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Glacier: Nature and Culture

Glacier coverAs I was reading this book I thought to myself how easy it was to read, and how well the concepts of glaciers, glaciation and glacial processes were explained.  The author, Peter Knight, is a Reader in Geography and it is not surprising then that the book covers the full diversity of geography in its proper sense. Covering both physical and human activities the book examines how glaciers form and function, but also how humans relate to glaciers. The second half of this entertaining book covers our interaction with glaciers from economics to art, poetry and song. 

The inevitable retreat of glaciers is covered but it is refreshing that the impact of climate change is not the sole subject covered in discussing why glaciers wax and wane. The fact that they do, and that extreme glaciation in the form of ice ages takes place, is well covered. There are intriguing facts used to illustrate different aspects of glacial behaviour, such as aircraft abandoned on ice sheets becoming buried beneath below 80m of ice after 50 years.  Even more intriguing (maybe) is the fact that one of the aircraft was excavated and restored – the details of how this was undertaken are perhaps left for another book.

The second half of the book covers our fascination with glaciers and Peter Knight draws attention to how much glaciers feature in some of folklore and cultures around the world. This is not something I have dwelt on, but on reading the chapters covering our cultural views of glaciers one begins to agree with Peter Knight that glaciers are ubiquitous in many of the world’s cultures. The Victorians certainly loved a good glacier and glacier tourism kicked off well and truly in the Alps. Now, cruise ships nose gently up towards the headwaters of calving glaciers so people can experience one of nature’s true wonders - for a while longer, at least.  The use of good illustrations throughout makes this book even more enjoyable to flick through as well as read in depth. This book will make a great gift but it also belongs on all geologists’ bookshelves, to remind us all of how intertwined nature and people always are. 

Reviewed by James Montgomery

GLACIER : NATURE AND CULTURE by PETER G KNIGHT, 2019.  Published by Reaktion Books. 223pp (paperback). ISBN 978-1-78914-134-4. List Price £14.90.