The story of three 19th-century geologists whose fraternal rivalry ended up rewriting the history of our planet
Adam Sedgwick was a priest and scholar. Roderick Murchison was a retired soldier. Charles Lapworth was a schoolteacher. It was their personal and intellectual rivalry, pursued on treks through Wales, Scotland, Cornwall, Devon and parts of western Russia, that revealed the narrative structure of the Paleozoic Era, the 300-million-year period during which life on Earth became recognisably itself.
Nick Davidson follows in their footsteps and draws on maps, diaries, letters, field notes and contemporary accounts to bring the ideas and characters alive. But this is more than a history of geology. As we travel through some of the most spectacular scenery in Britain, it's a celebration of the sheer visceral pleasure generations of geologists have found, and continue to find, in noticing the earth beneath our feet.
Nick Davidson is a documentary filmmaker and amateur geologist. He lives in London.
"A colourful and joyous romp through the not-so-sedate world of mid-nineteenth-century geology [...] Davidson reveals the barely credible amount of hard work that was expended in unearthing the mysteries of the rocks, and reminds us that just because everyone agrees with you, it does not mean that you are right"
– John Wright, author, The Forager's Calendar
"Engaging and persuasive [...] Everyone interested in geology should know about Murchison, Sedgwick and Lapworth"
– Richard Fortey, author, The Earth: An Intimate History
"This is history with its boots on. Deciphering the early records of life on earth demanded imagination, ambition, cooperation and controversy – and years of patient detective work in some of Britain's wildest landscapes [...] Packed with vivid stories, The Greywacke brings to life an unlikely cast of characters who changed the way we view the world"
– James A. Secord, author, Visions of Science
"Whether trudging down Welsh ravines, scrambling in the Lake District, covering vast distances across rural Russia or hard going amid the crags of north-west Scotland, the writing puts us there, in the field, on the ground [...] A great story well told"
– Andrew Greig, author, At the Loch of the Green Corrie
"A joyful collision of science, history and nature writing, The Greywacke shines a light on the almost superhuman feats of endurance, the unglamorous physical realities, the many, many hours of patient labour that the science of geology is built upon. Following the work of three important nineteenth geologists as they attempt to unlock the secrets of the rocks and the mysteries of geological time, it uncovers a story of friendships, feuds, triumphs and breakdowns. I particularly enjoyed the chapter on Lapworth: a beautifully clear and engaging description of the mechanics of stratigraphic work and a wonderful portrait of a scientist who deserves to be better known"
– Helen Gordon, author of Notes from Deep Time