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The Ice Finders : How a Poet, a Professor, and a Politician Discovered the Ice Age Hardcover – December 1, 1999


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 257 pages
  • Publisher: Counterpoint (December 1, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1582430306
  • ISBN-13: 978-1582430300
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.9 x 9.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,757,486 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Edmund Blair Bolles is investigating a mystery: human creativity. Garbage in, garbage out is the rule for even the most intelligent machines; but with human minds, the rules change. Sometimes the rule is as true for us as for any computer, but every once in a while it's Ignorance in, insight out.

The example Bolles looks at is the Ice Age. Nowadays it's familiar to every schoolchild, but this familiarity has dulled our appreciation of just how wild an idea it once was. Earth-girdling floods seemed both reasonable and biblical, volcanoes unusual but not unknown. But a mile-thick sheet of ice covering much of the North Temperate Zone only 20,000 years ago was beyond anyone's experience or imagination.

The professor and the politician of Bolles's title are Louis Agassiz and Charles Lyell, two of the most famous geologists of the 19th century. The unusual character in Bolles's story is the poet: Elisha Kent Kane. To call Kane a poet is both over- and understatement: he was a celebrity, a romantic, a self-promoter, a mediocre explorer, and a particularly poor leader of men. He was also a dreamer who tried to find the lost Franklin expedition, and found the far north very different from his (or anyone else's) expectations: "dreams in, nightmares out." Yet it was Kane's bestselling book about his travels that brought the reality of great ice into the minds of laypeople and scientists alike: writes Bolles, "He is the one who made the Ice Age imaginable." --Mary Ellen Curtin

From Publishers Weekly

This is an entertaining, often irreverent, history of the scientific discovery of the Ice Age. Bolles is fascinated by the way in which scientific knowledge advances. He challenges the notion that it proceeds in a rational and orderly manner, always building on previous knowledge. People, he claims, "learn unsuspected things, pulling knowledge, like rabbits, from empty hats," and often, convincing scientists of a new idea is more a matter of politics than of science. As an example of this theory, he weaves together the biographies of three important players in the great Ice Age debate. Bolles focuses on Louis Agassiz, the naturalist who first theorized the Ice Age in 1837, but was unable to persuade the scientific community to accept his findings for almost 20 years. Second is Elisha Kent Kane, an adventurer and poet whose report on his journey to the north of Greenland in the 1850s provided the popular imagination with the vision of immense seas of ice at the Pole pouring great rivers of ice into the Atlantic and Greenland seas. Finally, Bolles writes of Charles Lyell, the great Scottish geologist whose book The Principles of Geology ignored the possibility that glaciers were capable of changing the earth's surface, and who resisted the notion of the Ice Age for many years after Agassiz had theorized about it. A master politician among his colleagues, once he was convinced of the theory, it became more widely accepted. Bolles claims that it was only the interaction among these three individuals, and many others who are mentioned in passing, that led to a lasting new understanding of the world in which we live. (Dec.)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Robert Unferth on December 5, 1999
Format: Hardcover
Edmond Bolles book "The Ice Finders" is a real treat, perhaps the best I've read this year. In this tale of the discovery of the concept of "Ice Age", Bolles weaves together the story of three people of different times and places. We are treated to three biographies of people who played important but very different roles forming a new view and understanding of the world-a view we carry to this day to such an extent it's hard to imagine anything else.
Bolles displays for us an intellectual adventure I'd never thought about before, as well as ego trips, and quixotic expeditions. And what a cast of characters including Charles Darwin, the Lowell's of Massachusetts, Ralph Emerson and others who add great spice to the stories. The book is intellectually stimulating, entertaining and fun. Here is a piece of history I knew nothing about until reading Bolles book. What a bargain-all in one book.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on December 8, 1999
Format: Hardcover
I'm only moderately interested in the history of science, but I love stories about people, and this book is full of great people stories. Besides the three main ones in the title, many minor figures in the story are also well drawn and keep the story moving. I especially liked the German geologist Leopold von Buch and a Scottish newspaper editor, Charles Maclaren. Von Buch shouts insults at Agasiz as he presents his Ice Age theory and he wears high button shoes while he hikes in the mountain. The book has one vivid scene after another and makes the people walk again. I loved it.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Rod Layman on December 31, 1999
Format: Hardcover
This book is a unique blend of story-telling, biography, and science writing. Blair Bolles has done his research well. He captures the passions of Kane, Agassiz, and Lyell with a style that is sharp, thorough, and accessible. There is lots to learn here, but only a pleasant effort required. The pages turn themselves as the reader follows Kane across the polar ice, and the scientists Agassiz and Lyell through several decades of meetings, debate, and discord. At the end of it all, we appreciate the courage and tenacity of Kane, who barely survives. We marvel at the life work of Agassiz and Lyell, who, in spite of those around them, and almost in spite of themselves, shaped the way we think about our world today. Well done!
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Atheen on April 1, 2000
Format: Hardcover
This is a superbly written book, capturing the drama behind the discovery of the concept of the Ice Age. Bolles tells the story from the perspective of three different 19th century investigators: Kane, a gentleman adventurer, Lyell, one of the founders of modern geology, and Agassiz, one of the world's greatest naturalists. Using what is almost like a diarist method to tell the tale, the author interweaves the points of view of all three individuals taking the reader through the stages of the theory's conception and gestation. It seems amazing that what seems so abundantly apparent to modern students of earth history is blindly missed by many very astute 19th Century scientists. Furthermore, when a clear arguement with supporting data is resisted, it seems almost a willful desire to deny the existance of an Ice Age. Indeed such it may have been, as this was an era when strongly held religious beliefs, which had shaped much of the thinking up to that time, were beginning to crumble. In Ice Finders Bolles expertly creates an exciting and informative history of one of the intellectual adventures of science.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Kevin W. Parker on February 1, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Dava Sobel's Longitude seems to have established a new trend for science and technology writing. Instead of trying to produce broad histories, more books are coming out that focus on a specific area or development.
This one, for example, covers the development of the theory that there was once an "ice age," an era when glaciers covered much of the earth. This was heady stuff for the geologists of the 1830s, already reeling from evidence that the earth was millions or billions of years old, rather than the thousands indicated by the Bible. In fact, one of the tales of this book is the sometimes irrational resistance of established scientists to this radical but evident new concept, as Louis Agassiz turns himself from an establishment figure into a maverick by championing it and guardian of the orthodoxy Charles Lyell, author of the authoritative textbook of geology, first resists it and finally adopts it in a way that suggests he was right all along. The making of science is not always a pretty sight and is often rather different from the tidy displacement of an outdated theory by a more current, better supported one. It's frequently much more of a fight than that, and the theory of an ice age is an example of such.
But that's just one of the threads of this book. The other is the adventure of explorer-poet Elisha Kent Kane, who ostensibly seeks the remains of Franklin's polar expedition, gets stuck in the ice for two years (a harrowing experience related in painful detail), and finally returns with clear documentary evidence of the massive ice formations that Agassiz needs as the final justification for his theory.
The two threads are related in episodes, which gets a little confusing, particularly when one notes that the Kane expedition narrative covers a time period well after most of the Agassiz narrative. However, one quickly gets used to this and moves on.
All in all, it's a very interesting story that shows how science is made.
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