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Minnesota's Geologist: The Life of Newton Horace Winchell

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The story of the scientist who first mapped Minnesota’s geology, set against the backdrop of early scientific inquiry in the state At twenty, Newton Horace Winchell declared, “I know nothing about rocks.” At twenty-five, he decided to make them his life’s work. As a young geologist tasked with heading the Minnesota Geological and Natural History Survey, Winchell (1839–1914 The story of the scientist who first mapped Minnesota’s geology, set against the backdrop of early scientific inquiry in the state At twenty, Newton Horace Winchell declared, “I know nothing about rocks.” At twenty-five, he decided to make them his life’s work. As a young geologist tasked with heading the Minnesota Geological and Natural History Survey, Winchell (1839–1914) charted the prehistory of the region, its era of inland seas, its volcanic activity, and its several ice ages—laying the foundation for the monumental five-volume Geology of Minnesota. Tracing Winchell’s remarkable path from impoverished fifteen-year-old schoolteacher to a leading light of an emerging scientific field, Minnesota’s Geologist also recreates the heady early days of scientific inquiry in Minnesota, a time when one man’s determination and passion for learning could unlock the secrets of the state’s distant past and present landscape. Traveling by horse and cart, by sailboat and birchbark canoe, Winchell and his group surveyed rock outcrops, river valleys, basalt formations on Lake Superior, and the vast Red River Valley. He studied petrology at the Sorbonne in Paris, bringing cutting-edge knowledge to bear on the volcanic rocks of the Arrowhead region. As a founder of the American Geological Society and founding editor of American Geologist, the first journal for professional geologists, Winchell was the driving force behind scientific endeavor in early state history, serving as mentor to many young scientists and presiding over a household—the Winchell House, located on the University of Minnesota’s present-day mall—that was a nexus of intellectual ferment. His life story, told here for the first time, draws an intimate picture of this influential scientist, set against a backdrop of Minnesota’s geological complexity and splendor.


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The story of the scientist who first mapped Minnesota’s geology, set against the backdrop of early scientific inquiry in the state At twenty, Newton Horace Winchell declared, “I know nothing about rocks.” At twenty-five, he decided to make them his life’s work. As a young geologist tasked with heading the Minnesota Geological and Natural History Survey, Winchell (1839–1914 The story of the scientist who first mapped Minnesota’s geology, set against the backdrop of early scientific inquiry in the state At twenty, Newton Horace Winchell declared, “I know nothing about rocks.” At twenty-five, he decided to make them his life’s work. As a young geologist tasked with heading the Minnesota Geological and Natural History Survey, Winchell (1839–1914) charted the prehistory of the region, its era of inland seas, its volcanic activity, and its several ice ages—laying the foundation for the monumental five-volume Geology of Minnesota. Tracing Winchell’s remarkable path from impoverished fifteen-year-old schoolteacher to a leading light of an emerging scientific field, Minnesota’s Geologist also recreates the heady early days of scientific inquiry in Minnesota, a time when one man’s determination and passion for learning could unlock the secrets of the state’s distant past and present landscape. Traveling by horse and cart, by sailboat and birchbark canoe, Winchell and his group surveyed rock outcrops, river valleys, basalt formations on Lake Superior, and the vast Red River Valley. He studied petrology at the Sorbonne in Paris, bringing cutting-edge knowledge to bear on the volcanic rocks of the Arrowhead region. As a founder of the American Geological Society and founding editor of American Geologist, the first journal for professional geologists, Winchell was the driving force behind scientific endeavor in early state history, serving as mentor to many young scientists and presiding over a household—the Winchell House, located on the University of Minnesota’s present-day mall—that was a nexus of intellectual ferment. His life story, told here for the first time, draws an intimate picture of this influential scientist, set against a backdrop of Minnesota’s geological complexity and splendor.

