book review: the wave, in pursuit of the rogues, freaks, and giants of the ocean

The Wave
by Susan Casey

I read this book right away when it came out a few months ago...and LOVED it. So why have I not written the review yet? One word: jealousy. I had this idea to write a book about giant waves, from an article in the New York Times. Hundreds of ships go missing annually. For years they had no idea why...but now we know that the sailors stories of giant waves were not just tall tales.

But I did not write the book. Mrs. Casey did.

She took an interesting tact: she interwove the science of the waves with the stories of surfers trying to surf giant waves. It works well. You get the personal interest stories coupled with the scary science. (FYI: no cruises for me, ever, thank you very much.)

For example, there are landslide-induced tsunamis. These happen under water. 8,000 years ago a piece of shelf the size of Kentucky gave way off the coast of Norway. The slide might have been caused by methane hydrates, or spherical gas deposits frozen into the sea floor. Changes in the temperature of the ocean could trigger more of these spheres to explode. Changes as little as one degree will set them off, leading to giant waves and vast clouds of methane going into the atmosphere. Methane is a greenhouse gas ten times more potent than carbon dioxide. Scary stuff.

Oh and the USGS conservatively estimates that twice the carbon found in all fossil fuels in the world is contained in these ice balls.

Bottom line is that the book is a great example of non-fiction done well.

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