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The Greywacke: How a Priest, a Soldier and a School Teacher Uncovered 300 Million Years of History

1 December 2021

This stunning volume tells, in incredible detail, the development of our understanding of the Palaeozoic era, via the vivid and exciting stories of three of Britain’s most eminent 19th Century geologists: Adam Sedgwick, Roderick Murchison and Charles Lapworth.

Uncovering their character flaws as well as their intellectual brilliance, the book relates how their struggles to understand deep time initially brought them together, whilst disagreement, egos and intransigence at times held them back.

Anyone who is interested in the development of our science should read this book, to understand how the scientific method can be used (and in some cases abused) to further our knowledge. A cautionary tale, it also reminds us that just because we think we are right, it does not necessarily follow that we are!

Whilst many of the stories are already well told, here they are put in their historical context in an accessible way, making the book suitable for the interested layperson, as well as those with an academic interest in the subject. It is clear that the author has undertaken a great deal of research, resulting in a book that is very difficult to put down. The stories are linked well, and really bring the characters to life, showing us that despite all we have learned and think we know, there is still so much more to do. Having visited so many of the field areas myself, it gives one a real insight into the sheer tenacity of the individuals involved – at times, it feels as though you are being transported to the field to follow in the footsteps of these great men of science. One can only sit in bewildered awe at the leaps of faith and the sometimes great personal risks they took, both physically and intellectually, to develop our understanding of the planet and deep time.

This book is an invaluable addition to the genre of historical geology and I do hope at some time in the future we shall see a more detailed biography of Lapworth – it seems that the material is there and just awaits the right person for the task, as remarked upon in the final chapters of the book. This book is a tour de force and one that deserves a place on the bookshelf.

Reviewed by Gordon Neighbour

Details
By: Nick Davidson (2021). Profile Books Ltd., 288 pp. (hbk) ISBN: 9781788163774 PRICE: £20.00 www.profilebooks.com