FIELDWORK by Christopher Scholz


A Geologist's Memoir of the Kalahari
Email this review


 Field days in the Kalahari on an earthquake watch from Scholz (Geology/Columbia Univ.), in a mostly numbing narrative. Scholz never considered himself a field scientist (he's more a theoretician of the mechanical behavior of rocks, a kind of hybrid seismologist/structural geologist), but 20 years ago, fresh out of graduate school, he was asked by the UN to be an earthquake consultant for a project they were undertaking in Botswana. He recognized it as an opportunity to enhance his intuitive facilities, but he also wanted to test a hypothesis that dawned on him when he looked at a map of Africa. Was there, he wondered, a chance that down in the Okavango Delta there might be a previously unrecognized branch of the African rift system? So off he went with an engineer buddy to take microearthquake readings. The science of the trip evaporates as Scholz's narrative concentrates on a catalog of all the standard travails of fieldwork: predictable bureaucratic vexations (working for the UN, was he really surprised?), intramural camp squabbles, committing a couple of cultural gaffes, listening with longing to the BBC broadcasts--messengers from the world outside, encountering a scorpion in his boots, elephants at his test sites. And since this was southern Africa in the mid-1970s, rumors that one of the national liberation armies might lob a mortar round into camp. Nothing here to make a reader stand up and shout, nothing unusual or exciting or, well, interesting. And the scientific findings--evidence that a rift could propagate across undeformed country without a visible trace--are relegated to a hasty concluding page. (2 maps)

Pub Date: June 1st, 1997
ISBN: 0-691-01226-1
Page count: 192pp
Publisher: Princeton Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1st, 1997