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Reviews - July 2007

Memoirs of a Mud-Puddler


Michael F Ridd
Published by: Grosvenor House Publishing Ltd
Publication date: 2006
ISBN: 978-1-905529-48-3
List price: £15.99

The front cover of this book features a photograph of Mike Ridd driving over a makeshift bridge on a logging track in Southeast Thailand in 1968. Like much of this memoir, it shows Ridd – the geologist – travelling in the field, overcoming obstacles and difficulties, and progressing in his career in oil exploration. What makes his book so interesting is that, in addition to reviewing a successful professional career (spent working with a major oil company (BP); a national oil corporation (BNOC) and as an entrepreneur running his own oil company (Croft)), Ridd takes time to share and reflect on aspects of a personal life of ‘ups and downs’ that has spanned continents and countries. In doing so he presents a rounded picture of a life lived to the full by one of nature’s optimists.

A wartime childhood, partly in suburbia and then in rural surroundings, led Ridd to develop an increasing interest in the outdoors and in geology. Participation in the British School’s Exploration Society trip to Northern Quebec led to encouragement to study geology at University College. This eventually led him to BP, initially at its small on-shore exploration office at Eakring in the East Midlands. This was the start of many years' work with the company and a worldwide career in petroleum exploration. The pages of the book – almost like National Geographic without the colour pictures - whisk the reader around the world at quite a pace. Dust storms in the Sahara, helicopter incidents in Alaska, snakes in Southeast Asia, grizzlies in Canada, adventures on the high seas, tents and properties in the Scottish Highlands; all interspersed with the beautiful beaches that regularly crossed this oilman’s horizon.

The book is certainly not a “been there and got the T-shirt” travelogue. It is a working geologist’s report of life in the field and in the office, with significant comment on novel and important geological formations and structures that influenced the mapping of different world basins - and which often resulted in major oil and gas discoveries, including in Alaska, New Zealand, Australia, Papua New Guinea, SE Asia, North Africa, North America, Middle East and the UKCS.

Memoirs of a Mud-Puddler is well written, interesting and highly recommended - not just to those who have known and worked with Ridd, but also to others who enjoy a feast of stories of travel and adventure that would probably make a most interesting film! Finally, in case you’re wondering whether or not you would class as a ‘Mud-Puddler’ yourself – you’ll find the answer in Chapter Two.

Jim Brooks

Studies in Palaeozoic Palaeontology
National Museum of Wales Geological Series, No 25

M G Bassett & V K Deisler (eds)
Published by: National Museum of Wales
Publication date: 2006
ISBN: 0-7200-0550-7
List price: £19.50

This volume is presented as a celebration of the centenary of the Royal Charter of the National Museum of Wales (1907). The five papers are mainly concerned with the Lower Palaeozoic systems that, of course, were defined in Wales in the 19th Century. But this is not quite the sort of celebratory volume that one might expect, the papers averaging almost 60 A4 pages each and exploring diverse, but largely unconnected, aspects of the Lower Palaeozoic biota.

Rickards and Durman (‘Evolution of the earliest graptolites and other hemichordates’) monograph the Cambrian graptolites and have done a fine job of interpreting an unforgiving subject. Many species are known from poorly preserved material with insufficient morphological characters to be sure of their affinities. They might be graptolites, or algae or hydroids or ... what? This fascinating study will raise interesting palaeobiological questions with many readers. For example, is it merely coincidence that encrusting graptolite groups such as the crustoids appeared at about the same time as other sessile benthos such as bryozoans? My one criticism is of Figure 2, which extends over four pages, yet the European timescale (a key to its interpretation) only appears on the first page.

Trilobites follow graptolites in two contrasting studies. Ghobadipour (‘Early Ordovician (Tremadocian) trilobites from Simeh-Kuh, eastern Alborz, Iran’) is a faunal study, examining the systematics, associations and palaeogeography of taxa from an exotic part of the Tremadoc. In contrast, Owen ('The proetid trilobite Hedstroemia and related Ordovician to Carboniferous taxa’) provides a detailed reassessment of the proetid subfamily Crassiproetinae. The latter half of this volume is devoted to large brachiopod faunas from Kazakhstan, from the Middle and Upper Ordovician, both by Nikitina et al.

This volume is produced to a high standard. The papers represent major contributions to their respective areas and will be important references for experts in these fields. Nevertheless, while wanting to add my own cheers to this hurrah, I do wonder if a series of relevant historical and review papers might have interested a wider audience than a collection of specialised monographs that could all have appeared in research journals. While it is an appropriate volume to celebrate a notable centenary, I am sad to say that your reviewer is undoubtedly one of the few who will ever read Studies in Palaeozoic Palaeontology from cover to cover. This is not meant as a criticism, but it does lack broad appeal.

Stephen K Donovan
Nationaal Natuurhistorisch Museum, Leiden

Classical Areas of British Geology:
Glencoe Caldera Volcano, Scotland


Kokelaar, B P and Moore, I D
Published by: BGS
Publication date: 2006
ISBN: 0852725256 (book); 0751833002 (map)
List price: £22.00

It is not surprising that volcanoes – those wonderfully majestic conical edifices, and all that lava, ash and destruction so often tied to human catastrophe on an enormous scale - command so much attention. For these very reasons I was drawn to them when I first started out as a geologist, utterly captivated by eyewitness accounts of Pelée, Paracutin and Pinatubo. But while my interest in them has never waned, my expertise never became more than superficial, and it is as a hill walker, that I have passed through and around Glencoe on several occasions. Indeed, until relatively recently I had not even realised that Glencoe is an ancient volcanic complex! The BGS’s latest addition to its ‘Classical Areas of British Geology’ has therefore taught me mow much more there is to eruption, explosion and fallout than I had ever previously imagined.

The book claims to present the first complete reappraisal of the Glencoe volcano since the pioneering work of the Geological Survey 100 years ago, and it comes with a revised edition of the 1:25,000 solid geology map. At £22 it is a bargain! By way of introduction, it is fascinating to read how the first detailed analysis of the complex led to the theory of cauldron subsidence and then how this concept has evolved through time. That so much has been gleaned from the rocks of Glencoe is due to deep glacial incision that has exposed the roots of the volcanic system in 3D, creating ‘the world’s best exposed, tectonically controlled, multi-subsidence, piecemeal caldera volcano’. This mouthful highlights the only criticism I can level at the text –that at times the geoscience becomes a little dense. This is not because it is badly written, but because of the density of specialised terminology. For me – a somewhat volcanologically compromised reader – it became easier the more I read, as everything fell into place. However I suspect that some ‘amateurs interested in natural history’, at whom this book is aimed, may struggle.

Otherwise, the quality of the writing is first rate throughout. The organisation of the book also helps to ease less experienced readers into the ancient Glencoe world. I particularly like the way that the description of each stratigraphic unit (the biggest section of the book) is accompanied by a concise palaeoenvironmental interpretation, bulleted in the margin. Simply by reading the bullet points in sequence it is possible to visualise how the volcano evolved, step-by-step, without having to wade through the detail. There are also many schematic diagrams showing the volcano in eruption at different points in its life cycle. Most if not all of the main mappable units are also illustrated in striking, colour photographs, many supported by annotated diagrams, as an aid to interpretation and as a field guide for those who might visit the area. Indeed, with this in mind, the book closes with a detailed list of over 30 key exposures, complete with grid references and summary rock/structure descriptions.

Hill walking will take me back to Glencoe sooner or later; and when it does, out will come this book and its accompanying map – and the Three Sisters will never seem quite the same again.

Sean Mulshaw