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Book reviews special

Thirteen new books reviewed by Dawn Brooks, Malcolm Hart, Gordon Neighbour, James Montgomery, Wendy Cawthorne, Jeremy Joseph, David Nowell, Martin Brook, Alan Golding, Mark Griffin, Hugh Torrens, Nina Morgan, and Amy-Jo Miles.



The Earth in Human Hands

Astrobiology is a niche area of Earth sciences and it is in this context that this book considers the Anthropocene.  Although at first I wondered if this would be a little contrived, as David Grinspoon sets out to convince you - thinking with a planetary science hat on about many topical Earth science issues is more important and relevant than most people think.  He presents the Anthropocene as a result of our planetary system rather than a direct consequence of human actions. However, I have to admit that until part-way through, when politics and social science were brought into the mix alongside geology, the title felt a little bewildering.

I read this book with a background (perhaps obviously) in geology and an interest in anthropogenic impacts on the Earth. The first few chapters were mainly familiar material for me - but unexpected anecdotes and the introduction of some unexpected concepts made for entertaining reading. There was some juxtaposition between relatively advanced scientific vocabulary and explanations of fairly basic geological concepts and I think someone with little knowledge of Earth sciences could struggle. 

The book considers some of the philosophical questions related to our role as caretakers of the planet as a whole rather than considering individual Earth science systems such as weather. Instead of jumping to extreme conclusions, Grinspoon argues why astrobiology supports favouring stability over innovation and that we are ‘perhaps engineering Earth only in the way that your infant is engineering your home media system by sticking cookies in the DVD slot’.

However the book stops short of suggesting answers to many of the questions which are posed to the reader and instead presents novel, space-research-related ways in which to approach problems, and allows you to draw your own conclusions. As the author reminds us – ‘The difference between us and the dinosaurs is that they didn't have a space programme’.

I enjoyed reading this book.  What sets it apart from some titles on similar topics is its less 'authoritative' tone; perhaps a more appropriate and enjoyable reading experience for those with a background in the subject. Unlike a university set text, it has more character and encourages you to think about a wide range of topical Earth science issues – everything from the implications of contacting aliens to whether we should consider the use of fossil fuels as akin to slavery.

Reviewed by Dawn Brooks

THE EARTH IN HUMAN HANDS - SHAPING OUR PLANET’S FUTURE by DAVID GRINSPOON, 2016. Published by Grand Central Publishing 522pp (hbk) ISBN: 978145558912852800 List Price: $28.00 USD. W:



The man who built the Sierra Club: a life of David Brower

At 406 pages this is a large volume that provides a detailed account of the life of David Brower. Many may struggle to identify him, though some will recognise that he founded Friends of the Earth in September 1969. Fewer will recall his connection to the Sierra Club; a Californian ‘walking club’ that he transformed into a campaigning environmental association.

The interest to UK readers is the link to John Muir who, after growing up in Dunbar, emigrated to the United States, was instrumental in founding the Sierra Club (1892), and also became the father-figure of the American National Parks after his famous camping trip in Yosemite with president Theodore Roosevelt in 1903.

The story of how Brower joined the Sierra Club and developed it into a campaigning, environmental organisation – as well as transforming its membership numbers – is fascinating. At the time, of course, there were plans to dam major rivers in the Rockies, and those wishing to preserve ‘wilderness’ were at odds with government. The text, in places, is dense, with frequent references to the American political system and the politicians. There are, however, some memorable quotes, my favourite being where Brower, on a trip down a river in a deep canyon, was horrified when the politicians suggested that he would get a better view if the river were dammed and he would then be higher up the canyon walls. This he likened to flooding the Sistine Chapel to get a better view of Michelangelo’s ceiling!

After years of campaigning and promoting conservation, Brower was all-powerful; but in 1966 there was a change and his role went from Messiah to sage and he left the organisation. Wanting a new challenge he formed ‘Friends of the Earth’, basing it in New York rather than California where he had ‘history’. FoE has gone from strength to strength and is now familiar to all those with environmental concerns. Bower’s vision and building of the organisation is carefully documented though, again, non-American readers may struggle to follow the political history so carefully laid out by the author.

This is a book that is clearly one that those concerned with geoconservation should read as, throughout, there are references to places such as Dinosaur National Monument. One must, however, be prepared for a difficult ‘read’ with only 18 b/w images to lighten the task. Those who are proud of the legacy of John Muir will certainly find items of interest.  If you have the time – it is quite fascinating in places.

