The Ice Finders

Edmund Blair Bolles

Read May 2007, January 2003

The lighly-but-well-told story of the gradual discovery of the Ice Age. A tale of three interesting people and egos. I've never before understood—in light of his later behavior—why Louis Agassiz was held in high esteem, but this book convinced me he isn't respected enough. This book does have two significant peculiarities. The first is a very strange presentation ordering, neither chronological nor episodic. Bolles has (I presume) some grander theory about how it all weaves together, but I didn't feel like spending the time to figure it out, and happily it got easier to ignore near the end (though it's frightfully confusing at first). The other is Bolles's odd habit of repeatedly emphasizing how obvious the concept of an Ice Age is to us today (is it?). Fortunately, he does a decent job of explaining why those early scientists thought otherwise, thereby elucidating the rise of geology and glaciology in response (especially) to Biblical theories. The maps are frustratingly weak, but this book made me want to learn a lot more about geology (about which I know embarassingly little).

After re-reading the book four years later, I decided the narrative structure was prefectly reasonable. I still think well, even highly, of the book. The human side of the discovery of Great Ice comes across well, including the all-too-human frailties of Agassiz, but the science isn't entirely neglected, either. The only great frustration I had was in the absolutely abysmal nature of the maps. Couldn't the publishers have spent a little on finding decent maps, instead of the pathetic hand-drawn illustrations that mar this book? But find yourself a decent map and you'll be well set-up to follow along.