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Books and Arts


The Man who Ate the Zoo

The Rev. William Buckland, father of the subject of this highly entertaining book by environmental journalist Richard Girling (who recently gave us The Hunt for the Golden Mole), would also fit the description in its title (though perhaps he is less ‘forgotten’ today). Son Frank was more than a chip off the old bonkers Buckland block – a childlike man who revered his great father and sought all his life to emulate him – including his zoophagous habits.

Although solemn scientists regarded him as a gadfly, he became, if anything, more famous than dad: a sort of Victorian cross between David Bellamy and Brian Blessed who, as well as entertaining audiences and readers with his boundless enthusiasm for natural history, rose from being a military medic to Inspector of Her Majesty’s Fisheries (in which post he was succeeded by none other than Thomas Huxley).

Frank was a barrel of a boy who got larger as he aged but never really grew up.  Even as a man, he was likely to produce slow-worms from his pockets or wade into icy waters to see what it really felt like to be a salmon, or defend his views with the incontrovertible but specious logic of a 10 year-old. (He approved of poor children not wearing shoes, explaining that shoe leather gets thinner as you wear it. Human leather gets thicker. QED.)

So why ‘forgotten’ today? Frank made two career ‘mistakes’. First, he maintained the creationist views of his father, long after 1859. As a result, his popular books dated quickly and condemned him a stuckist. Second, he committed the unforgiveable sin of having fun, and being popular. Today he poses the biographer a difficult and unusual problem, namely the sheer volume of his writings, much of which were either wholly or semi-autobiographical.

He also hoarded personal papers, many of which are preserved. Add to this the fact that innumerable anecdotes from his short, packed and highly colourful career have been retailed by many other authors, and we have un véritable embarras de richesse.

Girling skilfully marshals this material into a coherent timeline that manages to recount not only Frank’s life but the story of his discovery of it, while encompassing the anecdotes in a way that doesn’t fall into the other trap - for Frank’s misadventurous life does indeed read like something out of the Beano, or Richmal Crompton.

In passing, Girling even manages to throw light on the father. Did you know, for example, that Buckland père’s occiput and cervical vertebrae were donated to, and still survive under glass at, the Royal College of Surgeons? Neither did I.

Reviewed by Ted Nield

THE MAN WHO ATE THE ZOO – FRANK BUCKLAND FORGOTTEN HERO OF NATURAL HISTORY by RICHARD GIRLING 2016 Published by: Chatto & Windus ISBN: 9781784740405; 392pp, hbk.  List Price: £17.00



Current Perspectives on Zinc Deposits 2015

The Irish Association for Economic Geology is an active association in organizing conferences.  Each decade or so it also contributes publications focused on an issue of importance to the Irish or European mining sector.  This new publication is a departure from this in that there is much more of a global approach taken focused on a single commodity, in this case Zinc.

The papers in this volume arise out of a conference in 2010 (ZINC2010) held in Cork, Ireland, and is a compilation of papers presented there by selected authors.  Zinc is a pertinent commodity for Ireland that has a large number of world-class zinc deposits, some of which are covered by papers in this volume.   The volume contains papers by the keynote speakers as full papers (7) or extended abstracts (5) as well as 17 other extended abstracts by other authors. In addition a further previously published paper is included in the appendix.

An impressive array of topics is covered by the 29 articles, ranging from regional studies to detailed case studies with an excellent overview paper by Huston et al. on all zinc deposit types.  The papers contain both original research on the formation of zinc deposits, such as the paper by Piercey et al on VMS deposits discussing controls on the formation of zinc-rich deposits, to laboratory studies such as one by Boyce et al. on zinc geochemistry and the formation of sphalerite to excellent review papers such as the one by Wilkinson and Hitzman reviewing the key processes responsible for formation of the Irish orefields. 

Probably my favourite paper in the volume is an overview by Borg on non-sulfide zinc deposits focusing on the supergene geochemistry that can give rise to such potentially economic deposits. A nice feature of the article is the use of hand specimen photographs and photographs of ore exposure in open pits, particularly from Angouran in Iran and explanation of the exploration method of 'zinczap' solution, appropriately illustrated with suitable photographs.

Overall the volume adds significantly to this important but often overlooked commodity.  The volume seems relatively free of errors and the editors and authors have done an excellent job of completing the publication.  If there is one small criticism it is that for many of the articles, presumably submitted in 2010, the references are less than current and only a few of the keynote papers appear to have been revised to include relevant more recent papers post 2010.  But this is a small gripe and in no way diminishes the relevance of the volume not just to those working in the zinc industry but economic geology in general and particularly useful as a reference source for students and researchers.

