Book Review: Fifty Words for Snow

Fifty Words for Snow, by Nancy Campbell, is a beautifully produced book containing an eclectic mix of history, myth and anecdote. Structured into fifty short chapters, each preceded by an illustration of a snowflake, the author travels the world to explore how snow has impacted the lives of diverse cultures. She digs into the etymology of indigenous languages as well as musing on how incomers have shaped changes in vocabulary. While there are many references to climate change, the narrative avoids polemic.

The transformative powers of snow are wide ranging. Within the varied chapters the author looks at a snowfall’s sound, shape, texture and colour. She explains where and why phenomena happen and how, over time, people have adapted to the challenges wrought. Also included are the fun side of snow – from the origins of skiing and snowboarding to the joy to be garnered from creating a snow angel.

“This time, the marks we humans leave behind will last only as long as the snow itself”

Many landscapes around the world have been carved by glaciers. Snow can bring forth life but also cause death due to factors such as cold and avalanche. Readers will learn of: a mountain that has never been climbed, the rules of using an ice road in Estonia, where snow may be found in Hawaii, how a snow shower inspired the building of a basilica. There are also details on how to build an igloo and on how an arctic whale hunters ship was traditionally constructed. Snow can be a shroud, a playground or provide shelter. It is a source of life giving water and an inspiration for art.

The text is blue on white, the illustrations white on blue. These aesthetics are notable and fitting, adding to the pleasure of perusal. This is a book that may best be enjoyed by dipping into rather than read in a lengthy sitting. It contains much of interest without going into great detail.

A reminder that natural phenomena should be respected, often defying attempts by man to exert control. A light yet informative look at snow’s influence. A gentle warning of the damage caused when nature’s cycle is eroded.

Fifty Words for Snow is published by Elliott & Thompson.


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