By Kate Teves
We Floridians know how to track the marbled patterns of a satellite map better than anyone. We spend the entire autumn season swapping different configurations with friends and experts, endlessly analyzing the movements off the coast of Africa. When we see things forming and crawling west, we begin to make some noises. Chatter fills the grocery stores, the gas stations, the bars, the beaches: “Back when Andrew…” or “Back when Wilma…”
Redniss’s unique blend of poetic prose, haunting illustrations, and professional research whip together a sweeping history of humanity’s relationship to Mother Nature. The portraits of individuals surviving lightning, navigating frozen seascapes, and tinkering with the gods make this overwhelming topic feel personal. Even if you have never come close to binge-watching the Weather Channel, you will still find yourself beguiled by this unusual work.
Thank goodness this subject matter landed in an artist’s hands. The interplay between prose and art leaves you feeling thoroughly immersed in weather in a way that pure science writing never could. You feel soaked in the rain, parched in the desert, numb in the snow.
In one striking section, Redniss describes the “pea soupers” of London. The fogs in the early 20th century were so blinding that thieves were able to hijack the city, completely undetected. Schools were forced to close. Ambulances required pedestrian guides to grope ahead in the streets. On one occasion, the fog trapped the city’s coal smoke in the city, and 12,000 people died. The details hit you, push on you, as you try to recall anything in your sensory experience that could possibly approach such a feeling. You turn the page and are met with several pages of blank, white grey. Your eyes begin to focus, and suddenly you realize there are grey shadows in the fog, ghostly bodies emerging out of the paper before you. They are terrifying.
Thunder & Lightning is an extraordinarily well-researched book, awash with pitch-perfect storytelling and invigorating illustration. Dave Eggers sums it up best: “It’s the way you wish science would always be taught.”