Reviewed by Rob Bowell

CURRENT PERSPECTIVES ON ZINC DEPOSITS 2015 by S M ARCHIBALD AND S J PIERCEY (Eds) Published by: Irish Association for Economic Geology 251pp, sbk. ISBN: 0950989452, 9780950989457.  List Price: €50.00 + p&p.



Strata and Time: Probing the Gaps in Our Understanding

I often think of the sedimentary record as a quasi-reliable record of past events, although as someone who works ancient glacial successions I am always mindful of how much time is really preserved in the rocks, and how much is missing. Can this missing amount be quantified?  

Emerging from the 2012 William Smith flagship meeting, this book is an excellent resumé of the problems associated with incompleteness in the sedimentary record, how much time is missing (e.g. in shale: paper by Tabucho-Alexandre, and in karst landscapes: Plotnick et al.). The publication year - 2015- was an auspicious one, falling 200 years exactly after the publication of 'Strata Smith’s' map.

The tome is sensibly organised into sets of papers dealing with (i) continuity, completeness and the Geological Time Scel, (ii) gaps, fractals and scaling, (iii) stratal hierarchies and cycles and (iv) strata and time in the field and subsurface. The volume thus generally evolves from the theoretical and modelling based realm to real world examples. Rocks themselves only appear in 15 photos in the first 240 pages, with the latter part of the book becoming much more enriched with photographic material. That’s not to say that the earlier part of the book does not contain excellent visuals: it does, with graphs and maps more common.

Many of the chapters are highly provocative either in title or in content: the first major paper by Miall, for example, asks whether uniformitarianism requires updating or whether it is, instead, a series of “frozen accidents”. The book also contains one of the most entertaining yet potent abstracts I have ever seen, reproduced herein in full: “Ths wht th fn-grnd mrine sdmtry rcrd rlly lks like”.

The book also has chapters which help the non-specialist to understand how the science of stratigraphy is really done. Take the Alan Smith et al. paper, which reads as a grand introduction to how global boundary stratotype section and point (GSSPs) are established, with lots of useful guiding principles in the process. To my mind, the book is an essential remedial stratigraphic read for any geologist, capturing the state of the art and best practice in the same volume. It may make for slightly uncomfortable reading in places for fans of uniformitarianism or who subscribe to the idea of near-continous sedimentation in deep water environments. Two hundred and one years after the publication of his seminal map, what would William Smith have thought about it?

Reviewed by Daniel LeHeron

STRATA & TIME: PROBING THE GAPS IN OUR UNDERSTANDING, Edited by D G SMITH, R J BAILEY, P M BURGESS AND A J FRASER.  Geological Society Special Publication #404 2015. ISBN 978-1-86239-655-5.  325pp.  List Price: £120.00.  Fellows Price: £60.00.  W:



Supercontinent Cycles through Earth History

Geoscientist readers who viewed the recently repeated BBC4 broadcast of Iain Stewart’s series ‘The Rise of the Continents’, were provided with an eminently watchable, informative and accessible introduction to the evolutionary cycling of Earth’s continents and supercontinents.

This GSL Special Publication presents the geoscientific research underpinning the subject, reporting current developments in numerical and theoretical modelling, source data acquisition used in continental reconstructions and the spatial / temporal correlations between global geodynamic events, plate kinematics and palaeoenvironmental histories. Investigating how supercontinent cycles interact with the deep mantle is fundamental to understanding how the Earth’s tectonic ‘engine’ operates.

The supercontinent-cycle model assigns episodic global-scale tectonic events to an essentially self-regulating system of mantle convection, controlled by the relative buoyancy of continental lithosphere that ‘opposes’ subduction during the closure of existing ocean basins, with the consequent reorganisation of mantle convection cells leading to the opening of new ocean basins. Cycle timescales are each typically of 500 – 700 ma duration. The proposed spatial patterns (or kinematic styles) of supercontinental tectonic cyclicity range from the hemispheric (‘introversion’) to antipodal (‘extroversion’), with other cycles incorporating characteristics transitional (‘orthoversion’) between these end-member conditions.

Written in the established GSL Special Publications series format, the volume is introduced with a contextual overview paper and contains 11 research contributions on the four identified (or hypothesised) palaeogeographic – kinematic supercontinent cycles. Presented chronologically within the framework of the three-fold geodynamic models, the cycles are - cycle 1: Kenorland to Nuna, cycle 2: Nuna to Rodinia, cycle 3: Rodinia to Pannotia / Gondwana and cycle 4: Gondwana / Pangea to Amasia. (Kenorland is the title given to the postulated supercontinent at the Archean – Palaeoproterozoic transition).

Current and continuing research from the related disciplines of mantle convection cell and plume dynamics, palaeomagnetism, geochronology, geochemistry, metallogenesis and tectonostratigraphy have all combined to provide valuable new insights.

