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From Cnut to D-Day, the history and science of the unceasing tide is explored for the first time.
Half of the world's population lives in coastal regions lapped by tidal waters. Yet how little most of us know about the tide – a key force on our planet that has altered the course of history and will transform our future.
Our ability to predict and understand the tide depends on centuries of science, from the observations of Aristotle and the theories of Newton to today's supercomputer calculations. This story is punctuated here by notable tidal episodes in history, from Caesar's thwarted invasion of Britain to the catastrophic flooding of Venice, and interwoven with a rich folklore that continues to inspire art and literature today.
With Aldersey-Williams as our guide to the most feared and celebrated tidal features on the planet, from the original maelstrøm in Scandinavia to the world's highest tides in Nova Scotia to the crumbling coast of East Anglia, the importance of the tide, and the way it has shaped – and will continue to shape – our civilization, becomes startlingly clear.
Hugh Aldersey-Williams studied natural sciences at Cambridge. He is the author of several books exploring science, design and architecture – including Periodic Tales, Anatomies and The Adventures of Sir Thomas Browne in the 21st Century – and has curated exhibitions at the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Wellcome Collection. He lives in Norfolk with his wife and son.
"Imagine, if possible, a gently studious Bill Bryson crossed with an upbeat and relaxed WG Sebald. It is a superb book [...] a delight to read. It is profound and powerful, and should win prizes."
– James McConnachie, Sunday Times
"A spring tide of colour and historical anecdote laps over the more austere mudflats of the actual science. So much so that I find myself looking forward to the next piece of technical exposition as, like the gentle ebb of a neap tide, his cultural history of tides also slowly reveals and explains each successive advance in our understanding of them"
– Tom Whipple, The Times
"A wonderfully enjoyable exploration of the mysterious rhythms of the sea. I loved the combination of literary, historical, scientific, and experiential accounts of the tides, each ebbing and then flowing to allow the others to wash up on the pages of this remarkable book."
– Mark Miodownik, author of Stuff Matters
"This fascinating book deftly explores the dramatic history, critical importance, and scientific wonder of the tides. Hugh Aldersey-Williams is a marvelous guide who takes the reader on a sweeping and thought-provoking adventure into the heart of one of the most captivating, mysterious, and elemental forces of nature"
– Eric Jay Dolin, author of Brilliant Beacons: A History of the American Lighthouse
"Prepare for a voyage with the best of companions – Hugh Aldersey-Williams is a storyteller supreme, and he's found a subject worthy of his talents"
– Edward Dolnick, author of The Clockwork Universe: Isaac Newton, the Royal Society, and the Birth of the Modern World
"Exposes new facts and ideas every other page"
– Horatio Clare, Observer
"Aldersey-Williams's corrective meshes a history of the science with tide-related technologies and tidally sculpted events. It's an eloquent ebb and flow"