Reviewed by Malcolm Hart

THE MAN WHO BUILT THE SIERRA CLUB: A LIFE OF DAVID BROWER by ROBERT WYSS, 2016, Columbia University Press. Distributed in the UK by John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Bognor Regis, West Sussex. List Price: £26.00.  W:



Devonian Climate, Sea Level and Evolutionary Events

This Geological Society Special Publication presents a number of papers encapsulating the latest research surrounding our understanding of the geological and palaeontological records of climate change and the evolutionary changes associated with them in the Devonian. 

Having recently reviewed the book on the same topic by Suttner et al. (2016), I was keen to see how this volume measured up. It is a fascinating read, although obviously aimed at a slightly different, (dare one say, more 'academic') audience. The 14 chapters cover a wide range of topics and subject areas, with a global coverage and encompassing a wide range of techniques.

The book is essential reading for anyone interested in the Devonian world and is a welcome addition to the subject, summarising as it does the work of all the scientists involved in ICGP 596. It is really interesting for someone who teaches geology (like me) to see how multidisciplinary approaches are being used to answer questions from deep time and increasingly coming up with answers and also with further questions for research!

This volume builds on the excellent books already covering the Devonian world by the same publisher, for example Königshof (2009). As with all books from the publisher the quality of reproduction is second to none, with excellent use of colour where required. Tables and diagrams are clearly reproduced and enhance the readability of the text.

Covering the use of modern techniques to give a much improved dating and correlation of Devonian events, I will be using this text to revisit my teaching of the understanding of mass-extinction events and global sea-level fluctuations during that period. In particular I found the coverage of a multitude of biotic crises during the Devonian really enhanced my understanding. The wide variety of techniques covered and the wide geographical coverage mean that there should be something for everyone with an interest in climate change and evolutionary events during an important time in our planet's history.

This volume deserves a wide readership. It complements perfectly the work of Suttner et al. (2016) and if you were tempted to purchase that volume, then I would suggest you would be keen to have this book on your shelves as well!  Indeed I feel very lucky indeed to have had the opportunity to review it.

  • References available online.  Editor

Reviewed by: Gordon Neighbour

DEVONIAN CLIMATE, SEA LEVEL AND EVOLUTIONARY EVENTS by R T BECKER, P KÖNIGSHOF AND C E BRETT (Eds) Geological Society Special Publication #423 ISBN: 978–1–86239–734-7 list Price: £130.00 Fellows’ price: £65.00. W:


m,.Strictly (Mining) Boardroom – Volume II

Where to start?  Attention should be on the fact that the subtitle has DIRECTORS in capitals.  This book of personal reflections and views is aimed at those in the mining sector who are on a career path that will result in their becoming senior directors in mining companies.  It therefore is not big on geological detail, but does look at the economics and operations of businesses in relation to mining activities.

The authors are Australian and the focus of attention is on the Australian mining sector; so there is a significant amount of information relating to Australia and much less on international mining, but all in the context of how you might plan and run a mining enterprise.  So the focus on Australia is not a distraction for the reader.

The book is a collection of articles tackling a very wide range of topics. Generally, it is very easy to read.  Although some parts require a better understanding of elements of economics than I have, the target audience should be familiar with them. 

Initial sections cover what the Board of a mining operation should look like – what skills and competencies make a good Board. It looks at the roles and responsibilities of Boards, and the authors provide suggestions and recommendations throughout as to how the status quo that exists in the industry may be challenged and improved.

An interesting chapter looking to the future for mining justifies improving the gender balance at Board level (and throughout the industry).  There are also three scenarios looking at how global mining will develop up to 2040, from somewhat bleak to positive (from a private mining company’s perspective).  

Throughout the book, the need to maintain exploration at a high level is discussed and addressed from many different angles.  Operating and maintain existing assets is covered, but to a lesser degree.   Finally, the book provides an insight into mineral economics, and finance, policy and regulation.  The latter in particular poses challenging questions to those who might be responsible for developing national mining policy.

There is surprisingly little on the challenges the industry faces relating to legacy issues and environmental degradation, two of the largest issues that new and old mining face in the future.

