Books  General Natural History  History of Science 

Worlds Before Adam: The Reconstruction of Geohistory in the Age of Reform

By: Martin J S Rudwick

614 pages, Figs, illus

University of Chicago Press

Hardback | Jul 2008 | #173182 | ISBN-13: 9780226731285
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NHBS Price: £32.50 $40/€37 approx

About this book

In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, scientists reconstructed the immensely long history of the earth-and the relatively recent arrival of human life. The geologists of the period, many of whom were devout believers, agreed about this vast timescale. Undistracted by supposed conflict between geology and Genesis, they had lively arguments about geohistory: Had the earth cooled, were in remarkable consensus about this vast timescale of geohistory. But despite this apparent harmony between geology and Genesis, these scientists still debated a great many questions: Had the earth cooled from its origin as a fiery ball in space, or had it always been the same kind of place as it is now? Was prehuman life marked by mass extinctions, or had fauna and flora changed slowly over time?

The first detailed account of the reconstruction of prehuman geohistory, Martin J. S. Rudwick's Worlds Before Adam picks up where his celebrated Bursting the Limits of Time leaves off. Here, Rudwick takes readers from the post-Napoleonic Restoration in Europe to the early years of Britain's Victorian age, chronicling the staggering discoveries geologists made during the period: the unearthing of the first dinosaur fossils, the glacial theory of the last ice age, and the meaning of igneous rocks, among others. Ultimately, Rudwick reveals geology to be the first of the sciences to investigate the historical dimension of nature, a model that Charles Darwin used in developing his evolutionary theory.

Featuring an international cast of colorful characters, with Georges Cuvier and Charles Lyell playing major roles and Darwin appearing as a young geologist, Worlds Before Adam is a worthy successor to Rudwick's magisterial first volume. Completing the highly readable narrative of one of the most momentous changes in human understanding of our place in the natural world, Worlds Before Adam is a capstone to the career of one of the world's leading historians of science.

Rudwick has restored geology to its rightful historical place at the heart of modern scientific culture. - Ralph O'Connor, Science "A masterly exploration of the nineteenth-century roots of this particular scientific revolution." - Douglas Palmer, New Scientist "Rudwick's books are myth-busters.... Rudwick highlights an underappreciated, glorious advance in human thought, the documentation of which is a rather glorious achievement itself." - Victor R. Baker, Nature "Magisterial.... A thoroughly engaging and utterly sympathetic treatment of the notable figures who laid the foundation for modern geology in the period between 1820 and 1845, their inspirations and intellectual triumphs, and their stubbornly held misconceptions.... With their highly individualistic flair and immense erudition, this volume and its predecessor are not just essential reading for any scientist; they are also landmark volumes in the history of ideas and a brilliant scholarly achievement." - Keith Thomson, Times Higher Education"

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Martin J. S. Rudwick is a research associate in the Department of History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Cambridge and professor emeritus of history at the University of California, San Diego. He is the author of Bursting the Limits of Time, The Meaning of Fossils, The Great Devonian Controversy, Scenes from Deep Time, and Georges Cuvier, all published by the University of Chicago Press.

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