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A Brief History of Geology

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By: Kieran D O'Hara(Author)

262 pages, 52 b/w photos and b/w illustrations, 5 b/w maps, 9 tables

Cambridge University Press

Hardback | Jun 2018 | #239348 | ISBN-13: 9781107176188
Availability: In stock
NHBS Price: £24.99 $33/€28 approx

About this book

Geology as a science has a fascinating and controversial history. Kieran D. O'Hara's book provides a brief and accessible account of the major events in the history of geology over the last two hundred years, from early theories of Earth structure during the Reformation, through major controversies over the age of the Earth during the Industrial Revolution, to the more recent Twentieth Century development of plate tectonic theory, and on to current ideas concerning the Anthropocene. Most chapters include a short 'text box' providing more technical and detailed elaborations on selected topics. A Brief History of Geology also includes a history of the geology of the Moon, a topic not normally included in books on the history of geology. A Brief History of Geology will appeal to students of Earth science, researchers in geology who wish to learn more about the history of their subject, and general readers interested in the history of science.

"The nearly four-century existence of geology as a concept – 'the study of the Earth with its Furniture' as it was first put – has been mired in periods of uncertainty, revolution, speculation and controversy. Kieran D. O'Hara has tied it all up in a concise, neatly arranged and highly readable summary, essential to all who want to know more of the fascinating story of this most fundamental of sciences."
– Simon Winchester, author of The Map That Changed the World

"O'Hara does a great job of covering both the old (late 1800s) and the new (1960–70) history of geology. Included are informative, but concise, biographies of all the major players in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The author shows very clearly how Wegner's continental drift – which was not originally accepted by the scientific community – came together with Harry Hess's seafloor spreading in the 1970s, and led to the 'Great Plate Tectonic Revolution' in the Earth Sciences. I really liked the chapter on isotopic dating, where the author clearly explains how geologists learned to use isotopes to date geologic events – no other book on the history of geology illustrates this so clearly. And another outstanding feature of the book is Chapter four, where the author shows how the geologic community used experimental results to better understand the origin of magmas."
– Kent Condie, New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology



1. Major nineteenth-century players
2. Towards a geologic time scale
3. A vestige of a beginning: the age of the Earth
4. The origin of Igneous rocks
5. Tectonics in crisis
6. Continental drift
7. Plate tectonics
8. Isotope and trace element geology
9. Ice ages and ice cores
10. Geology and evolution of the Moon
11. Welcome to the anthropocene: a man-made epoch?
12. The structure of geological revolutions


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Kieran D. O'Hara is a Professor Emeritus in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at the University of Kentucky. He has published more than 40 articles in international journals and has received numerous research awards from the American National Science Foundation. He taught geology at undergraduate and graduate levels at the University of Kentucky for thirty years. His other books include Cave Art and Climate Change (2014) and Earth Resources and Environmental Impacts (2014).

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