Additional Book Information
Series: NYRB Classics
Publication Date: August 13, 2019
Heaven's BreathA Natural History of the Wind
by Lyall Watson, introduction by Nick Hunt
August 2019 selection of the NYRB Classics Book Club.
Wind is everywhere and nowhere. Wind is the circulatory system of the earth, and its nervous system, too. Energy and information flow through it. It brings warmth and water, enriches and strips away the soil, aerates the globe. Wind shapes the lives of animals, humans among them. Trade follows the path of the wind, as empire also does. Wind made the difference in wars between the Greeks and Persians, the Mongols and the Japanese. Wind helped to destroy the Spanish Armada. And wind is no less determining of our inner lives: the föhn, mistral, sirocco, Santa Ana, and other “ill winds” of the world are correlated with disease, suicide, and even murder.
Heaven’s Breath is an encyclopedic and enchanting book that opens dazzling new perspectives on history, nature, and humanity.
You’ll learn how a thunderstorm is like a living thing, and what happens when someone’s parachute is sucked into one. (Nothing good.) . . . Other parts, especially on the spread of viruses, are prescient. When travel is safe again, I’ll pay fresh attention to the skies.
—Thomas Lotito, The New York Times
This is the kind of book that answers dozens of questions first arising in childhood and lingering unresolved until there was Lyall Watson. . . . Watson’s pot-pourri of wind poetry, wind jokes and wind facts is so diverting that one hardly minds losing the thread now and then.
—Dennis Drabelle, The Washington Post
Collectors of curious bits of information and odd statistics will find Heaven’s Breath a gold mine. . . . Mr. Watson discusses the wind’s role in geology, plant and animal evolution, cultural history, trade, health, mythology, art, literature and language.
—Patricia T. O’Conner, The New York Times
[Heaven’s Breath], both perplexing and delightful, is appealing precisely because of how unclassifiable it is. . . . [Watson’s] sense of scale, connection, and surprise invite a deeper consideration of our entanglement with our surroundings. If wind is an original, invisible force around us, a force that’s nearly spiritual, perhaps it can help us think more carefully about radical shifts in climate, and about the interstitial truths that can’t always be grasped by blandly stating the facts.
—David Wallace, The New Yorker
Watson’s masterpiece is an erudite and enjoyable compendium of wind-lore, science, myth, history and the occasional joke. . . . Watson delights as much in retelling myths and in conveying the religious significance various cultures have invested in this silent, life-sustaining emissary as he does in cataloging how various plants pollinate with the assistance of the wind.
—Stephen Sparks, Point Reyes Light
A comprehensive and fascinating study.
—Bernard Levin, The Observer, Bernard Levin’s 1984 Book of the Year
A book which fascinates, delights and stimulates with a thousand fascinating facts.