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Book Review: Tired of shoveling? Pick up 'Snowflake'

Book Review "The Snowflake: Winter's Secret Beauty" by Kenneth Libbrecht photography by Patricia Rasmussen published by Voyageur Press 112 pages, $20 Trust someone who grew up in North Dakota to write a book about snow -- snowflakes to be more exact.

Book Review

"The Snowflake:

Winter's Secret Beauty"

by Kenneth Libbrecht

photography by Patricia Rasmussen

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published by Voyageur Press

112 pages, $20

Trust someone who grew up in North Dakota to write a book about snow -- snowflakes to be more exact.

Author Kenneth Libbrecht is now professor of physics and chairman of the physics department at Caltech, so he's come a long way to write about snow.

"Perhaps we just had too much of a good thing," he writes, "it can be difficult to appreciate the inner beauty of snowflakes when the driveway is piled high with them and you have a shovel in your hand."

Libbrecht says his is a scientific curiosity; he needed to know how crystals grow and why complex patterns spontaneously arise.

Recognizing "a snowflake is a temporary work of art," he created a specialized camera to take pictures of snowflakes, and then turned it over to photographer Patricia Rasmussen, another person familiar to snow, since she grew up in Wisconsin.

The two collaborated on "The Snowflake," giving the reader both a scientist's and an artist's view of snow crystals.

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Quick lessons: Every snow crystal is six-sided, and some have 12 sides; some snow crystals come in columnar shape, like that of a standard pencil; and snowflakes are formed when water vapor in the air condenses directly into solid ice.

And in among all the scientific explanations, Libbrecht notes with humor, "They're even fun to catch on your tongue."

More trivia on snow: Most snow crystals aren't symmetric; the columnar type crystals are more common and can be found during warmer snowfalls; 12-sided snowflakes are uncommon -- "they're essentially two six-branched snow crystals joined in the middle, each growing independently of the other."

"The Snowflake" can be read by a person of any age; children will enjoy the photographs, reproduced in full-pages, as well as in montages of more than one.

Older children and adults can read how snowflakes form and the "who and how" of early depictions of snowflakes through history.

In 1885, Wilson Bentley was one of the first photographers to take pictures of snowflakes and it "became his lifelong passion," writes Libbrecht. "With image after image, Bentley's photos showed the world that no two snowflakes are exactly alike."

Libbrecht also encourages people to take up snowflake watching like bird watching.

A car windshield makes a good observatory, he points out. Protect the snowflakes from your body heat and breath, he adds, and take a magnifying glass.

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He doesn't mention shovels or snowblowers.

Readers can contact Forum reviewer Gail Gabrielson at (701) 241-5536

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