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.
An Elephant in Rome
" January 1, 2021 Read this issue IN THIS REVIEW AN ELEPHANT IN ROME Bernini, the Pope and the making of the Eternal City 224pp. Pallas Athene. £19.99. Loyd Grossman Acheerful bricolage of biography, art history, trivia and travelogue..."
— Times Literary Supplement
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,
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).