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Out of the Blue: A History of Lightning: Science, Superstition, and Amazing Stories of Survival [Paperback]

John Friedman
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

May 19 2009 0385341164 978-0385341165
The odds of being hit by lightning each year are only about 1 in 750,000 in the U.S. And yet this rare phenomenon has inspired both fear and fascination for thousands of years.

Herman Melville called it “God’s burning finger.” The ancient Romans feared it as the wrath of God. Today we have a more scientific understanding, so why our eternal fascination with lightning? Out of the Blue attempts to understand this towering force of nature, exploring the changing perceptions of lightning from the earliest civilizations through Benjamin Franklin’s revolutionary experiments to the hair-raising adventures of storm chasers like David Hoadley, who’s been chronicling extreme weather for half a century.

Combining captivating fact with thrilling personal stories, Out of the Blue tells a remarkable true tale of fate and coincidence, science and superstition. It is a book for sports enthusiasts, outdoor adventurers, science and weather buffs, nature lovers, and anyone who has ever been awed or frightened by the sight of lightning.

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Review

"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.

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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index
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Most helpful customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Lightning Strikes: The Human Side June 23 2008
By G. Poirier TOP 50 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
The author of this book makes a valiant attempt at covering the subject of lightning from most angles: the science, the history of thought about lightning, the superstitions, the damage caused and the effects (both physical and mental) on those who have been struck and have survived. The author has conducted interviews with scientists, physicians and several lightning strike survivors; in fact there is much more on the human side of lightning strikes than anything else. On the positive side, this book is written in a clear, friendly and very engaging way. It is a quick, pleasant and easy read. On the negative side, a few passages on the science contain errors, e.g., p. 103: "... the area of positively charged electrons on the ground ....".. However, the direct quotations from scientists seem accurate. Also, there is one entire chapter on tornado chasers where lightning is hardly mentioned; this chapter may have been more suitable for a book on tornados. Finally, three entire chapters are devoted to the detailed play-by-play rescue of a team of mountain climbers, some of whom were struck by lightning; a few pages, as in the case of the many other amazing survivor stories, would most likely have been sufficient. Notwithstanding these minor quibbles, this is an excellent, indeed thrilling, book that can be enjoyed by absolutely anyone.
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Amazon.com: 4.1 out of 5 stars  8 reviews
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Lightning Strikes: The Human Side June 23 2008
By G. Poirier - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
The author of this book makes a valiant attempt at covering the subject of lightning from most angles: the science, the history of thought about lightning, the superstitions, the damage caused and the effects (both physical and mental) on those who have been struck and have survived. The author has conducted interviews with scientists, physicians and several lightning strike survivors; in fact there is much more on the human side of lightning strikes than anything else. On the positive side, this book is written in a clear, friendly and very engaging way. It is a quick, pleasant and easy read. On the negative side, a few passages on the science contain errors, e.g., p. 103: "... the area of positively charged electrons on the ground ....".. However, the direct quotations from scientists seem accurate. Also, there is one entire chapter on tornado chasers where lightning is hardly mentioned; this chapter may have been more suitable for a book on tornados. Finally, three entire chapters are devoted to the detailed play-by-play rescue of a team of mountain climbers, some of whom were struck by lightning; a few pages, as in the case of the many other amazing survivor stories, would most likely have been sufficient. Notwithstanding these minor quibbles, this is an excellent, indeed thrilling, book that can be enjoyed by absolutely anyone.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Lightning Strikes! June 26 2008
By Daniel Meltzer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition
"OUT OF THE BLUE," John S. Friedman's comprehensive study and report on the frightening phenomenon of lightning is, well, enlightening, to say the very least. It is all here - the history, the pre-history, the theories, the facts and the fables surrounding this timeless subject. Friedman has traveled the land and come back with insights and anecdotes you will long remember, including hair-raising, if not hair-scorching, first person accounts of several multiple-strike lightning survivors. The author is a seasoned journalist with an ear for a good story and he knows how to tell it to us. As perfect a summer read as you will find. Just don't nestle with it under a tree in thunderstorm.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Lightning! June 25 2008
By Anne - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This book is a wonderful surprise. It is inspirational and filled with suspense, adventure, and human interest. It is about religion, faith, and the ways humans cope.

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.
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Science, Folklore, and Personal Stories of Lightning Oct. 3 2008
By R. Hardy - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
There is something pointed about lightning that seems to show purposefulness. We have earthquakes, we have tornadoes, we have many other worrisome planetary characteristics, but lightning seems aimed, it seems to pick off individuals in ways that cry out for a reason such a thing ought to befall them. The pointedness of lightning is one of the themes running through _Out of the Blue - A History of Lightning: Science, Superstition, and Amazing Stories of Survival_ (Delacorte Press) by John S. Friedman. It has a more-or-less historic run of chapters dealing with how we have come to our current understanding of lightning as a natural rather than supernatural phenomenon, intercalated with the story of a dramatic rescue of climbers struck by lighting on a peak of the Teton Range and with many personal stories about what lightning has done to survivors. Don't call them victims. The Lightning Strike and Electric Shock Victims was founded in 1989, but changed those "Victims" to "Survivors", and the organization thrives with 1,500 members each of whom have insights no non-member will ever have. Friedman, a writer who made the Oscar-winning documentary _Hotel Terminus_ twenty years ago, has interviewed many of the survivors whose stories make up the most arresting part of the book.

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.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Thank You! Jan. 16 2010
By Lisa Hall, Author - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Out of the Blue is not only jam-packed with fascinating information about lightning, but it also validates the challenges of lightning survivors and allows us share our experiences. Thank you!
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