by Bolles, Edmund Blair
It's accepted scientific fact that global climate cooling has taken place in the past. But just over 150 years ago, it was still being argued that there had been a major Ice Age with glaciers and ice sheets extending over much of Northern Europe and Canada.
The Ice Finders is the story of some of the discoveries and arguments behind the great Ice Age debate. The story is told by American popular science writer Edmund Blair Bolles who also wrote Galileo's Commandment: An Anthology of Great Science Writing. He interweaves the separate lives of three main characters--an American naval surgeon turned Arctic explorer Elisha Kent Kane, an English barrister turned geologist Sir Charles Lyell and a Swiss medic turned geologist Louis Agassiz. The connecting cloth is the gathering evidence for the existence of a great Ice Age which swept out of the Alps and Scandinavia and fundamentally altered the landscape of northern Europe.
Kane's two-year-long (1853-5) Greenland expedition was in search of Sir John Franklin and to check on the possibility of an open Arctic Ocean. Bolles uses the narrative of Kane's expedition to break up the more complicated technical arguments between Lyell, Agassiz and many other scientists about the nature of glacial phenomena such as erratics, parallel roads and scratched rock surfaces. Eventually the strands are pulled together when Kane returns to civilisation and publishes an account of travels and observations.
The result is an interesting read and good introduction for the general reader to many of the main characters of 19th-century earth science and their disputations. It also contains notes, a bibliography and index to assist the reader. Historians of science will doubtless argue that too much is factionalised in the interest of popularisation. --Douglas Palmer
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