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The Earth on Show: Fossils and the Poetics of Popular Science, 1802-1856 Hardcover – January 1, 2007

ISBN-13: 978-0226616681 ISBN-10: 0226616681

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Editorial Reviews


“A brilliant and highly readable book examining the complex relationships between fact and fantasy, science and the imagination, characteristic of the accounts of the Earth’s prehistory that proliferated during the Romantic period. O’Connor’s research has been wide-ranging and innovative. He writes with wit and verve, and the story he has to tell is enthralling.”

(Anne Barton, Emerita Professor of English, University of Cambridge)

“This is a richly evocative (and often entertaining) account of the ways in which the astonishing earth-history reconstructed by the new science of geology was first made accessible and palatable to the British public, or at least to its more affluent strata, during geology’s first golden age. Here at last is an analysis of popular science that takes seriously the sheer diversity of genres—prosaic, poetic, and pictorial—that facilitated this decisive cultural transposition, as a result of which we all now ‘walk with dinosaurs.’ Far from contrasting ‘science’ with ‘literature,’ O’Connor rightly treats the science as literature, and he describes not only the work of self-defined popularizers but also, revealingly, that of such geological heavyweights as Buckland and Lyell. In its innovative analytical framework, the impressive range of its sources, and not least its attractive readability, this book sets new standards for literary studies of the sciences.”
(Martin J. S. Rudwick, Research Associate, Department of History and Philosophy o)

“O’Connor brilliantly applies techniques of literary and visual exegesis to the heterogeneous body of early-nineteenth-century writings and images of antediluvian worlds and extinct monsters. The book successfully breaks out of the ‘two cultures’ divide by attending to the poetics of geological texts and rethinking some of the meanings of popular culture in the period. It is written with fluency, intelligence and wit and is based on an impressive body of primary research. A must for students of Romantic and Victorian literature and culture as well as historians of science.”

(Nigel Leask, Regius Professor of English Language and Literature, University of)

“In this important, well-illustrated, and enjoyable book,  O’Connor takes us on a fascinating tour of the verdant mental landscape of the early nineteenth century, inhabited by strange and remarkable creatures, some well known, such as William Buckland and Charles Lyell, and others hitherto unjustly neglected, such as Hugh Miller. O’Connor’s fresh critical appraisal shows their profound impact on later Victorians from Darwin to Tennyson, right through to the modern day. And as we watch the primal chaos wherein geology, religion, and literature met and fused to create Victorian culture, we come to realize the inadequacy of treating each discipline in isolation.”

(Michael A. Taylor, Curator of Vertebrate Palaeontology, National Museums Scotlan)

"The portrayal of the geological past to a public hungry for drama and instruction is explored with great verve by O'Connor. . . . One could argue that the awareness of deep time has changed human perception of our place in the cosmos more than any other discovery. Anyone interested in how such new ideas are promulgated at large will enjoy Ralph O'Connor's work."
(Richard A. Fortey Times Literary Supplement)

"This book is utterly brilliant. . . . [It] is readable, fun and, despite its immense size . . . it is a page-turner. . . . The Earth on Show restores a sense of enthusiasm and excoitement for new knowledge."
(Sharon Ruston Byron Journal)

2008 Book Prize
(British Society for Science and Literature 2008 Book Prize)

"Undoubtedly a tour-de-force and an outstanding success."
(David Oldroyd Nuncius)

About the Author

Ralph O’Connor is professor in the literature and culture of Britain, Ireland, and Iceland at the University of Aberdeen.

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