THE DAWNSEEKERS: The First History of American Paleontology by Robert West Howard

THE DAWNSEEKERS: The First History of American Paleontology

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An absorbing story told, nevertheless, with a lot of bustle and pother. Howard, the author of Thundergate (about Niagara Falls -- 1968) and many children's books on the American past, begins with various semi-amateur pokings through ""antediluvian"" remains during and just after the Revolution and continues up to a modern dig at Dinosaur National Monument. The main focus is on the 19th century, when the idea of ""applied"" science began to attract money and young talent to such previously abstract and speculative fields as geology, which gave birth to paleontology. The pioneering teaching and research of the geologist Amos Eaton at the Rensselaer School and at popular lectures throughout New York and New England laid the groundwork for the accomplishments of the later ""bone barons"" Othniel Marsh and Edward Drinker Cope. The events and personalities ought by all rights to be engrossing, but Howard's treatment, at once fussy and simple-minded, turns the material into a fog of non-facts. Instead of intellectual history, we get repetitive bromides about dawn breaking through the superstitions that clouded our ancestors. Worse scholarship, a miasma of fictionalized details swamps every event -- people stare into fires while hatching great notions and ""just know"" that the winds of history are blowing without knowing ""precisely why""; chairs creak; objects gleam in the firelight. One longs for less diddling and more solid unvarnished information.

Pub Date: May 12th, 1975
Publisher: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich