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Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Reviews of "The Wave" by Susan Casey

Well, it’s been nearly 3 months since my first read of the book “The Wave”. I have flip through the book from time to time, but somehow I just never really get into it yet. (Contrary to one of my previous experience of reading a popular book “State of Fear” by Michael Crichton which I could hardly put it down until I finished it.)

I just noticed today that the book have so far received 90 customers’ reviews on Amazon, there are nineteen of them gave the book 3 stars out of 5, eight 2 stars, and seven 1 stars, which amounts to basically 39% negative reviews. This should be a better than average percentage in the long run in my opinion. (Comparatively similar percentage for the book “State of Fear” is 48% -- perhaps Michael Crichton had attracted more than his share of global warming ideologues there, not a true reflection of people's views in general.)

While Amazon book reviews are not always totally objective, but I find the reviews there are making some good points. Here are some of the excerpts that I generally concur:

· The title suggests that it was about the science and physics of big waves, but half the book was about surfers. I'm sure it was a fun gig for the writer, but I'd already seen "Riding Giants." (by annapolis321 who gave 3 stars.)

· I felt there was a bit too much from the surfers. I am not a surfer myself, so found that the descriptions of the waves blended together. Huge is huge; I can't differentiate in my mind between a eighty-foot wave and a hundred-foot wave. Some of the dialog was interesting, but much of it was rambling and I lost focus. With so many stories of similar near-misses, I found I didn't feel the urgency behind each tale, and as a result the book as a whole lost something for me. (by A. Luciano who gave 3 stars.)

· The scientific coverage had little depth, with little to no explanation of how swells develop, how scientists forecast storms, and what factors are considered by designers of ships of various sizes to withstand shocks from giant waves. Ms. Casey seemed quite enchanted with Laird Hamilton, probably the best known big wave surfer in the world. Mr. Hamilton's presence had a prophetic flavor throughout the book that was a bit annoying, frankly. (by Brain Kodi who gave 3 stars.)

· While technically the subtitle of this book is correct, it really should specifically state that the book is largely about hard-core big wave surf addicts. If you are interested in surfing, and Laird Hamilton in particular, then by all means by this book and skip over the few bits related to science. Likewise, if you enjoy dramatic descriptions and superstitious anthropomorphizing of waves, buy this book.

If you were hoping for more science, even as written for the mass market (i.e, most of us), you will be disappointed. This book is so focused on the surf addicts and their exploits that the occasional interjections of material not related to surfing are actually jarring. It's like reading a novel with sudden, oddly placed breaks for a weather report. (by Shawn who gave 3 stars.)

· Casey attends some of the conferences on ocean wave physics where scientists attempt to understand the formation of the huge waves that are shipping hazards. The papers presented at these conferences are difficult for anyone outside the field to understand. However, Casey never arrives at even a summary understanding of the research work that she can clearly present to her readers, although she talks to a number of scientists. Again, we get a magazine article level summary, but nothing that the reader can sink their teeth into. (by Ian Kaplan who gave 3 stars.)

· The book is an interesting mix of themes, with the surfers vs. science perspectives, and I'm not sure if worked out the way she must have hoped it would. I think readers interested in surfing will skim over the science part, while I know for certain that I skimmed over the surfing part looking for more science. (by James Schrumpf who gave 3 stars.)

· Casey's determination to prove that ocean waves are getting bigger, and the cause is global warming, seems at times to be shoehorned into an otherwise pleasant, if sloppily written adventure story, as if she wants to be taken seriously. This is an example of what passes for intellectual rigor in the plasticine world which is television, of which Oprah Winfrey is the principal avatar. Casey's pretense of serious scientific explication is given the lie by, among other things, her wide-eyed acceptance of the 2007 IPCC Report, as if that hadn't been discredited by legitimate climate scientists. (by Michael Goodel who gave 2 stars.)

· Casey's story here might be reminiscent of ancient mythological heroes who challenge the gods despite the ultimate certainty of losing. There are the common elements of courage, action, high ability, fatalism, hubris and final defeat in return for a very temporary feeling of semi-divinity. Unfortunately Casey's prose is not up to the challenge and ultimately dissolves into gushing, gee-whiz hero worship. All in all a disappointing book. (by J. Moran who gave 2 stars.)

· If you're into surfing, maybe there's something here. I found the profiles mostly adulatory and focused on the surfer's mastery of the wave, rather than the forces that created the wave.

If you wanted to learn something about rogue, freak and giant waves, this book is useless. (by Jerry Saperstein who gave 1 star.)

· Frankly, the book tells a few stories about rogue waves, but sheds little light on the phenomenon. However, these few stories are interspersed between painfully long surfing stories. Now, some may find stories about professional surfers interesting, but I suspect these folks are probably surfers. For someone like myself, I find myself amused that there are such things as professional surfers. Aside from that, I really don't care. It certainly isn't something that helps one to understand true rogue waves. (by history buff “old guy” who gave 1 star.)

I’ll skip the glowing 5 and 4 stars positive reviews and the rather expectable views of those from the newspaper reviewers around the world. If you can do a Google Search with “Reviews of ‘The Wave’ by Susan Casey", you will find that there are 45,100, as of today, resulting items out there waiting for you to read. While these Amazon customers’ critiques are numerous and by-an-large quite fair, it did not cause me to regret buying this book. After seeing the negatives everything else is upbeat beyond that! I would recommend this book to anyone contemplating of buying it as long as being fully aware that this is a book written by a non-scientist and presumably for non-scientists, so not to expect to learn the science of wave from this book at any rate. Notwithstanding the author’s personal favoritism toward surfing, this is still one of the best wave books that bring attention of waves to the general public. I doubt any professional scientist can do any better than this book.

Al Osborne, one of the many scientists Miss Casey talked to in her book, has just recently published a massive super high power science book entitled “Nonlinear Ocean Waves and the Inverse Scattering Transform” (Academic Press). One can really learn the true academic science of waves – most likely only by those advanced nonlinear physicists!

Between Osborne’s and Casey’s books, there is also the Springer book "Rogue Waves in the Ocean" by Kharif, Pelinovsky, and Slunyaev published last year. Miss Casey’s “The Wave” is, by all means, most certainly a welcome and refreshing addition to the meager collections of wave books in the current literature world. It is exciting to see wave books of different scientific octane level to appear. Three great wave books in two years! That must be unprecedented. For a wave aficionado like me, who's proudly own all three books, this is truly the exciting of times. I offer my one big thumb up for this book enthusiastically with or without those 35 fair but rather on the negative side of reviews out of 90 customers reviewed Miss Casey's book so far! If I did not already purchased the book, I would be thrilled to received it as a Christmas gift. It is readable by everyone. What else do you expect for Christmas anyway?


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