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Out of the Blue: A History of Lightning: Science, Superstition, and Amazing Stories of Survival Paperback – May 19 2009
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"When you see a TV meteorologist display a map of lightning strikes or see a picture of a lightning bolt, you are unwittingly being introduced to a new era in lightning research. Author John S. Friedman pans through time from ancient myths to scientists who are now delving through the mysteries which have surrounded this awesome and frightening subject. His greatest gift is painting a humanistic picture of a subject which has affected man since he began walking this earth."—Frank Field, TV weatherman
"Who would believe a book on lightning could be not only informative but fascinating reading? Friedman's Out of the Blue is both. He intersperses dozens of human-interest stories along with excellent research. Best of all, he writes as if he's sitting across the campfire and says, "Let me tell you about…"—Cecil Murphey, co-author of the New York Times bestseller, 90 Minutes in Heaven
“Intended for outdoor adventurers, sports enthusiasts, science and weather buffs, nature lovers and anyone who is awed or frightened by lightning…. Fascinating stories.”—Deseret Morning News
“Every outdoor enthusiast, weather buff or cruiser will be enthralled by these amazing stories that start with an instant, unexpected flash out of the blue.”—Southern Boating
“A fascinating account of electricity from the sky."—Sacramento Bee
About the Author
The Oscar-wining producer of the documentary Hotel Terminus, John S. Friedman has written for the New York Times and contributes regularly to The Nation. The editor of The Secret Histories, he lives in Sharon, Connecticut.See all Product Description
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The author writes about lightning in a unique way. Instead of looking at it through a dull, scientific lens, he tells how people have reacted to lightning through the ages. We learn how the Greeks and Romans perceived lightning, about lightning in the Bible, about the conversions of St. Paul and Martin Luther that were possibly caused by lightning, about religious beliefs in the Middle Ages, the criticism of Franklin by clerics, the daring laboratory experiments of Charles Steinmetz and Nikola Tesla, and the latest discoveries by researchers.
But what I found most fascinating in Out of the Blue were the stories of survivors--including an incredible rescue on the Grand Teton. Many survivors describe out-of-body and near-death experiences and how lightning spurred them to greater faith, changed their lives, and made them better people. There are lessons here for all of us.
Lightning not only seems aimed, it is fast, conducting its devastation literally before those it hits knew what hit them. The gods who use lightning in the stories are the ones quick to wrath. When Benjamin Franklin had invented the lightning rod, priests argued against it, saying that they were impious tools to thwart God's will. Though the folklore described here is amusing, the science of lightning is just as well described, although there are still large holes in our understanding. Forked lightning is the most familiar; it happens on Venus, Jupiter, and Saturn, too. On Earth, over a billion such flashes happen every year. An average flash is 25,000 feet long and one to six inches in diameter. It heats up the lightning channel to 50,000 degrees Fahrenheit, far hotter than the surface of the sun. Plenty live to tell about being hit by such bolts; such strikes are only fatal around 10% of the time. We think of lightning coming down and hitting one target, but it can jump around. In Colorado in 2004, lightning hit the clubs of a golfer who was with a group, but then it jumped from one person to another, resulting in injuries to the group of nineteen, no deaths. Tenacious golfers are at risk for lightning injury, leading to the safety slogan "Don't be lame! End the game!" Boy Scouts also seem to be at risk, and the organization has lost some huge lawsuits because it does not have a good safety record. The most peculiar stories here are of the people who get struck repeatedly; lightning not only does strike in the same place, it seems to prefer particular people. These "human lightning rods" are not always forest rangers or otherwise in locales at risk for lightning strikes, they just get hit more often. There may be a medical reason, something different in their body chemistry, but no one has a clue what it might be. As far as anyone knows, if you survive a lightning strike you are safe from future ones; no one who gets hit repeatedly has ever died from subsequent strikes.
Being struck by lightning has definite, but variable, physiological results. The common ideas that someone who is struck will burst into flames or will be instantaneously reduced to ashes are wrong. There can be burns because of the extreme heat, but there are often few external signs of a strike. Even more serious and puzzling are neurological symptoms like memory or attention problems. There are few doctors who ever get to see a lightning strike survivor, and so there are very few specialists. With the pointedness of lightning, it is not surprising that those who are struck and live take lessons from the experience. Over and over in interviews, they tell Friedman things like "God must have a plan for me", and many have had their personal faith increased. No one mentions why such a plan had to include a lightning strike, and it seems that the greatest inspiration that such victims have gotten is to work devotedly for The Lightning Strike and Electric Shock Survivors. The circularity doesn't seem to register; if lightning strikes were a force for human good, we would not need such organizations, nor would we need National Lightning Safety Awareness Week each June, which is sponsored jointly by organizations such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) , the Little League, and the PGA Golf Tour. Friedman's book is an appealing combination of meteorological and medical science, combined with the personal stories of those whom lightning has hit, and the gruesome stories of those who did not live to tell the stories themselves.
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