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The Continental Drift Controversy, Volume 1: Wegener and the Early Debate

Series: The Continental Drift Controversy Volume: 1

By: Henry R Frankel(Author)

604 pages, 36 b/w illustrations and maps

Cambridge University Press

Paperback | Feb 2017 | #234266 | ISBN-13: 9781316616048
Availability: Usually dispatched within 6 days Details
NHBS Price: £44.99 $59/€51 approx
Hardback | Apr 2012 | #190461 | ISBN-13: 9780521875042
Availability: Usually dispatched within 6 days Details
NHBS Price: £130.00 $171/€148 approx

About this book

Resolution of the sixty year debate over continental drift, culminating in the triumph of plate tectonics, changed the very fabric of Earth Science. This four-volume treatise on the continental drift controversy is the first complete history of the origin, debate and gradual acceptance of this revolutionary theory. Based on extensive interviews, archival papers and original works, Frankel weaves together the lives and work of the scientists involved, producing an accessible narrative for scientists and non-scientists alike. This first volume covers the period in the early 1900s when Wegener first pointed out that the Earth's major landmasses could be fitted together like a jigsaw and went on to propose that the continents had once been joined together in a single landmass, which he named Pangaea. It describes the reception of Wegener's theory as it splintered into sub-controversies and geoscientists became divided between the 'fixists' and 'mobilists'.

"A well constructed and gripping narrative, which preserves the complex scientific detail, but invites one into this fascinating world and helps the reader patiently to find a way through its labyrinth. Frankel is a wonderful guide and worthy of your trust."
– Mott Greene, University of Puget Sound and University of Washington

"What is so impressive about this monumental work is its completeness. Frankel has gone back to the original sources and papers, to ensure complete understanding of the scientific issues involved. I recommend these volumes to anyone interested in the subject."
– Dan McKenzie, University of Cambridge

"This is the definitive history of the way science really worked during the prolonged great geoscience debate of the twentieth century [...] Superb either for sampling, eased by excellent organization, or for a long, rewarding read."
– Warren Hamilton, Colorado School of Mines


1. How the mobilism debate was structured
2. Wegener and Taylor develop their theories of continental drift
3. Sub-controversies in the drift debate, 1920s-1950s
4. The mechanism sub-controversy: 1921-1951
5. Arthur Holmes and his Theory of Substratum Convection, 1915-1955
6. Regionalism and the reception of mobilism: South Africa, India and South America from the 1920s through the early 1950s
7. Regional reception of mobilism in North America: 1920s through the 1950s
8. Reception and development of mobilism in Europe: 1920s through the 1950s
9. Fixism's popularity in Australia: 1920s to middle 1960s


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Henry Frankel was awarded a PhD from Ohio State University in 1974 and then took a position at the University of Missouri, Kansas City where he became Professor of Philosophy and Chair of the Philosophy Department (1999-2004). His interest in the continental drift controversy and the plate tectonics revolution began while teaching a course on conceptual issues in science during the late 1970s. The controversy provided him with an example of a recent and major scientific revolution to test philosophical accounts of scientific growth and change. Over the next thirty years, and with the support of the United States National Science Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities and the American Philosophical Society, Professor Frankel's research went on to yield new and fascinating insights into the evolution of the most important theory in the Earth Sciences.

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