Tide: The Science and Lore of the Greatest Force on Earth

Penguin, 2016

‘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 all the others to wash up on the pages of this remarkable book.’ Mark Miodownik

I begin by spending a single day observing an entire tidal cycle on my local coast. This sets the scene for the questions I will ask and establishes a context for the places I visit, from the Thames to Morecambe Bay, and from the Bay of Fundy, with the highest tides in the world, to the north of Norway, where I discover the true nature of the fabled Maelstrom.

The origins of Western civilization on the shores of the nearly tideless Mediterranean may explain our early ignorance of the tides. For Aristotle, who is reputed to have drowned himself in Greek waters whose movement he could not understand, and for Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar, who encountered more formidable tides on their expeditions, the tides remained a mystery. Medieval monks such as Bede made surprising early observations of the tides, but it required the astronomy and physics of Galileo, Newton and Laplace before we could begin to comprehend them.

Tidal prediction has grown ever more accurate, nowadays incorporating dozens of astronomical variables to generate data far more accurate than any mariner will need — data that is now being used to reveal important information about globally rising sea levels.

For my final chapter, I return to my East Anglian coast, where recent high tides and storm surges have vividly demonstrated that such knowledge is not of merely theoretical importance, but will soon force us to alter our relationship with the coast and the ever moving sea.

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