An interesting book, a good introduction to the mining sector and no doubt a useful guide for future ‘DIRECTORS’.

Reviewed by James Montgomery

STRICTLY (MINING) BOARDROOM – VOLUME II: A Practitioner’s Guide for Next Generation DIRECTORS by ALLEN TRENCH & JOHN SYKES. 2016. Published by: Major Street Publishing Pty Ltd. 294pp (ppk). ISBN : 9780994542410. Online Price Aus $34.95.  W:



The authors state that this book “… attempts to put the geological history, landscapes and materials of Britain … into historic, societal and artistic concepts.”  They trace its ‘ancestry’ back to A E Trueman’s Geology and scenery of England and Wales, W G Hoskins’s The making of the English landscape and Jacquetta Hawkes’s A land, books that a certain generation of reader will recognise as ‘classics’.  We have waited a long time for a reputable heir! 

Early chapters introduce readers to basic geology and the history of geology together with its influence on art and literature and the use of rock in people’s lives, especially as building stone.  There is a chapter on palaeogeography with simplified maps which is particularly useful, explaining the concept of plate tectonics and placing Great Britain in context during each geological era

In the final section of the book entitled ‘GeoRegions’, Great Britain is divided into 17 areas with a chapter devoted to each.  Simplified geological and topographical maps are placed adjacent to each other at the beginning of each chapter to set the scene, making comparison easy, before the geology, culture and art is discussed.  Without doubt this is the section to which readers will turn first.

It is beautifully illustrated throughout with clear captions and acknowledgment of sources.  The paintings shown are very often familiar but the book makes one look at them from a different perspective.  It is worth possessing a copy of the book for these alone!

There is a very useful glossary and bibliography at the end of the volume, my only criticism being that the bibliography, split into the three corresponding sections of the book, does not repeat the Chapter numbers contained in those sections.  It would have made finding references much easier, but it is a minor niggle, easily solved by annotating one’s personal copy!

The book has been written to appeal to the ‘interested amateur’.  This it does admirably, but I am sure a professional geologist will find it equally rewarding to read.   Copies are available for sale in the Society’s Bookshop (online and in Burlington House) at a discounted price of £22.49 for Fellows. 

Reviewed by Wendy Cawthorne

GEOBRITANNICA: GEOLOGICAL LANDSCAPES AND THE BRITISH PEOPLES BY MIKE LEEDER & JOY LAWLOR, 2016 Published by: Dunedin Press xiv, 281pp (hbk) ISBN 9781780460604 List Price: £24.99. W:


kjhStorm - nature & culture

This is seemingly an age of increasingly ferocious storms, so this book is timely.  It is also excellent – fascinating, well written and hard to put down.  The seven chapters have many beautiful illustrations.  Some are very well known others not, but all were worth including.

The first chapter deals with the place of storms in religion, around the world and through the ages.  Most English-speaking readers will know the place of storms and many of the stories about them, in current, major religions.  Fewer, perhaps, will know much about them in Greek, Hindu, Roman and/or Scandinavian mythology, let alone that of the Aztecs, Maori or Nootka.  While limited – this is just one chapter – the comparisons and parallels are intriguing; a book on this one part of the topic might well be justified.

The next three chapters deal with nature, effects – changes in the course of history – and events.  Like chapter one, these hold you in place and are full of extensive information, some well-known but much not.  Discussion of an event’s effects is often interesting, especially when, as here, unrelated but otherwise similar events are compared.  The occasional comparison of damage 'value' has little value, though, because the underlying costs, which tend to increase quite rapidly with time, cannot be compared.  The 'most expensive' storm, or knick-knack, rarely remains in pole position for long.

Storms in literature and spectacle are covered in their respective chapters in much the same way as above.  Both the breadth of cover and individual detail deserve top marks, although it is inevitable that many 'lesser' sources are not included.

The final chapter – ‘Futures’ – was slightly less satisfying than its predecessors.  The breadth of knowledge applied and the detail are both excellent, as is much of the comment.  A little more strength would have helped, however.  It is, indeed, wise to cut back on human activities likely to affect the rate and/or extent of climate change, for that and other reasons.  Such things can only work slowly, at best, though, and some of the change, however caused, is irreversible in anything less than the very long term.  It is imperative, therefore, to adapt activities, cultures, and modes of life to fit climate change, not just try to reverse, halt or slow it.  Despite that, this really is an excellent book and is a welcome addition to my collection.

