Friday, October 23, 2009

Bretz Flood by John Soennichsen **

500,000,000,000,000 gallons of water setup one of the two biggest debates in geology in the 20th century. One is plate tectonics and the other is told in Bretz's Flood. Almost 100 years ago, a single geologist, J Harlen Bretz, examined the strange geology of eastern Washington, south of Spokane, and decided only a cataclysmic flood could have cause the structures. Of course, he was correct, but it took the other geologists 50 years to come around. This biography covers the academic battle in full detail while also giving insight into the man and his times.

One interesting anecdote J Harlen Bretz's on teaching style:
He scheduled a two-day exam. We came in the first day and there were ten subjects written on the blackboard with the instructions: "Write on any five." Naturally we chose to write on the five that we knew best. ... When we came back the next day ... "Write on the other five."
During the 30s and 40s Bretz took his University of Chicago students on numerous field course, many requiring camping for weeks. These trips "were not without their share of misfortunes." On one trip a student drown, on another two were killed by lightening, and yet again, two student were killed by a freight train. I can't imagine such activities continuing today after the first student fatality.

I found the book an interesting mix of geology, history, and academic infighting. My appreciation was built on my visit to the area and reading in geology. This book is not for the geology novice.

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