First conceived as a maritime aid in the early 19th century by Francis Beaufort, hydrographer to the British Admiralty, the Beaufort Scale is a masterpiece of scientific classification and poetry. In just 110 words describing 13 gradations of wind (Beaufort 0: "calm, smoke rises vertically: " Beaufort 9: "strong gale, chimney pots and slates removed"), it applies scientific precision to a ubiquitous force of a nature and fulfills the goals of all good writing; vigor, conciseness, clarity. Defining the Wind, inspired by the author's boundless admiration for this remarkable creation, is a fascinating excursion through science and nature, the history of the British Empire, and the life and accomplishments of the brilliant, indefatigable, and unique Beaufort himself. Ranging from London to Buenos Aires to ports and seas around the world, and populated by such luminaries as Charles Darwin, Daniel Defoe, Captains Bligh of the Bounty and Cook of the Endeavor, Defining the Wind will prove irresistible to people who love to read about history, language, and science.
Paperback: 304 pages
Publisher: Three Rivers Press (June 28, 2005)
Praise for Defining the Wind
"[An] enchanting stroll through maritime and science
history. . . . A charming guide, Huler is no slouch at turning neat phrases."
— Bruce Barcott, New York Times Book Review
"[Huler's] thoroughly researched account of a marvelous
collision of forces (natural, political, and creative) is as invigorating as a
cool ocean breeze."
— Wook Kim, Entertainment Weekly
"At [the book's] heart is a fascination with the language we
use to describe the world around us. Less a piece of science writing than a
writer's meditation on science, this gem of a book is equal parts history,
mystery. . . and memoir. . . and deserves a wide audience."
— Starred review, Publishers Weekly
"Huler writes with self-deprecating wit, and . . . he captures
the Beaufort scale's 'open-hearted intellectual decency.'"
— The New Yorker
"What Dava Sobel did for the chronometer in Longitude,
Scott Huler does for the Beaufort Scale. . . . In a fascinating history Huler gives
us an amazing account of the measurement of wind."
— Booksense (Booksense 76 pick)
"Parts history, mystery, and memoir, this take on ancient
mariners measuring wind velocity could be the latest unlikely hit."
— Southwest Spirit Magazine
"Splendidly readable. . . . [A] wonderful little book."
— Michael Sims, author of Adam's Navel, in BookPage
"[A] book about a 12-point scale used to measure the
intensity of wind has changed my life. . . . The writing is clean and swift, the
tone conversationally delightful. . . . [Huler] has done a magnificent job. . . .
Finally, this is a book of practical philosophy, about living your life
alertly, being awake to the marvelous world around you. It's also in an
artfully oblique way a handbook for every writer, amateur or professional, a
refreshing primer on the most basic ethic of the craft."
— Philip Gerard, Raleigh News & Observer
"[A] reminder of why we read science books. . . . Read Huler
and you'll pay more attention to the air moving through your backyard,
fluttering leaves, rattling windows. . . . Consummate examples of how a writer with
enough determination can mine a deep vein of curiosity and use it to produce a
compelling, powerful, and, yes, interesting book."
— Anthony Doerr, author of The Shell Collector, in The
"What makes Huler's book exceptional . . . is his absorbing
account of how he tried to empathize with Beaufort. . . . . The true value is the
message implicit in its lucid prose, inspiring us to observe nature with the
wide-eyed empathy of a curious naturalist."
— Laurence Marschall, Natural History Magazine
"An entertaining, informative, sometimes quirky read about
the nature of wind and how for four centuries observers have tried to find a
uniform way to describe them. . . . a fascinating blend of history, biography,
nautical lore, science and personal journal."
— Jack Betts, Charlotte Observer
"A joy to read."
— Joe Brown, Popular Science
"Defining the Wind is a deeply enjoyable foray
into the British admiralty, the arcana of 19th-century hydrography
and engineering, and the history of the wind. Above all, it helps readers
visualize the power of a scientific mind asking direct questions about the
world. What Huler has shown us is fascinating."
— Verlyn Klinkenborg,
"Huler found, on the thread of his life, an intriguing knot
that interested him. Pursuing that interest, unraveling that knot, he found a
web of personalities, history, science and poetry. That knot: the Beaufort
Scale, 110 perfectly descriptive words describing the strength of wind. Defining
the Wind is a wonderful example of exactly why it is important for us to
follow those interests that come our way. Huler's life is richer for the
journey, and ours is richer because he brought us along."
— Russ Harvey, Cody's Books
"A fascinating excursion through
science and nature, the history of the British Empire, and the life and
accomplishments of the indefatigable and unique inventor of the Beaufort Scale.
The scale applies scientific precision to the wind, one of nature's more
ubiquitous forces; applying just 110 words, it describes 13 gradations, i.e.,
Beaufort 0: "calm, smoke rises vertically;" Beaufort 9: "strong
gale, chimney pots and slates removed."
— Strand Bookstore, Best
"[N]ot just a beautifully written portrait of Sir Francis
Beaufort and of the scale that bears his name . . . . it is also . . . a philosophical
and historical tale of science as a way of observing and making sense of the
world. Highly recommended."
— Margaret Rioux, Library Journal
"To some people, the devil is in the details. But a true
researcher will revel in the details. That's what Mr. Huler joyfully discovered
in his investigations, and it shows in every page of this unusual and
— Fred Bortz, Dallas Morning News
"An engrossing investigation of science in the age of sail."
— PBS TeacherSource
"[Huler] comes off as a likeable captain, delivering punchy,
humorous prose . . . while heeding his own words - that the human body is the
'greatest perceptive instrument ever designed' - by adding his fresh
perspective to both history and lore."
— Tedra Meyer, The Village Voice
"Gripping, suspenseful (yes, all those terms really apply
to a book about a scale, for heaven's sake)."
— Philip Gerard, in The Raleigh News & Observer
"Whether tracing the scale's evolving linguistic content or
the route of one of Beaufort's surveys, Huler wonderfully relays the history
contained, as he so aptly writes, in the Beaufort scale's 'one hundred ten
words . . . and four centuries of backstory.'"
— Gilbert Taylor, in Booklist
"Scott Huler's obsession with the scale is a match for
Beaufort himself. Part history, part textbook, part memoir, Defining the
Wind explores how we think about the currents that shape sea and
— Susan Dworski, Los Angeles Times
"Readers will be absorbed by this story of the nature of scientific inquiry and the power and value of
concise, poetic observation."
— Barbara A. Genco,School Library Journal
"Scott Huler's infatuation with the Beaufort Wind Scale
borders on the obsessive. And his fascination with it is infectious. More than a
skillfully written portrait of Sir Francis Beaufort and the scale that bears
his name, Defining the Wind represents years of Huler's research into
the history of science. Writing with both humor and wit, Huler gives us a
wonderful tale of exploration, nature, and history, not to mention an
appreciation of science as a way of making sense of our world."
"Breezy, wide-ranging . . . A light-hearted romp over two
hemispheres, two centuries of discovery and the consuming passions of two men:
Beaufort and Huler."
— Eric Sorensen, The Seattle Times
* A Booksense 76 Pick
* A Harvard Bookstore Select 70 Pick
* A History Book Club Pick
* A Powells.com Fourteen Favorites Pick
* A Strand Bookstore Best Biography
* A PBS TeacherSource Recommended Book
* Finalist, Ragan Old North State Award
Defining the Wind
Listen to the NPR commentary on the Beaufort Scale.
Listen to an interview about Defining the Wind from The State of Things on WUNC radio.
Listen to an interview about Defining the Wind from
"Talk of the Nation" on NPR.
Read an interview about Defining the Wind in Publisher's Weekly.