Reviewed by Jeremy Joseph

STORM – NATURE AND CULTURE by John Withington, 2016.  Published by: Reaktion Books, London, UK.  ISBN: 978-1-78023-661-2.  Paperback.  192 pp.  List Price £14.95.  W:


m,.Glaciovolcanism on Earth & Mars

This delightful monograph provides an excellent introduction to the hitherto neglected topic of how volcanic eruptions interact with the cryosphere.   The distinctive properties of extensive volcanic deposits were first recognised in Iceland as having occurred during past glaciations.   Since then there has been a growing realization of the particularly dangerous hazards produced by magma coming into contact with ice and meltwater, and enhanced production of fine volcanic ash.  

Glaciovolcanism played a significant part in the eruptions of Mount St Helens, and melting magnified an otherwise small Andean eruption by producing deadly lahars in 1985 which flowed down from the Nevado del Ruiz killing more than 24,000 people in Columbia.

Following a brief introduction, this well-structured account with numerous photographs, figures, graphs and tabulations, starts with a round-up of main provinces, with mostly Quaternary examples - though, Kerguelen and Spitsbergen are easily omitted, and it is inconceivable that many eruptions in France did not occur in the vicinity of ice.   Indeed, even in the Eifel maars were probably erupted though permafrost:  any tentative evidence may simply have been overlooked, as this possibility only occurred to me reading the chapter about Mars with references to rootless cones (p.367).   Eruptions are outlined for fourteen historically observed volcanoes, including Eyja, whose volcanic ash grounded flights during the 2010 Easter holidays, though (unlike the Icelandic topographic survey), Eyjafjallajökull, the name given to its glacier, is used following the literature!  

The technical chapters start with physical properties and chemistry, including how varying silica and volatile content affect the temperature and viscosity of lavas.   Physics includes more complex thermal equations (including (6.6) a very rare error confusing gravity with the gravitational constant), fragmentation processes and modes of emplacement.  Next, analytical methods are outlined, then landforms associated with glacial environments, before a handy guide to the formal terminology for describing glaciovolcanic sequences.   This is backed up by three compositionally themed chapters describing typical volcanic products formed under glacial conditions, including ice-impounded lavas.   The chapter on hazards expands on earlier examples.   Throughout the text is extremely well illustrated, even if the middle pages containing 25 high quality colour versions don't need captions stating that they also appear in black and white.  This is in stark contrast to some of the pages, which are incredibly faintly printed for such an expensive volume.

The penultimate chapter on Mars benefits most from its colour illustrations, as it briefly outlines how low surface gravity of 3·71 ms-2 and atmospheric pressure probably influenced past eruptions.  This is coupled to a very high obliquity with past axial tilts approaching 47° compared to 25° currently, which means Martian glacial periods are the opposite to ours with higher polar insolation and warmer climates than usual.   The final chapter sets out how future research might be enhanced in a number of avenues, including the timing of eruptions in relation to the glacial cycle and likely responses to climate change, plus selecting Martian landing sites which may have harboured extra-terrestrial life sustained by volcanic geothermal heat.   

Reviewed by David Nowell 

  • References may be found online.  Editor

GLACIOVOLCANISM ON EARTH AND MARS - PRODUCTS, PROCESSES AND PALAEOENVIRONMENTAL SIGNIFICANCE by J L SMELLIE AND B R EDWARDS Published by:  Cambridge University Press 2016. ISBN:  978-1-107-03739-7 List Price £112, $140 xii + 483pp Hardback W:


.mnDevelopments in Engineering Geology

The 20 chapters in this volume are a series of case studies arising from the 34th International Geological Congress (‘34IGC’) in Brisbane, Australia (2012). The chapters are from a range of contributors, including academics, government researchers, and consultants. The book is divided into five themes, reflecting the ‘34IGC’ symposia within which the work was presented: (1) urban engineering geology; (2) mining engineering geology; (3) managing geohazard risk; (4) geological models; (5), geomechanics. Hence, a broad range of topics are covered, and the index at the back of the volume will be useful for readers who want to dip into specifics.

The first chapter by Eggers will be useful for those new to engineering geology. It provides useful discussions on relationships between geology and engineering, which tends to vary depending on the part of the world you work in, and the local relevance of professional accreditation. Eggers also provides a history of how engineering geology has evolved, outlining some of the organisations intrinsic in its development.