All contributions are well written and edited, concisely laid-out with clear and appropriate figures, photographs and data-tables. Many are presented in colour and enhance the understanding of the textual details. The volume is a comprehensive contribution to this interdisciplinary field, and the editors are to be congratulated. A recommended read and authoritative reference work.

Reviewed by Mark Griffin

SUPERCONTINENT CYCLES THROUGH EARTH HISTORY by LI, Z X, EVANS D A D AND MURPHY J B (eds) Geological Society of London Special Publication #424. 2016. ISBN 978-1-86239-733-0. (hbk). 297pp. ISSN 0305-8719. List Price: £110.00, W:



The Aqueous Chemistry of Oxides

The Earth is composed principally of oxides, and so the study and understanding of these materials is relevant to almost every branch of the Earth sciences.  This book aims to provide a comprehensive overview of the principle aspects of the interaction of aqueous solutions and oxides, and to act as a reference for those interested in this subject.  The book is principally focused on oxides in the environment but this is a broad-ranging text, and is not purely concerned with Earth system processes.  Included content also includes such subjects as glass dissolution and metal corrosion.

The book is primarily a technical text, covering numerous aspects of inorganic aqueous chemistry, and as such a reasonable comprehension of physical chemistry is required to elicit maximum value from its pages.  However, it is worth noting that as although a technical text, it is written in a very readable and relatively informal manner and provides an engaging overview of its subject matter.

The book is illustrated with numerous black and white figures throughout, with key illustrations included within a 27 colour plate insert in the text.  The selection of figures to be included as colour plates does not always appear to be logical, with many useful figures that would benefit from colour only given in black and white, and a number of colour plates produced of photographs that add little of scientific value.  However, this is a relatively minor quibble and illustrations are generally well used.

The book is arranged into seven sections, with several chapters within each section, covering distinct thematic areas of the subject - as well as a general introduction to oxides and oxide chemistry.  The layout ensures that navigation on the basis of subject area is straightforward, further aided by comprehensive substance and subject indexes.   

Much of the content could be regarded as general reference material for most Earth scientists, to be dipped in an out of as required.  Other sections however, such as those on ‘fundamental oxide reactions in aqueous solutions’ and ‘the environmental geochemistry of oxides’ should be considered for reading in their entirety as they contain much useful information, particularly on the subject of oxide weathering. 

Overall this is a book with much to recommend it, but with a list price of £97 is likely to be a carefully considered purchase for most readers.

Reviewed by John Heneghan

THE AQUEOUS CHEMISTRY OF OXIDES by BRUCE C BUNKER & WILLIAM H CASEY, 2016. Published by: Oxford University Press 604pp (hbk) ISBN: 9780199384259 List Price: £97.00. W:



Mineral Resources Economics and the Environment

While it superficially it has the look and heft of a standard student text, this book provides rather more engaging content and topical diversity than might be expected.  It covers topics across the full range of its title, taking the reader on a journey from mineral resource formation and geochemistry, exploration and production to the economic and legal settings in which the minerals industry operates.  As an updated and revised edition, it includes additional contemporary context to issues discussed, and provides some timely overviews of relatively recent developments in mineral demand, extraction and applications.

One area in which this text excels is in providing a lot more practical and applied content (and context, for that matter) than many standard textbooks.  Frequent asides in text-boxes provide particularly useful expansions and insights into the more contemporary social, economic and political challenges surrounding mineral resources - particularly in the context of sustainability and sometimes playfully, as in ‘The Global Footprint of a Smartphone’. 

From geochemical reservoirs and reserve estimates to the assessment and treatment of pollution; from processing to mineral law and land-access rights, the introductory materials cover a truly massive swathe of concerns.  For mineral resources themselves, the authors have chosen to disaggregate those covered into ‘groups’: such as energy, technology elements, agricultural, and construction and industrial minerals, which all helps draw out the relevance of each in the context of economic, environmental and social challenges.  It also provides a contextual framework in which to consider minerals in society, aside from their more esoteric natures as Earth materials. 

As is often the case, broad topical coverage takes place at the expense of significant depth; however this large and comprehensive text is useful as a basic, core textbook for college, undergraduate and masters level students, and a worthwhile advanced reference to have to hand.  It covers a lot of basic background information that may be of benefit to a non-specialist audience, but which the more experienced reader may feel free to ‘take as read’.  This is a collection of interesting material, well illustrated with images and examples and presented in logically and consistently.  Colour plates are limited, but are very helpful in supporting and enriching the text, as are the extensive appendices and glossaries. 

Reviewed by Carla Leanne Washbourne

MINERAL RESOURCES, ECONOMICS AND THE ENVIRONMENT by STEPHEN E KESSLER AND ADAM C SIMON, 2015.  Published by Cambridge University Press 446pp (hbk) ISBN: 9781316371589 W: