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Reading the Rocks : How Victorian Geologists Discovered the Secret of Life - Brenda Maddox

Reading the Rocks

How Victorian Geologists Discovered the Secret of Life

Paperback Published: 7th January 2019
ISBN: 9781408879559
Number Of Pages: 304

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A Sunday Times Book of the Year for 2017

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 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. 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.

About the Author

Brenda Maddox has a degree in English literature from Harvard University and studied at the London School of Economics. Her biographies of Elizabeth Taylor, D. H. Lawrence, Nora Joyce, W. B. Yeats, and Rosalind Franklin have been widely acclaimed. She has won the Los Angeles Times Biography Award, the Silver PEN Award, the French Prix du Meilleur Livre Étranger, and the Whitbread Biography Prize. She lives in London, England.

Industry Reviews

"If you liked Jenny Uglow's The Lunar Men, you'll enjoy this colourful group biography of the Victorian gentleman geologists and fossil-hunters (not all of whom were gentlemen) who established that the Earth was formed somewhat before 4004BC - which was the widely accepted date before those little geological hammers started chipping away. Maddox writes elegant, old-school scientific-biographical history, and she shapes this story neatly as a prequel to Charles Darwin's better-known one."
Sunday Times, "Books of the Year"

"Maddox's book is a fascinating group biography of the pioneers of geology who eventually inspired Charles Darwin to develop his theory of evolution... Maddox brings to life the personalities of the time and conjures superbly the excitement and controversy that the new science caused."
Ian Critchley, Sunday Times

"Award-winning biographer Maddox nicely blends literary and scientific biography in this study of 19th-century British geology and its practitioners, some of them poets as well as naturalists."
Kirkus Review

"[I]n this engaging group biography... Maddox distills the scientific exploration of [geology] into the stories of the vibrant pioneers who pushed to increase our understanding of the world's long history and humanity’s place in it."

"[T]his is an accessible, enjoyable, and authoritative read. Anyone curious about evolution, geology, or paleontology’s roots won’t want to miss this work."
Library Journal


1. The Abyss of Time
2. Healthfil Exertion
3. Down the Mines
4. Vestiges of Paternity
5. Fighting Fellows
6. Dating the Deluge
7. On the Beach
8. Dinosaur Wars
9. Celibacy Galore
10. From Siluria to the Moon
11. Alps on Alps Arise
12. Darwin the Geologist
13. The Iceman Cometh
14. Footprints in Pennsylvania
15. At Last, the Big Question
16. Origin of Origin
17. The Whole Orang
18. Museum Pieces
19. Then and Now

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ISBN: 9781408879559
ISBN-10: 1408879557
Audience: BAU
Format: Paperback
Language: English
Number Of Pages: 304
Published: 7th January 2019
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing
Country of Publication: GB
Dimensions (cm): 19.7 x 13.0  x 2.1
Weight (kg): 0.22

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