Cover image for The ice finders : how a poet, a professor, and a politician discovered the Ice Age
The ice finders : how a poet, a professor, and a politician discovered the Ice Age
Bolles, Edmund Blair, 1942-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Washington, D.C. : Counterpoint, [1999]

Physical Description:
257 pages : maps ; 20 cm
Subject Term:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
QE697 .B725 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks
QE697 .B725 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf

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Swiss professor Louis Agassiz (1807-73) spent decades arguing that his conception of an Ice Age was not madness. Geologist and master politician Charles Lyell (1797-1875) tried to reconcile his own observations with scientific principles that made an Ice Age impossible. Adventurer and poet Elisha Kent Kane (1820-57) was trapped at the top of Greenland for two winters and portrayed a harsh and frozen landscape that made the Ice Age credible. Bolles, a prolific and popular science writer, tells the tale.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Today we take for granted a vision of the earth's past that includes ages of glaciation, when great ice sheets covered vast areas of the northern hemisphere. Yet in the mid-1800's, even geologists did not correctly interpret the scrapings and moraines and other formations that are now recognized as evidence of an ancient Ice Age. The great Swiss scientist Louis Agassiz was among the first to realize that glaciation explained much of what he saw in his homeland and other countries. Pitted against him for decades was the politically connected British geologist Charles Lyell, who finally converted late in life to the Ice Age theory and brought the entire discipline of geology with him. But the greatest influence on popular acceptance of the theory was the explorer Elisha Kent Kane, who spent two years trapped in Greenland's ice, staring at glaciers huge enough to have created the very geological effects that the Ice Age theory required. It was Kane's poetic descriptions of great ice formations that finally captured the public imagination, though he died, his health broken by his adventures, not long after returning from Greenland. It isn't often that a historian of science produces a page-turner, but Bolles has. Ravishingly written and massively researched, this could well become a classic in its field. --Patricia Monaghan

Publisher's Weekly Review

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.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

For a long time, no one knew that most of the northern and southern hemispheres had once been covered by gigantic ice caps more than a mile thick. In the 1850s, geographers still argued over the possibility of an Open Polar Sea. Bolles, a writer with numerous science books to his credit, attributes the discovery of the Ice Age to three men, each of whom began his quest with wrong notions but put his own theories aside when alternate facts were presented: Louis Agassiz, a Swiss professor who first formulated the Ice Age theory but was considered crazy by other scientists; Charles Lyell, the 19th century's most renowned geologist, who theorized that icebergs were responsible for the geological formations of the past; and Elisha Kent Kane, an adventurer whose ship became trapped in the frozen waters of northern Greenland. It was Kane's poetic descriptions of "great ice," which allowed scientists and lay people to understand the concept of Ice Age glaciation. Exceptionally readable, Bolles's book is on a par with Dava Sobel's Longitude and James Watson's The Double Helix. Highly recommended.√ĄGloria Maxwell, Penn Valley Community Coll. Lib., Kansas City (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.