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210 × 148 × 17 mm
240 pages
115 illustrations, 97 in colour
01 Oct 2015
  • £15.95

  • This edition is currently unavailable

Lightning Nature and Culture Derek M. Elsom

There exist few phenomena more awe-inspiring than lightning. Streaking across the sky, it daunts us with its power and amazes us with its beauty. As thunder strikes and lightning flashes, we cower from it in fear and marvel at it in astonishment.

Lightning explores this natural phenomenon and traces the long history of our engagement with it. By examining the assumptions of early civilizations – from ancient Mesopotamia to the Incas and the Holy Roman Empire – which believed lightning to be the work of gods and goddesses, through to eighteenth-century scientific analyses (including Benjamin Franklin’s kite experiment), we discover the surprising and rich history of mankind’s efforts to understand and explain lightning. Taking an insightful look at folklore beliefs about lightning protection, with examples as diverse as simply covering household mirrors to nailing animal skins to ship masts, as well as contrasting these with today’s more scientific approaches, this book is a fascinating chronicle of how lightning has both perplexed and enamoured us throughout the ages.

Tracking the path of lightning through our culture, from myths and legends to art and design, this beautifully illustrated book includes stunning photographs of lightning displays, storm deities and depictions of lightning in art, in addition to offering advice on how to avoid being struck by lightning. Lightning will appeal to all those interested in weather, the environment, folklore, and the art and science of earth’s most extreme forces of nature.

‘This is the best book I have read on the subject of lightning and is very reasonably priced so I can unreservedly recommend it to all readers.’ — International Journal of Meteorology

‘beautifully illustrated with some stunning photographs and artistic renderings . . . a reader-friendly book which will appeal equally to weather buffs and all those fascinated by extreme weather forces, as well as to scientists, folklorists and artists. Its a one-stop shop on lightning.’ — Weather, magazine of the Royal Meteorological Society

Lightning: Nature and Culture is a tour de force. Very informative, remarkable photographs and illustrations and will remain close at hand on my bookshelf. An excellent read and source of reference.’ — Weather Eye

‘One of a series of books on natural phenomena that traces a history of the topic through cultural superstitions, scientific discoveries, and depictions in literature and the arts, illustrated by beautiful colour photography. From odd warding customs, the gods of antiquity and ball lightning to lighting marks, St Elmos Fire and solidified lightning (fulgurites), Derek Elsom maintains our interest throughout, making this very accessible to everyman . . . an excellent introduction to one of the mysterious forces of nature.’ — Fortean Times

‘The phenomenon of lightning has long frightened and fascinated humanity. As part of Reaktions Earth series, this book explores the scientific and social aspects of this natural occurrence . . . This book, beautifully illustrated with many color photographs, provides an excellent, basic overview of the subject.’ — Choice

‘What a fantastic idea, science and culture brought down to earth. I can't wait to read the next book in the series.’ — David Bellamy

‘At last, a series of books on the earth for lay people that combine authoritative, succinct and entertaining narrative with magnificent illustrations. The Earth series will make us marvel anew at the diversity and astounding beauty of the world around us. Each book will take popular understanding of the earth to a new level. No one seriously interested in the future of our planet should be without them.’ — Brian M. Fagan, author of The Great Warming: Climate Change and the Rise and Fall of Civilizations

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Derek M. Elsom is Professor Emeritus of Geography at Oxford Brookes University. His books include Earth: The Making, Shaping and Workings of a Planet (1992), Weather Explained (1997).


1. Weapon of the Gods and Goddesses

2. Fear of Lightning: Thunderbolts, Witchcraft and Protective Charms

3. The Science and Nature of Lightning

4. Lightning Threats to People and Activities

5. Lightning in Literature, Art and Popular Culture

Gods and Goddesses of Thunder and Lightning


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Photo Acknowledgements