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Reviews - June 2007

Whatever is under the Earth
The Geological Society of London, 1807 to 2007

Gordon L Herries Davies
Published by: The Geological Society
Publication date: 2007
ISBN: 978-1-86239-214-1 (hbk)
List price: £25.00
356 pp

This is a spirited, erudite, but very readable and absorbing account of the history of the Society’s first 200 years. Not a fusty list of facts but a most interesting, if idiosyncratic, record of the foundation, the growth, the premises occupied, the publications, the library, the meetings, the finances, the Officers and - above all - the struggles and achievements of the Fellows and of the staff of the Society since 1807. Detailing the personalities involved, and some superb, if eccentric, writing, breathes life into what could have been tedious. Although the size is the same as H B Woodward’s great 1907 centenary history, the emphasis and phrasing are quite different. Most Fellows will enjoy reading this chronicle and no-one (except the author!) could read it and not learn much that they didn’t know.

Even the 10 chapter headings demonstrate the author’s turn of phrase which makes reading the account such a pleasure: The Creation 1807; Primordial Life 1808-1825; The Volcano Erupts 1825-1844; The Dinosaurs 1844-1875; Placid Sedimentation 1875-1907; The Centenary Lode Autumn 1907; Seismic Convulsions 1908-1924; An Endangered Species 1925-1963; Thrusting and Overturning 1964-2005; The Society upon a Plate. Adorning the stoutly bound text are 101 figures and 11 plates.

Important events are outlined, such as how…. the Society was founded; the first publications started; the Charter and free accommodation in Somerset House, and then Burlington House, were obtained; the Centenary was celebrated; women were admitted as Fellows; and how the revolution in the 1960s and 70s and the remodelling of the historic Meeting Room were achieved. The book also shows how the generosity of a few Fellows made giant steps possible, how the first Specialist Groups were grudgingly allowed to form, how the Publishing House and the instituting of Chartered Geologists were established and, finally, how the Society achieved what is effectively a permanent lease on its accommodation in Burlington House. The first four, and last four, of these themes are arguably the eight most important steps of the first and second 100 years.

Very few Fellows realise that the whole of the Upper Library, without which the nation’s best geological library could not have been accumulated, only came to occupy this cavernous space in 1911, long after the Society moved into the newly built Burlington House in 1874. Before then, the literature was largely confined to a bulging and distended Lower Library. If you want to know what filled the present Upper Library space, and if you want to know who worked for the Society for 75 years—then buy the book to find out! It is unreservedly recommended.

Bernard E Leake
Earth Sciences, Cardiff University

Fractal Analysis for Natural Hazards
Geological Society Special Publication 261

Cello, G and Malamud, B D (eds)
Published by: The Geological Society of London
Publication date: 2006.
ISBN: 1-86239-201-3 (hbk)
List price: £75.00; GSL Member price: £37.50
172 pp

A fractal is an object (e.g. fracture pattern in a rock) made up of parts which are similar to the whole in some way, either exactly the same or statistically similar, except for their size. Their occurrence is characterised by a power-law size-frequency distribution in which the number of observed objects N of size ≥A, is N=cA-D , where c is a constant of proportionality and D is a non-integer constant (which may, in some circumstances, gradually change with time). The classic example is the measured length of a coastline as a function of ruler-size (Richardson, 1960). His work was developed by Mandelbrot (1967, 1982), who coined the term 'fractal' in 1975 - D being the fractal (fractional) dimension. Since then, many phenomena in the earth sciences have been shown to exhibit such behaviour. Despite several books on this topic, this is the first to be specifically concerned with natural-hazard phenomena.

Following a useful introductory paper by Malamud and Turcotte, this interesting book brings together 11 case-histories from studies of: earthquake magnitudes, areas occupied by landslides, micro-scale crack growth in granitic rocks, outcrop-scale fracture patterns, the time-related behaviour of acoustic-emissions as a monitoring device for fracture-growth and seismicity, the movement behaviour of unstable rock slopes, extreme flood-frequency and the areas of wildfire burn-outs. Four of these studies concern aspects of monitoring seismicity in Italy or Greece. Of more theoretical interest are: Malamud and Turcotte's discussion of the suitability of cellular-automata and inverse-cascade models for modelling such phenomena; Davy et al. on flow through fracture networks; Turcotte et al.'s suggestion that a three-parameter inverse-gamma distribution (which exhibits a power-law upper tail) appears to be a good general model for landslide-area size distributions; and Kidson et al.'s finding that a power-law model appears to make a better predictor of extreme flood magnitude than does the officially-mandated, and therefore widely-used, Log Pearson III distribution. Although one paper uses colour illustrations to good effect, the clarity of several of the graphs and maps in the book would have been greatly improved had colour been used, rather than appearing in a variety of all too similar grey-tones.

This book will reinforce the view of 'the fractal geometry of nature' (Mandelbrot, 1982). It should be of interest to all working in natural hazards research, and to final-year undergraduate and doctoral earth-science students.


Mandelbrot, B. 1967. How long is the coast of Britain? Statistical self-similarity and fractional dimension. Science, 156, 636-638.

Mandelbrot, B.1982. The Fractal Geometry of Nature. W H Freeman, San Francisco.

Richardson, L. F. 1960. The problem of contiguity. General Systems. Yearbook of the Society for General Systems Research, 5, 139-187.

Richard J Howarth
University College London

Edinburgh Rock – The geology of Lothian

Euan Clarkson and Brian Upton
Published by: Dunedin Academic Press
Publication date: 2006
ISBN: 1-903765-39-0
List price: £17.95 (hbk)
239 pp

This is the culmination and celebration of 200 years of geological research. A true sense of love for Edinburgh’s history and geology shines through the book as, indeed, does the authors’ 40 years' commitment to teaching, continuing research of the district and desire to leave a truly useful resource for future generations. In my opinion this book should be included in all undergraduate essential reading lists.

Lovingly put together, the book gradually draws the reader back through history, providing a sense of time and perspective with which to understand the significant structures present today. The scope of the book is wide, taking the reader through underlying geological concepts and lines of evidence that have led to the interpretation for each setting. Direct application to the various rocks discussed makes this an excellent learning resource.

Edinburgh Rock is primarily an account of the Palaeozoic, providing insights into the “rich heritage of magnificent and varied geology such as is available in few other places anywhere in the world” (p. xiii). The book is organised with structures and basic understanding of geological processes followed by a chapter on Palaeozoic plants and vertebrates. The ensuing chapters deal with the key time periods from Ordovician to Pleistocene. Edinburgh boasts of association with key contributors such as: Agassiz, Hall, Hibbert, Darwin Geikie and Holmes. The most famous, of course, was James Hutton and his concept of ‘deep time’ – the beginning of geological science.

It is difficult to find something to criticize in such an eloquently written book. Beautifully produced, lovely to hold and read, the book is aimed at the ‘discernible public’ (p. xiii), but it is an excellent book for all geologists. Explanations progress logically, maps are clear, colourful and readable. I think the printers have let the authors down at times by inconsistency of colours, for example, the legends for the Silurian on pp. 46 and 47; and Figure 51a would benefit from some annotation. However, the book generally has beautiful illustrations and is in colour throughout. The figure of Arthropleura (pp.162-163) is spectacular and well worth the double page!

This book is a must for anyone interested in Scottish Geology. Fieldwork in the Pentland Hills (summer 2006) guided by Euan left me with a memorable impression of the geology and a keen desire to revisit. With this in mind I readily offered my services for writing this review. A tremendous experience, a wonderful place. A book I shall treasure.

Fiona E Fearnhead
Birkbeck College, London and Naturalis, Leiden