For engineering geology novices, this provides a platform with which to explore the rest of the book, while others may delve straight into the individual chapters. My favourite chapter is on geotechnical issues at an open-cut coal mine in the Late Permian Baralaba Coal Measures in Queensland, Australia. It presents some of the longstanding issues that I and many other geologists have had to deal with there over the years. Such case studies from the Bowen Basin rarely make it into the international literature beyond an extend abstract in a conference proceedings, so to see a full-length paper is most welcome.

As is sometimes the case with edited volumes, the figures are of variable quality. The vast majority of figures are in black and white. This is somewhat of a pity, as some of the figures would have been enlivened with colour; several of the figures in Kozlyakova et al., for example, and this detracts from the book.

Another thought is that there is a 4 year gap between the 34IGC and publication of this volume. New technology is emerging all of the time in engineering geology, given its position at the nexus of engineering and remote sensing disciplines. Hence, recent technological advances such as structure-from-motion (SfM) photogrammetry and other unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) technologies are absent. Nevertheless, in summary this will be a worthwhile volume, and presents interesting case studies by eminent practitioners in the field of engineering geology.

Reviewed by Martin Brook

DEVELOPMENTS IN ENGINEERING GEOLOGY by M J EGGERS, J S GRIFFITHS, S PARRY and M G CULSHAW (eds), 2016. Published by: Geological Society Engineering Geology Special Publication #27 253pp (hbk) ISBN: 9781862399723 List Price: £90.00. W:


kjlhQuaternary Environmental Change in Southern Africa

This book consists of 25 chapters on a highly diverse series of topics from hominin origins, geomorphology, sedimentary environments, climate, paleoanthropological archaeological record and fauna relating to the theme of this book with chapters one and 25 setting the theme and summary of the book respectively. Each chapter describes and summarises the current status of research of the topic relating to that chapter. This includes illustrations relating to the topic under discussion and selected illustrations are reproduced in colour in section of the text. As each topic is a stand-alone paper this has resulted in some very similar plates being reproduced twice.

As indicated above, with such a wide range of topics, a general reader might find their level of interest varying and being stimulated or otherwise from paper to paper; but overall the book provides very interesting insights into the variability of the environment, during the last 2.6Ma.

Also coming to the fore are the challenges that researchers face in respect of the accuracy (or to be more precise the inaccuracies) of dating events or sites covered by these topics, and the current scarcity of sites over this large area which can lead to a meaningful correlation of events and sites in Southern Africa.

This brings me to a niggling comment that - while the book is described as covering ‘Southern Africa’, many, but not all of the authors present maps and data from South Africa. There is not one contribution from researchers in Botswana or Namibia whose countries fall within 'Southern Africa'.

Coincidentally, there is, in the December issue of Geobulletin by the Council for Geoscience of South Africa, a striking reproduction of a poster commissioned by the Institute for Coastal and Marine Research in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, of a representation of the Palaeo-Agulhas Plain.  This was exposed some 60,000 years ago, to the south of the southernmost point of South Africa, in which the current coastline of RSA is shown as mountains in the distance (30km) to the north.  After reading this volume, I was able to appreciate how the world is a dynamic entity, and not a static one. The book also highlights the adaptability of humans and their ancestors to the variable climes of the last 2.6Ma.

Reviewed by Alan Golding

QUATERNARY ENVIRONMENTAL CHANGE IN SOUTHERN AFRICA: PHYSICAL AND HUMAN DIMENSIONS Edited by: Jasper Knight and Stefan W Grab. 2016 Cambridge University Press ISBN: 9781316572900 (ebook) ISBN-13: 978-1107055797 (hbk).  450pp.List Price (hbk) £79.99. W:


.mnMagmatic Rifting and Active Volcanism

The association of magmatism with the extensional rifting of continental crust is a key factor in the fragmentation or break-up of established continental lithosphere. Deciphering the complex interactions between magmatism and rifting is problematic as the collective ‘end-products’ of this (now-inactive) system are concealed beneath substantial sedimentary deposits.

