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THE POWER OF THE SEA: Tsunamis, Storm Surges, Rogue Waves, and Our Quest to Predict Disasters by Bruce Parker PALGRAVE MACMILLAN, HB, £18.99

Disasters are said to come in threes, but Bruce Parker makes it clear they’ve always come in waves, and frequently provoke ingenious responses: the fact that the first tide table was devised in China is down to the tidal bore in the Qiantang River – at more than three kilometres wide and seven metres high, it isn’t surprising that local minds applied themselves to predicting its appearance.

Small wonder that there were attempts to bomb Bidston Observatory, where the work was done; and while that failed, the 1953 London floods came close to achieving what the Blitz didn’t, leading directly to the construction of the Thames barriers.

Parker’s book, while not lacking in hard science, is great on historical detail, from Napoleon’s neardisaster on the Red Sea, where he learned how Moses managed his crossing (a knowledge of tides can be as useful as a miracle) to a story from Japan in 1854 that describes how an elder of the village of Hiro recognised an approaching tsunami from tales that his grandfather had told him. Lacking time to ring the warning bell, he set

For the following millennium, progress was slow, but accurate tide prediction was commonplace by 1939, and played a significant role in the plans for the Normandy invasion. Even then, the analysis of water-level data required weeks of human input, a feat comparable to cracking the Enigma Code.

historical detail { }

Parker’s book, while not lacking in hard science, is great on fire to the newly harvested rice instead, bringing the villagers running up the hill before the wave struck. The embankment they subsequently built saved the village again, a century later. MICK HERRON

LIBYAN SANDS: Travel in a Dead World by RA Bagnold ELAND, PB, £12.99

In 1935, army o cer Ralph Bagnold wrote his account of the explorations that he and his colleagues made into the Libyan Desert. Because of its extent and aridity, this desert, the size of India, had been little explored until this was made possible by the motor car.

Building on the expertise that had been gained by the Light Car Patrols of the First World

War, Bagnold used specially adapted

War, Bagnold used specially adapted

Model T and, later, Model A Fords,

Model T and, later, Model A Fords,

which, despite the fact that which, despite the fact that they only had two-wheel drive, were able to cross the they only had two-wheel drive, were able to cross the huge dunes of the Great huge dunes of the Great Sand Sea. The experience gained during the late 1920s and early ’30s was to be of inestimable value when Bagnold established the

Sand Sea. The experience gained during the late 1920s and early ’30s was to be of inestimable value when Bagnold established the

Long Range Desert

Long Range Desert

Group in 1940.

Group in 1940.

Somewhat eclipsed by the more widely described bids to reach the poles and to climb Mount Everest, the exploration of the Western Desert by Bagnold, Almasy and others was one of the great exploration stories of the 20th century.

Although he has recently been regarded as something of a ‘techie’, Bagnold wrote with clarity and passion about a series of trips that were conducted over enormous distances, at low cost, and without serious disasters. He developed the use of water condensers, sand traps, deflated tyres and navigation techniques, including the sun compass. These enabled him to cross the Great Sand Sea and such places as Uweinat, the Gilf Kebir, Sarra and the Wadi Howar of northern Sudan. He was also one of the participants in the search for the mythical oasis of Zerzura.

These travels led to his interest in sand dunes, and he went on to conduct pioneering studies using wind tunnels, work that saw him elected a Fellow of the Royal Society. It’s entirely appropriate that a new generation of readers will benefit from this new edition of one of the classics of exploration. ANDREW GOUDIE

Jan Zalasiewicz is a lecturer in geology at the University of Leicester and the author of The Earth After Us. His latest book, The Planet in a Pebble, is out now

1. THE LOST WORLD by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle OXFORD WORLD’S CLASSICS, £6.99 The version burned into memory (one scarcely dare admit) is the cartoon serialised in The Eagle comic. For me, the primeval was born here 2. AS YOU LIKE IT by William Shakespeare PENGUIN POPULAR CLASSICS, £2 Here’s the true magic: simple words, aimed between Rosalind, Celia and Orlando, that fly straight into the heart of the onlooker 3. MAN, TIME AND FOSSILS by Ruth Moore OUT OF PRINT Devoured in my distant youth, it’s still the best introduction I know to Darwin, Lamarck, Mendel, De Vries et al 4. IF NOT NOW, WHEN? by Primo Levi PENGUIN MODERN CLASSICS, £9.99 Levi was a scientist who saw more of the dark side of humanity than most. This experience informed (but did not embitter) his writing, not least this remarkable novel of wartime partisans near the Eastern Front 5. MEN AT ARMS byTerry Pratchett CORGI, £7.99 When exhausted by this world, one can always retreat to the Discworld 6. MAPPING THE DEEP by Robert Kunzig SORT OF BOOKS, £8.99 A worthy successor to Sir Alister Hardy’s classic The Open Sea, this is a marvellous guide to the ocean realm 7. EVER SINCE DARWIN by Stephen Jay Gould OUT OF PRINT The first of Gould’s several collections of essays on the natural world, and the first I read – the combination of style and science made quite an impact 8. ARCHY AND MEHITABEL by Don Marquis OUT OF PRINT Life would be infinitely poorer without the company of this immortal (if scandalous) cat and her worldly wise six-legged amanuensis 9. LUPERCAL byTed Hughes FABER & FABER, £8.99 Szymborska’s poems don’t really translate, so there must, perforce, be a close call between this and Hughes’Crow to view nature through another prism 10. LA VAGABONDE by Collette OUT OF PRINT Collette’s tales of music-hall life show how human warmth can survive amid the serious craft of survival

JANUARY 2011 67

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