978-1-58243-101-7 / 9781582431017

The Ice Finders: How a Poet, a Professor, and a Politician Discovered the Ice Age





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About the book:

Edmund Blair Bolles is investigating a mystery: human creativity. Garbage in, garbage out is the rule for even the most intelligent machines; but with human minds, the rules change. Sometimes the rule is as true for us as for any computer, but every once in a while it's Ignorance in, insight out.

The example Bolles looks at is the Ice Age. Nowadays it's familiar to every schoolchild, but this familiarity has dulled our appreciation of just how wild an idea it once was. Earth-girdling floods seemed both reasonable and biblical, volcanoes unusual but not unknown. But a mile-thick sheet of ice covering much of the North Temperate Zone only 20,000 years ago was beyond anyone's experience or imagination.

The professor and the politician of Bolles's title are Louis Agassiz and Charles Lyell, two of the most famous geologists of the 19th century. The unusual character in Bolles's story is the poet: Elisha Kent Kane. To call Kane a poet is both over- and understatement: he was a celebrity, a romantic, a self-promoter, a mediocre explorer, and a particularly poor leader of men. He was also a dreamer who tried to find the lost Franklin expedition, and found the far north very different from his (or anyone else's) expectations: "dreams in, nightmares out." Yet it was Kane's bestselling book about his travels that brought the reality of great ice into the minds of laypeople and scientists alike: writes Bolles, "He is the one who made the Ice Age imaginable." --Mary Ellen Curtin

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