This Special Publication explores the relationship between magmatism, rifting and active volcanism documenting the current geoscientific research conducted over the complete rift system, from initiation of continental break-up to the final ‘products’ preserved within continental margins and at active mid-ocean ridges. The volume concentrates on currently active rift systems in order to understand system components that are now inactive, with particular emphasis placed on the East African Rift system and Ethiopian Afar region.

Introduced with an overview paper from the editors, the volume presents 17 papers organised into four thematic sections, chronologically arranged to cover the spectrum of magmatic rift settings, from the initiation of continental break-up to sea floor spreading: Role of magmatism in continental rifting, Magma-dominated rifting in the Afar triple junction, Mid-ocean ridges and continental margins and Hazards from magmatic rifts.

The first section focuses on East Africa and also includes a case study of the Colima Rift in western Mexico. The second (and main) section reports new observations and insights on the magma-dominated rifting in the Ethiopian Afar region, which is undergoing the final phases of continental break-up (or potentially where sea floor spreading has initiated).

The third section describes the tectonic and magmatic processes operating at active mid-ocean ridges and examines the closing stages of continental fragmentation / break-up from rock associations preserved within continental margins. The final section additionally addresses hazards related to active magmatic rift settings and their significance for appropriate risk management and hazard-reduction strategies.

In summary, the volume provides an excellent overview of the recent interdisciplinary geoscientific developments within this important and evolving field. The contributions are well-written and edited, complemented with appropriate figures, photographs and data-tables, features that one has come to expect from the GSL Special Publication series. The editors and contributors are to be congratulated. An informative and recommended read.

Reviewed by Mark Griffin

MAGMATIC RIFTING AND ACTIVE VOLCANISM by Wright T J, Ayele A, Ferguson D J, Kidane, T and Vye-Brown, C (editors). Geological Society of London Special Publication No 420. 2016. Geological Society of London. ISBN 978-1-86239-729-3. Hbk. 374pp. ISSN 0305-8719. List Price: £120.00, Fellows' Price £60.00 W:


nm,Arthur Smith Woodward - His Life and Influence on Modern Vertebrate Palaeontology

This is a most useful, and handsome, volume. Using the resources of the Natural History Museum in London, where ASW (1864-1944) was Keeper of Geology 1901-1924, it lists his incredible bibliography of 742 entries, starting with his Trip from Crewe to North Wales, which he printed himself in 1878. This volume, and its online supplements, chart both ASW’s life and the important legacies of his museum work, and his wife's contributions and memories.

Its second part deals in greater detail with his scientific work; on both fish and tetrapods, and his contributions to Antarctic, Australian, and South America geology. It gives a mere nod to ASW’s sad work on human evolution, sullied by his being taken in by that remarkable impostor Charles Dawson (1864-1916) at Piltdown. New light now shows there was a) only a single perpetrator (pointing only at Dawson, Geology Today, Sept-Oct 2016) and b) that Dawson’s earlier work in Sussex was already of doubtful authenticity (Sussex Archaeological Collections, vol. 151, 2013). One of the main rationales of this book was to publicise the great contributions ASW made to vertebrate palaeontology.

But problems remain. In 1980, Albert E Gunther claimed ASW was ‘from a cultured family of silk traders in Manchester [sic], enabling him to devote his life to science untroubled by pecuniary difficulties’. This volume counter-claims ‘the family were comfortably off, but by no means wealthy’. ASW’s own record of his meteoric rise in Victorian science gives no clues. But ASW’s life may not have been that easy, when we consider his extended family.

His wife, Maud Leonora Ida, née Seeley (1873-1963), contributes her 122-page Memories [online at]. She was the daughter of palaeontologist Harry Govier Seeley (1839-1909). Her mother Eleanor Jane, née Mitchell (1845-1925), was granted a civil list pension in 1910: ‘her husband having merited the financial gratitude of his country by his useful discoveries in science’.

Both Mitchells and Seeleys had to face straightened circumstances. Eleanor’s brother, busy gathering data on William Smith (1769-1839), was unable to complete it through financial crises. And both Harry’s father and grandfather were declared ‘insolvent’ (when not being ‘in trade’ meant much more draconian treatment than mere ‘bankruptcy’).

ASW’s own fine career in science during Victorian times suggests that such careers were still not being adequately rewarded.

