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by Fredric Raichlen
The MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, 2013
248 pp., illus.  37 b/w. Paper, $11.95
ISBN: 9780262518239.

Reviewed by John F. Barber
The Creative Media & Digital Culture Program
Washington State University Vancouver


In America’s Pacific Northwest, where this reviewer lives and works, a popular winter activity is to visit the coast, especially at times of big storms, to watch the waves roll in and crash on the shore. Where do these waves come from? How are they formed? Why are they so large? What makes them break on shore?

Coastal engineer Fredric Raichlen answers these questions in his book, Waves. In non-scientific language, Raichlen describes the mechanics behind the creation of waves, the way they travel long distances, how they shoal (rise) when they approach the shore, how they break on the shore, and how they transform in other ways.

He describes the sun-Earth-moon relationships that affect the daily high and low tides, the effects of waves on beaches (rip currents and erosion), harbors, and shipping (waves move boats making them difficult and dangerous to load and unload). Additionally, Raichlen discusses measures taken to protect those living close to the shore from waves (seawalls and breakwaters), and how these efforts have failed with regard to recent tsunamis (Sumatra, 2004 and Japan, 2011).

As part of the evolving MIT Press Essential Knowledge Series (see the August 2012 review of Computing: A Concise History by Paul Ceruzzi) Waves occupies a very accessible position between overly idealized scientific textbooks and the flashy presentations of popular science books. Raichlen is plain spoken, careful, serious, and clear as he addresses ocean waves, their mechanics, and their effects.

So, Waves is a different kind of beach reading. Readers fascinated with the disastrous effects of large waves crashing into things, or those with more placid curiosities about waves are their workings, will find a variety of rich, brief information in Raichlen’s book.

Last Updated 5th February 2013

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