44 review for Minnesota's Geologist: The Life of Newton Horace Winchell

  1. 5 out of 5

    John Benson

    Lately, I seem to be drawn to biographies of obscure people I have never heard of before reading the book. I had never heard Newton Horace Winchell before but I have enjoyed some of Sue Leaf's other books so thought I would find out more about him. In this book, Sue Leaf tells the story of the man who helped map out Minnesota's geology during the second half of the 19th century. She brings out his robust life doing geologic fieldwork into his 70s, the life of his large family in Minneapolis, and Lately, I seem to be drawn to biographies of obscure people I have never heard of before reading the book. I had never heard Newton Horace Winchell before but I have enjoyed some of Sue Leaf's other books so thought I would find out more about him. In this book, Sue Leaf tells the story of the man who helped map out Minnesota's geology during the second half of the 19th century. She brings out his robust life doing geologic fieldwork into his 70s, the life of his large family in Minneapolis, and his contributions to the new science of geology. I enjoyed Sue Leaf's books on place and essays a bit more, but she really opened my eyes to a key, but obscure, scientist who helped people know the geologic history of this state.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Lacey Parr

    I wasn’t completely captivated by this but did enjoy it. Loved the stories of what the North Shore and Arrowhead region was like in the late 1800s. It was nice to learn more about the history of Minnesota, as I didn’t grow up here. I appreciated Leaf’s ability to bring Winchell and his family to life. I also have a geologist husband and used him as a reference a few times to understand what was happening in the book. But this could be enjoyed by many lay people and scientists alike. One critique I wasn’t completely captivated by this but did enjoy it. Loved the stories of what the North Shore and Arrowhead region was like in the late 1800s. It was nice to learn more about the history of Minnesota, as I didn’t grow up here. I appreciated Leaf’s ability to bring Winchell and his family to life. I also have a geologist husband and used him as a reference a few times to understand what was happening in the book. But this could be enjoyed by many lay people and scientists alike. One critique is that I wished Leaf would have sought out modern Ojibwe and their perspective on Winchell’s final works in anthropology.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Sam

    A history book of the traditional type - taken from letters, diaries, and personal writing of the people involved. There's an interest for MN history fans, or geology fans. Otherwise, I didn't find a lot of interest here. I did enjoy the more descriptive interludes. A history book of the traditional type - taken from letters, diaries, and personal writing of the people involved. There's an interest for MN history fans, or geology fans. Otherwise, I didn't find a lot of interest here. I did enjoy the more descriptive interludes.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Kari

    Slow but information filled

  5. 4 out of 5

    Zylpha

  6. 5 out of 5

    Mary

  7. 5 out of 5

    Bethany

  8. 4 out of 5

    Betharie

  9. 5 out of 5

    Judi

  10. 5 out of 5

    Pithee

  11. 5 out of 5

    Heidi

  12. 4 out of 5

    Jackie White

  13. 5 out of 5

    Jeanne Walz

  14. 5 out of 5

    Denise

  15. 5 out of 5

    Carolyn

  16. 5 out of 5

    Donna

  17. 4 out of 5

    John Leaf

  18. 4 out of 5

    Christine Anne

  19. 4 out of 5

    Greg Giles

  20. 4 out of 5

    Christina

  21. 5 out of 5

    Katie Leaf

  22. 5 out of 5

    Jenn

  23. 5 out of 5

    elise

  24. 5 out of 5

    Ingmar Weyland

  25. 5 out of 5

    Carrie

  26. 5 out of 5

    Ron Mcgriff

  27. 5 out of 5

    Annalee Garletz

  28. 5 out of 5

    Nicole

  29. 4 out of 5

    Emily R.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Julian Gray

  31. 4 out of 5

    Lowell

  32. 4 out of 5

    Dan Hendrickson

  33. 4 out of 5

    Wendy

  34. 4 out of 5

    Elise

  35. 5 out of 5

    Kate Johnson

  36. 5 out of 5

    Ryan Pederson

  37. 4 out of 5

    Gramaryen49

  38. 5 out of 5

    Karen Beck

  39. 5 out of 5

    Mel

  40. 4 out of 5

    Cindell43

  41. 4 out of 5

    Jim

  42. 4 out of 5

    Paul Obrestad

  43. 4 out of 5

    Chukson

  44. 4 out of 5

    Charles Nguyen

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