Reviewed by Hugh Torrens

ARTHUR SMITH WOODWARD - HIS LIFE AND INFLUENCE ON MODERN VERTEBRATE PALAEONTOLOGY, edited by Z JOHANSON, P M BARRETT, M RICHTER AND M SMITH, 2016. Published by the Geological Society of London (SP 430) 362pp (hbk) ISBN 978-1-86239-741-5. List Price: £110.00.  Fellows’ Price: £55.00.  W:


;lkJohn Phillips's Lithographic Notebook

A review of a book about the history of lithography might seem out of place in a magazine aimed at geologists.  But there are plenty of reasons why they will find it fascinating. Lithography – printing from stone – was invented in 1796 as a cheap method for publishing theatrical works. It soon caught the attention of geologists as a useful method for printing maps, drawings, and manuscripts.  William Smith (1769–1839) was one of these, and he seems to have encouraged his orphaned nephew, John Phillips (1800–1874), to look into its potential uses.  

Phillips arrived in London in November 1815 to work with on his uncle's extensive fossil collection and became, in effect, Smith's geological apprentice. He went on to rise through the ranks and became, in 1853, the first ‘Professor of Geology’ at Oxford University. Soon after his arrival in London, the teenager began a series of experiments to improve and understand the process of lithography.  His notebook, recording his experiments and observations, is now preserved in the archives of the Oxford University Museum of Natural History.

Phillips's work is presented in full as a series of double-page spreads, with a facsimile page from the notebook on one and a transcript and annotations by historian of printing, Michael Twyman, facing.  It is a wonderful example of a lab notebook from the past. It not only provides an insight into the development of lithography, but also Phillips's skill as an experimentalist and his ideas for improving it. 

Documents like this, which were not meant for publication, often bring the personality of the author to life.  Just the sight of Phillips's clear copperplate handwriting is evocative of a time when handwriting was a major means of communication. Charmingly personal comments appear in some places. On one page Phillips bemoans how thoughts fly out of his head, and writes: ‘When a thought suddenly occurs it most probably will soon depart, therefore I think it best to mark it in a black letter.’  We've all been there!

Twyman's introduction, annotation and endnotes are a model of scholarship: informative, clearly, concisely and engagingly written.   The book itself – a beautiful slim hardback with text and illustrations printed on heavy, cream-coloured paper – would grace any coffee table.  But it also highlights the links between geology and lithography, sheds new light on the activities and motivations and talents of both Smith and Phillips, and emphasises the importance of presentation in communication.  Treat yourself!

Reviewed by Nina Morgan

JOHN PHILLIPS'S LITHOGRAPHIC NOTEBOOK by MICHAEL TWYMAN (ed), Printing Historical Society, London, 2016, 103pp. ISBN 978-0-900003-16-5. List Price: £30.00 (£15 to members of the Printing Historical Society).


.khRocks - a Very Short Introduction

This is a thorough and succinct account, accessible to all who would like a concise introduction on a wide and highly researched topic – rocks. As with many ‘VSI’ books, you are introduced to the wider concept, such as how primitive Earth and minerals were formed from supernova explosions and stellar outbursts, before exploring the differing rock types, plate tectonics, rocks on other planets, the ‘Anthropocene’ and the concept of human-made rocks.

Zalasiewicz is a great storyteller who captures your imagination as concepts are explained using straightforward prose. Not only is it a great overview of Geology 101, but the author treats us to a few surprising facts along the way. Hornfels has been utilised in past musical performances as a xylophone-like instrument, capturing the hearts of (among others) Queen Victoria!

Other than those of planet Earth, rocks from further afield are also discussed, such as our Moon, rocks of near and distant planets, and planets of other star systems, exploring the evidence and history of our knowledge.

Aside from rocks as we know them, Zalasiewicz also delves into human-made rocks such as concrete and - surprisingly - how more than 50,000 crystalline species have been made so far. Enough aluminium has be produced in the last 150 years to cover the USA entirely in kitchen foil. However, the geological longevity of human-made rocks and minerals is not yet determined, so we don’t know the full extent of our footprint for ages to come.

This book is a great pocket-sized short read and gently touches on the principles and concepts behind Earth sciences. The author also provides a recommended reading list for you to explore to your heart’s content.

Reviewed by Amy-Jo Miles

ROCKS: A VERY SHORT INTRODUCTION by JAN ZALASIEWICZ, 2016. Published by: Oxford University Press, 160pp. ISBN: 9780198725190 List Price: £7.99. W: