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Snow: The Biography Reviews

Snow: The Biography by Giles Whittell

Snow: The biography

Giles Whittell

4.00 out of 5

3 reviews

Category: Non-fiction
Imprint: Short Books Ltd
Publisher: Short Books Ltd
Publication date: 11 Oct 2018
ISBN: 9781780723600

Snow has a lot in common with religion. It comes from heaven. It changes everything. It creates an alternative reality and brings on irrational behaviour in humans. But unlike most religions, snow has never had a bible, until now.

4 stars out of 5
7 Feb 2019

"Giles Whittell tells the story of how snow has changed history many times"

Whittell is very good on the science behind a snowflake's formation. First you need a speck of dust around which an ice crystal can form. This crystal always has six sides, because of the angle between the two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom in a molecule of water (108 degrees, since you ask). The crystal then falls to Earth, growing in size on the way down to become a snowflake.

This can take up to 45 minutes, which is why no two flakes have ever been the same shape — the chances of them forming from identical specks of dust and taking exactly the same path to the ground are virtually zero.

Reviews

4 stars out of 5
Ysenda Maxtone Graham
15 Dec 2018

"so vigorously and engagingly written that you’re enchanted"

I like a book where you don’t think you’re going to be interested in the subject, but then find it’s so vigorously and engagingly written that you’re enchanted. This is one of those. I’m not a skier —I’m quickly bored when coffee-drinking mothers start recounting their children’s latest achievements on the piste — so I expected to have had enough by page five, as I set off across the blinding whiteness of this ‘biography’ of snow, written by a man who’s wearing ski-goggles in the jacket photo.

But in Giles Whittell’s genial company, reading it was a great pleasure. An eloquent, witty writer, he bombards us with myth-busting facts, startling statistics and pleasingly incomprehensible geographical vocabulary,

4 stars out of 5
Laura Freeman
20 Oct 2018

"A salute to the joys and perils of snow is sparkling stuff"

In this wonderful, wide-ranging book, all powder, no slush, Whittell slaloms from Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s snow scenes to James Bond making his escape in yellow salopettes in The Spy Who Loved Me, from the damp-squib Sochi Winter Olympics to Christian Lacroix’s €5,000 designer skis. He tells you how to survive burial by an avalanche (“You may not know which way is up, but spitting can give a clue which way is down . . . Unless you’ve managed to create an air hole, no one can hear you scream”); how many snowflakes fall on Earth in an average year (about 315,000 million trillion); where the snowiest place on Earth is (probably the Tyndall Glacier in Patagonia); and how scientists showed that no two snowflakes are alike (the number of different snowflake patterns far exceeds the number of atoms in the universe).