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Geoscientist Online

Adam Sedgwick - Geologist and Dalesman

Speakman SedgwickAdam Sedgwick [1785-1873], Woodwardian Professor in Cambridge from 1818 until his death in 1873, and one of the pioneering geologists in the 19th century, became a geologist almost by chance. As Sedgwick himself noted when he applied for the Woodwardian professorship, "I knew very little indeed of geology – just enough to know that it was a glorious and healthy field in which I might find ample enjoyment and better health." But once elected as Woodwardian Professor he took his new role to heart, saying "hitherto I have never turned a stone; henceforth I will leave no stone unturned." It was a promise he kept for the rest of his long life.

In this book, a reprint of a book first published in 1982, Speakman, a fluent writer and poet with a passion for, and deep knowledge of Yorkshire, focuses on a number of the highlights of Sedgwick's life in a series of 12 related chapters—any one of which could be read as a separate essay. As the book reveals, from humble beginnings in Dent in Yorkshire, Sedgwick went on to become a lifelong Cambridge don, but he never forgot his rural Yorkshire roots. Although several of the chapters specifically focus on Sedgwick's geological achievements, Speakman is not a geologist. The book includes a very good bibliography and reference list, but it does not presume to present a comprehensive discussion of Sedgwick's geological achievements, or to serve as a scholarly scientific biography. Rather, it aims to highlight the many facets of Sedgwick's life. And it does this very successfully.

By drawing heavily on, and quoting from, Sedgwick's own writings about his background and lifelong love for the place of his birth—most notably from Sedgwick's own 'Memorial' (available to read for free on Google Books, and a great read in itself) Speakman really brings the personality of Sedgwick to life—and provides a fascinating picture of rural life in Yorkshire in the 19th century. All in all, it's a very enjoyable read that will appeal to geologists interested in the history of geology, local and social historians in Yorkshire and Cambridge, and all lovers of Yorkshire and its landscape.

Reviewed by Nina Morgan

ADAM SEDGWICK - GEOLOGIST AND DALESMAN, by Colin Speakman. Published by Gritstone Publishing in partnership with the Yorkshire Geological Society, 2018. 145 pp. ISBN 978-0-9955609-4-9. List Price: £12.25 W: http://www.yorksgeolsoc.org.uk/book.php