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Reading the Rocks: How Victorian Geologists Discovered the Secret of Life

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A rich and exuberant group biography of the first geologists, the people who were first to excavate from the layers of the world its buried history. These first geologists were made up primarily, and inevitably, of gentlemen with the necessary wealth to support their interests, yet boosting their numbers, expanding their learning and increasing their findings were clergyme A rich and exuberant group biography of the first geologists, the people who were first to excavate from the layers of the world its buried history. These first geologists were made up primarily, and inevitably, of gentlemen with the necessary wealth to support their interests, yet boosting their numbers, expanding their learning and increasing their findings were clergymen, academics – and women. This lively and eclectic collection of characters brought passion, eccentricity and towering intellect to geology and Brenda Maddox in Reading the Rocks does them full justice, bringing them to vivid life. The new science of geology was pursued by this assorted band not only because they loved it but also because it opened a window on Earth's ancient past. They showed great courage in facing the conflict between geology and Genesis that immediately presented itself: for the rocks and fossils being dug up showed that the Earth was immeasurably old, rather than springing from a creation made in the six days that the Bible claimed. Moreover, the fossil evidence revealed upward progress in the changing forms of life. It is no coincidence that Charles Darwin was a keen geologist.The individual stories of these first geologists, their hope and fears, triumphs and disappointments, the theological, philosophical and scientific debates their findings provoked, and the way that as a group, they were to change irrevocably and dramatically our understanding of the world is told by Brenda Maddox with a storyteller's skill and a fellow scientist's understanding. The effect is absorbing, revelatory and strikingly original. - See more at: http://www.bloomsbury.com/uk/reading-...


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A rich and exuberant group biography of the first geologists, the people who were first to excavate from the layers of the world its buried history. These first geologists were made up primarily, and inevitably, of gentlemen with the necessary wealth to support their interests, yet boosting their numbers, expanding their learning and increasing their findings were clergyme A rich and exuberant group biography of the first geologists, the people who were first to excavate from the layers of the world its buried history. These first geologists were made up primarily, and inevitably, of gentlemen with the necessary wealth to support their interests, yet boosting their numbers, expanding their learning and increasing their findings were clergymen, academics – and women. This lively and eclectic collection of characters brought passion, eccentricity and towering intellect to geology and Brenda Maddox in Reading the Rocks does them full justice, bringing them to vivid life. The new science of geology was pursued by this assorted band not only because they loved it but also because it opened a window on Earth's ancient past. They showed great courage in facing the conflict between geology and Genesis that immediately presented itself: for the rocks and fossils being dug up showed that the Earth was immeasurably old, rather than springing from a creation made in the six days that the Bible claimed. Moreover, the fossil evidence revealed upward progress in the changing forms of life. It is no coincidence that Charles Darwin was a keen geologist.The individual stories of these first geologists, their hope and fears, triumphs and disappointments, the theological, philosophical and scientific debates their findings provoked, and the way that as a group, they were to change irrevocably and dramatically our understanding of the world is told by Brenda Maddox with a storyteller's skill and a fellow scientist's understanding. The effect is absorbing, revelatory and strikingly original. - See more at: http://www.bloomsbury.com/uk/reading-...

30 review for Reading the Rocks: How Victorian Geologists Discovered the Secret of Life

  1. 5 out of 5

    Peter Tillman

    A pretty good history of just what the title says. But there are problems. Here's the review to read: https://www.publishersweekly.com/978-... Besides the problems the PW review notes, there are various factual errors. The one that stuck in my craw was an early (p.15) assertion that life emerged on Earth 540 million years ago! Oddly, in the last chapter, she got it right: life first emerged around 2.1 billion years ago (a bit earlier now). Sloppy proof-reading? The actual history of geology flows A pretty good history of just what the title says. But there are problems. Here's the review to read: https://www.publishersweekly.com/978-... Besides the problems the PW review notes, there are various factual errors. The one that stuck in my craw was an early (p.15) assertion that life emerged on Earth 540 million years ago! Oddly, in the last chapter, she got it right: life first emerged around 2.1 billion years ago (a bit earlier now). Sloppy proof-reading? The actual history of geology flows well, aside from the duplication and repetition the PW review noted, and another historical error mentioned by another reviewer here. BUT. The problem with factual errors in a history is, you don't know what other errors slipped in, that the reader DOESN'T recognize. So I can't really recommend the book. Too bad, as I learned quite a lot of interesting details -- assuming those details were correct.....

  2. 4 out of 5

    Tom Oberhofer

    Enjoyable read with some serious factual errors This read offers nice insight into the lives and ideas and relationships among 19th C British geologists. It is well researched in this regard, drawing on correspondence and minutes of official societies. From this perspective, it was a good read. It would have benefitted from a review by a geologist regarding actual dates. Earlier reviews have flagged examples. Another is the assertion that Charles Lapworth, in the mid 19th C, calculated the age of Enjoyable read with some serious factual errors This read offers nice insight into the lives and ideas and relationships among 19th C British geologists. It is well researched in this regard, drawing on correspondence and minutes of official societies. From this perspective, it was a good read. It would have benefitted from a review by a geologist regarding actual dates. Earlier reviews have flagged examples. Another is the assertion that Charles Lapworth, in the mid 19th C, calculated the age of the Ordovician as extending 488-440 million years ago. While he introduced the idea of the Ordovician and placed it between the Cambrian and Silurian, he did not actually set the dates. The date of the earth was only resolved in the 20th C. If you overlook some of these geological assertions, and focus on the people, their lives and interactions, this is an enjoyable read.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Becky Loader

    Excellent read on the beginnings of so many related branches of science. I was fascinated by the interplay among the various people with their willingness to explore outside the comfort zone of the time. We have them to thank for a lot of what we know now.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Joe

    A geologists opinion follows: this is the best book about the history of geology and how the thoughts developed through time. This book should help people understand that natural events that take place on earth occur over very, very long periods of time.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Claudia

    Bernard of Chartres as well as Sir Isaac Newton have been attributed with the saying "If I have seen farther, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants." And in this case, many of the discoveries in the fields of geology, paleontology, evolution, and glaciology over the past 150 years can traced back to various European pioneers. Many of them England. Many of them clerics and educated at either Oxford or Cambridge in order to be able to counter the claims of 'science'. But many of the them act Bernard of Chartres as well as Sir Isaac Newton have been attributed with the saying "If I have seen farther, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants." And in this case, many of the discoveries in the fields of geology, paleontology, evolution, and glaciology over the past 150 years can traced back to various European pioneers. Many of them England. Many of them clerics and educated at either Oxford or Cambridge in order to be able to counter the claims of 'science'. But many of the them actually looked at the facts, looked at the earth and rock around them and found that the revolutionary ideas had some rather solid foundations. And it wasn't limited to just the men who may have depended on their wives for artistic drawings and emotional support. One of the most prolific fossil hunters was Mary Anning. Maddox not only talks about contributions but also the lives of Charles Darwin, Henry de la Beche, Louis Agassiz, Roderick Murchison, William Smith, Georges Cuvier, James Hutton, Gideon Mantell, Jean-Baptiste Lamarck, William Buckland, Adam Sedgwick, and her apparent favorite, Sir Charles Lyell along with others. About the founding of the Geological Society of London, the Royal Society, and the Royal Geological Society. Overall, a good introduction to the early years of geology as it was basically fighting against creationism. Nothing outstanding but entertaining especially when the reader considers that was available to these naturalists. It was all due to actual observation and discoveries. So some of them were wrong but it is only due to time, increased knowledge and technology that many of their published premises were confirmed. One possible negative - considering how relevant the Old Red Sandstone and the Glen Roy Parallel Roads were, I would have expected to see photos of both of these locations included. 2020-188

  6. 5 out of 5

    Fern F

    "Reading the Rocks" is a great introduction to the life and research of Victorian geologists, and the tumultuous changes that occurred in the world's understanding of geology and natural history in the 1800s. Maddox adds a ton of details about these geologists - Lyell, Buckland, Darwin, Murchison and more - that fleshes them out as real characters, and she doesn't shy away from the darker aspects of these individuals. For instance, Lyell was pretty racist and xenophobic as well as being pro-slav "Reading the Rocks" is a great introduction to the life and research of Victorian geologists, and the tumultuous changes that occurred in the world's understanding of geology and natural history in the 1800s. Maddox adds a ton of details about these geologists - Lyell, Buckland, Darwin, Murchison and more - that fleshes them out as real characters, and she doesn't shy away from the darker aspects of these individuals. For instance, Lyell was pretty racist and xenophobic as well as being pro-slavery (a fact that was completely in disagreement with his friend Darwin's abolitionist views), and while that doesn't detract from the important role he played as the father of geology, it's an important reminder of the common held views at the time and that even great men of science can have terrible, morally problematic views. My only issue with the book is that occasionally Maddox summarizes the scientific opinions of some of the Victorian geologists, but she never tells the reader whether these opinions are correct or not. Since I'm not a geologist (and also didn't bother to Google things), I would have liked to know whether these opinions were eventually more firmly proved by modern techniques. She does tell you when a hypothesis is blatantly wrong (e.g., Darwin's opinion on how the parallel roads of Glen Roy were formed), but she's not consistent in doing so throughout the book.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Coral

    I bought this because I wanted some non-fiction about Mary Anning after reading Remarkable Creatures, and I found this book on sale at the National Library. Unfortunately Mary only got a short chapter. I think this author really wanted to write a biography about Lyell, but needed to provide more context or pad it out. It’s clear which of her subjects she really is enthusiastic about (to be fair William Buckland was quite a character), and which are being mentioned because they have to be; some of I bought this because I wanted some non-fiction about Mary Anning after reading Remarkable Creatures, and I found this book on sale at the National Library. Unfortunately Mary only got a short chapter. I think this author really wanted to write a biography about Lyell, but needed to provide more context or pad it out. It’s clear which of her subjects she really is enthusiastic about (to be fair William Buckland was quite a character), and which are being mentioned because they have to be; some of the stories are interesting while others feel very perfunctory.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Michael

    Fascinating and full of great information. Such a great look at those who are responsible for the "birth" of Geology. Many of these individuals in their time did not get the credit they deserved. Amazing the number of women involved in that time period as well as how many members of the clergy were also. The battles that developed over different theories surprised me. As one who enjoys history and fossils this book was a fantastic read. I highly recommend. I won this book in a GoodReads Giveaway Fascinating and full of great information. Such a great look at those who are responsible for the "birth" of Geology. Many of these individuals in their time did not get the credit they deserved. Amazing the number of women involved in that time period as well as how many members of the clergy were also. The battles that developed over different theories surprised me. As one who enjoys history and fossils this book was a fantastic read. I highly recommend. I won this book in a GoodReads Giveaway.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Margaret Russell

    Such a dense compilation of the people involved in the early years of this new science “geology”. It is exciting to see how those early scientific thinkers shared ideas and debated at the Royal Society and Geological Society and built on each other’s research and papers. Also great is hearing about the field work and the actual places that gave support to the original theories. I certainly will reread this book, and use it to plan future travel.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Sheepdog

    This book tells the tale of several strands in the history of science. It pulls a vast story together brilliantly... linking actually-related things that I hadn't really seen the connections between previously. And the way that objective is attacked is charming... Each chapter is a portrait, a biography of one of the great minds (and strong backs!) involved. It is the tale of how humankind went from... * "Universe made in six days by God" to... * Earth is a bit older than 4,000 years and hasn't alway This book tells the tale of several strands in the history of science. It pulls a vast story together brilliantly... linking actually-related things that I hadn't really seen the connections between previously. And the way that objective is attacked is charming... Each chapter is a portrait, a biography of one of the great minds (and strong backs!) involved. It is the tale of how humankind went from... * "Universe made in six days by God" to... * Earth is a bit older than 4,000 years and hasn't always looked as it does now to... * The animals and plants present in different eras have not been constant to... * Evolution. As I say, a vast story... but the book is still very readable, because of the concentration on the people who took us from ignorance to understanding.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Abi Collins

    Despite feeling at times that the book was quite long, I thoroughly enjoyed it. This book perfectly played on my love of historical figures and it was amazing to read about all the interactions between the famous geologists of the time. Charles Lyell and Charles Darwin’s friendship was particularly fascinating to me. The formation of The Geological Society of London was also an intriguing story and I loved the references to many names I recognised. The constant debate between Genesis and Religio Despite feeling at times that the book was quite long, I thoroughly enjoyed it. This book perfectly played on my love of historical figures and it was amazing to read about all the interactions between the famous geologists of the time. Charles Lyell and Charles Darwin’s friendship was particularly fascinating to me. The formation of The Geological Society of London was also an intriguing story and I loved the references to many names I recognised. The constant debate between Genesis and Religion CS Science was explored very well and I enjoyed Maddox’s unbiased writing. Despite the few factual error, a very enjoyable read indeed. I feel much more knowledgeable about the founders of geology and my book list has increased exponentially!

  12. 5 out of 5

    Stacy

    This overview of the explosion of scientific interest in geology in 19th century Britain is a fascinating tale. These people—Darwin, Lyell, Davy, Faraday, Anning—were contemporaries, and their work upended the knowledge of the world. Every child, I suppose, is curious about rocks: what are those? Then, how did they get there? Reading the Rocks explains how those questions got answered (in Britain, anyway; still looking for a similar book on the US).

  13. 5 out of 5

    Chuck

    Well- reasoned history of 19th century science. Brenda Maddox has written a comprehensive history of science, particularly geology, in the nineteenth century. Her volume is well-researched and readable. I took away one star for the material in the last chapter that promotes a naturalistic view of science and discounts the ideas of intelligent design as scientifically valid. I felt Maddox was mixing her politics with her science there, but overall she gave a fair treatment.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Mike

    Very interesting both as palaeontolgy and geology. The main story is about Charles Lyell, but Buckland, Mantell, Mary Anning and other key figures are also included.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Dixie

    3-3/4 stars? An interesting, very readable overview of the many influential, mostly British geologists of the 1800s. Could have used a bit more editing but overall I enjoyed reading this.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Lachie

    Didn’t quite finish it all. But was still a cool read as it’s a topic that I find interesting.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Kes

    Good introductory book into the history and the relationships of geologists, in particular, focusing on Lyell.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Daniel Farabaugh

    This was a brisk and enjoyable book about the start of geology. A nice book.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Cynthia

    Who would have “thunk” it! This turned out to be a very interesting read. Well researched and well told.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Michelle

    A big of slogging on my part and grandiose exaggeration on the authors part. I probably would have enjoyed it more as a print book (verses digital).

  21. 4 out of 5

    Jenae

    I bought this book last year to read on a camping trip and then never got around to it, but I'm so glad I picked it up. I loved this book. It was like a review of my 100 level courses and I really enjoyed getting to go more in depth with some of the materials we only glanced at in college. I thought that it was great the author started talking about the scientists and used that as a jumping off point to explain the major moments in the creation of the field. I know that a lot of times these conce I bought this book last year to read on a camping trip and then never got around to it, but I'm so glad I picked it up. I loved this book. It was like a review of my 100 level courses and I really enjoyed getting to go more in depth with some of the materials we only glanced at in college. I thought that it was great the author started talking about the scientists and used that as a jumping off point to explain the major moments in the creation of the field. I know that a lot of times these concepts can get bogged down in scientific jargon but I thought that each chapter was very well done explaining how the scientist came to their discovery and the effects it had on the community, and the world. I had a great time being able to go more in depth into the lives of the founders of geology and I found myself better understanding some of the history I already knew because I got a better in depth look at the process and thinking behind it. That said, I did find a couple times where the book did repeat itself and though I found it a little annoying to reread the same thing it was always done to better explain the event. One of my favorite moments of the book was in the last chapter when the author goes on to explain just how little information and technology the founders of geology had to work with. Yet they managed to not only found a new division of science, but change the world as they did it.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Sara

    At first I was not really into this book, but it was good enough to keep reading. I am glad I did because as I read further I came to like the book even more. I found myself wishing that I lived during this time of discovery. I would have liked to have been at the readings and been involved in the discoveries. This book discusses areas and people I am familiar with, so there was a personal attachment to much of the subject matter. I learned quite a bit reading this book and it was an enjoyable r At first I was not really into this book, but it was good enough to keep reading. I am glad I did because as I read further I came to like the book even more. I found myself wishing that I lived during this time of discovery. I would have liked to have been at the readings and been involved in the discoveries. This book discusses areas and people I am familiar with, so there was a personal attachment to much of the subject matter. I learned quite a bit reading this book and it was an enjoyable read.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Carol

  24. 4 out of 5

    Kathy

  25. 5 out of 5

    Kurt

  26. 5 out of 5

    Sheila

  27. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

  28. 4 out of 5

    Meaghan

  29. 5 out of 5

    Laura

  30. 4 out of 5

    Judith

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