Sunday, August 17, 2008

The Geological Story Briefly Told / James D. Dana -- NY: Iveson, Blakeman, Taylor, and Co., 1876.

Reading 19th century science books is amazingly fun, particularly when the basic paradigms of the subject of study have not yet been overthrown. Along with a general account of the principles of the subject, you get a sense of what was important in the field at the time. By 1876, when Dana's The Geological Story Briefly Told was published, modern geology had been well established. Dana focuses on the fosil evidence for sequencing the layers of exposed rock. Darwinianism is already accepted, but there is knowledge of neither plate techtonics nor potassium-argon or carbon dating. Consequently, the arguments and conclusions are simple.

Of course, without a good understanding of recent work in the field, the reader must be careful about accepting the conclusions from the 19th century, but even a lay understanding of the field is sufficient to allow the reader to learn a little about geology and the history of science.

The Geological Story Briefly Told provides a clear account of the minerals that constitute rocks, the forces that create rocks, and most interestingly, the history of rock formations through geological time. Without modern dating processes, Dana's only conclusion about the length of geological time is that "time is long."

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