DIGGING INTO THE PAST: An Autobiography by Edwin H. Colbert


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More mild autobiographical musings from the celebrated paleontologist and now octogenarian (A Fossil-Hunter's Notebook, 1980). The new volume reviews the life from idyllic boyhood in northwestern Missouri to semiretirement in Arizona, where Colbert now mixes work at the Museum of Northern Arizona with the delights of a scenic home shared with wife Margaret, the talented artist-illustrator he met at the American Museum of Natural History a half century earlier. Colbert is the quintessential gentleman-scholar with nary a nasty word to say about any of the scores of greater and lesser lights he encountered in a career that spanned 40 years at the American Museum, 20 in Arizona, with time out for field collecting and continent-hopping. The major result of these expeditions has been the meticulous analysis of fossil reptiles of Triassic and Jurassic periods, times that include the rise and fall of the dinosaurs. Colbert emphasizes the role of chance in his life--the idle hour spent in a museum near his older brother's home that turned his attention to fossils, the letter from Columbia offering him a fellowship on condition he accept no other offer, a reorganization at the museum that moved him from mammals to reptiles. . .He provides abundant sketches: the most colorful being the imperious Henry Fairfield Osborn (who called Colbert ""his disciple"") and the funniest, Al Romer's account of how he (Romer) unwittingly parlayed a drug-induced state of sedation into a high-paying academic job. The saga moves at a stately pace that includes Colbert's account of how he personally got converted to plate tectonics as well as his opinions that the dinosaurs did not go out with a bang and that maybe a few were moving toward warmbloodedness. All in all, a peaceful, productive life that seems to have moved from scholarly peak to peak; no beasts in the closet--in fact, no closet at all.

Pub Date: March 27th, 1989
Publisher: Dembner--dist. by Norton