Historically Speaking

As a change of pace this month I'll present one of my non-reviews by presenting four books for your consideration. Each of these concerns the history of geology and paleontology and may be of interest to curious individuals wondering how we got where we are today. I obtained and read these books over the past three years; although not recently published, you may want to check the special order department of your local book store to see if you can still get them. These books do show up on the used book market and in libraries as well.

My most recent acquisition and the one I enjoyed the most is: The Meaning of Fossils: Episodes in the History of Palaeontology by Martin Rudwick. My second edition was published in 1976 by Science History Publications division of Neale Watson Academic Publications. The first edition was originally printed in 1972.

This 287 page book is organized into five chapters covering the first 271 pages. Each chapter ends with a list of references keyed to the text. Following the main text are a glossary, a list for further reading, and an index. The Meaning of Fossils covers paleontology from early beginnings in the mid-1500's through about 1870. This is an easily read and understandable presentation.

The next book for your consideration is The Great Chain of History: William Buckland and the English School of Geology 1814- 1849 by Nicolaas A. Rupke. This was published in 1983 by Clarendon Press, Oxford.

The title of this 321 page book pretty much sums up the subject matter and time period covered. It is organized into three main sections: Hyena Dens and The Deluge: Diluvial Geology as an Adjustment to Oxford Learning; Worlds Before Man: The New Perspective of Progressive Earth History; and Providence in Earth History: The Divine Right of Geology and of Political Economy. The book ends with a twenty-five page bibliography.

The Great Chain of History covers a very important stage in early geology and one of the most influential people of the time. This was pre-Darwin England and many were struggling with interpretation of the fossils being found and how to reconcile this with the biblical history of the earth.

Third on my bill of fare is Archetypes and Ancestors: Palaeontology in Victorian London 1850-1875 by Adrian Desmond, published in 1984 by University of Chicago Press.

Desmond's efforts encompass 287 pages which includes forty some pages of notes keyed to the text and a twenty-six page bibliography. The six chapters of the book are: Huxley, Owen, and the Archetype; Creative Continuity: Fossils and Theology; Huxley's 'Persistence'; Social Function and Fossil Form; "Phylogeny"; and Groves of Trees & Grades of Life.

Here again the book title is very descriptive. Desmond covers another of the famous and influential English geologists Richard Owen and Darwin's bulldog Thomas Huxley. The time period covers post Darwinian England including the politics and religious influences. I found this book to be a more difficult reading experience than any of the others for some reason.

Lastly I offer Controversy in Victorian Geology: The Cambrian- Silurian Dispute by James A. Secord, 1986, Princeton University Press. Here we have a 363 page volume including a twenty-eight page bibliography.

Nine chapters plus a conclusion are involved in the description of this famous geological problem. Parts of the story may remind you of the Cope-Marsh controversy in that both main parties began as collaborators but ended up as enemies. It seems that early geology was heavily influenced by power and politics. Controversy in Victorian Geology is well done and quite interesting despite what seems like a very limited subject matter.

I want to share a quote from this last book with all of you since it remains pertinent to our own efforts even today. The quote is attributed to Charles Darwin from the 1849 Admiralty Manual of Scientific Enquiry as instructions to the beginning geologist: "It is highly necessary most carefully to keep the fossils found in different strata separate; it will often occur in passing upwards from one bed to another, and occasionally even without any great change in the character of the rock, that the fossils will be wholly different; and if such distinct sets of fossils are mingled together, as if found together, undoubtedly it would have been better for the progress of science that they had never been collected."

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