book. The opening chapters are the best, and they’re filled with historical details of Napoleon’s Battle of the Pyramids and his escape into the Red Sea, and the slow discovery of what causes tides (basically, the sun and the moon, and the wind). We learn that tides are “giant waves”; and the vivid description of the Queen Mary’s being broadsided on page 99 also stuck in my mind.

Page 29 was best of all, which describes tides as a combination of three oscillations: the elliptical orbit of the moon (1.90 cycles per day); the position of the moon in relation to the ground (1.93 cycles per day); and the effect of the sun (2.00 cycles per day). Calculated together, these predictable rhythms give us the precise tide tables that all coastal inhabitants will be familiar with. (Tide tables are the things we’re supposed to read before surfing in dangerous waters. I know that now.)

The Power of the Sea is a well-written, well-researched book, and it’s worthy of five stars even if I can’t give them. My low score is entirely a matter of personal taste: I prefer studying visible, less scary stuff such as atmospheres, weather, climate and how they interact with oceans, so The Dance of Air & Sea was the five-star book for me. ★★★

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