Textbooks tell us that the Earth is 4.6 billion years old and that the dinosaurs died out 65 million years ago. Just as our understanding of human history is helped by dates, so the history of the Earth and life of the geological past has also been dated by scientists. Most people have heard of radiocarbon dating, which can be used to date archaeological materials up to 50,000 or so years old but how is it possible to put a date to a rock? It was only a couple of hundred years ago that many scientists still believed that the Earth was 6,000 or so years old, a figure calculated by Archbishop Ussher in 1650 from biblical chronology.
In The Dating Game: One Man's Search for the Age of the Earth, Cherry Lewis tells the fascinating story of how the rocks of the Earth came to be dated and of the role played by the English geologist Arthur Holmes in the intellectual and practical struggle to do so. You do not need to know any science to appreciate the remarkable and protracted effort made by Holmes and his colleagues to discover how to measure time in rocks. They were using the same principles as those of radiocarbon dating, namely the radioactive decay of certain elements which naturally occur in rocks. At one time, Holmes became a shopkeeper to earn enough money to be able to return to his research. And then money for research in Britain was in such short supply that Holmes had to make a special plea to the university authorities for 74 pounds and 8 shillings for an electronic calculator to help speed up his work.
As a trained geologist, Cherry Lewis knows her subject. Although it is her first book, she tells the story well, making the technical details digestible by weaving them around Arthur Holmes' life story, so that they are accessible for the general reader. Diagrams, photographs and a bibliography help make The Dating Game useful as well as enjoyable. --Douglas Palmer
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
'… a gripping tale to tell … I would recommend it … to anyone who has the slightest interest in how our planet came to be the way it is.' John Gribbin, The Sunday Times
'… an engaging book … a good read for geologists ancient and modern who want to understand better the transformation of their discipline. It paints a picture of the life and surprisingly varied career … of a great scientist, strangely unsung both within his science and elsewhere.' Sue Bowler, Geoscientist
'This is a delightful book which manages very skilfully to combine an account of the history of measurements of the age of the earth with a biography of one of the pioneers in this field - Arthur Holmes. It is a fascinating story of one of modern science's great achievements and I have never read a clearer account of radio-active decay and how it has been used to date rocks.' Aubrey Manning, Presenter of the BBC series 'Earth Story'
'… a welcome portrait of a gifted British scientist whose abilities were often stymied by lack of funds and resources.' Douglas Palmer, Nature
'… a delightful and informative biography … we owe Lewis tremendous thanks.' Henry Frankel, EOS
'… a fascinating story … Cherry Lewis' description of the twists and turns by which the oldest known rocks in the world came to have their now accepted great age made for a fascinating read, as did the winding tale of one man's part in this.' Robert S. White, Geological Magazine
'… makes lively reading and is recommended as an absorbing historical biography.' Paul R. Renne, Physics Today
'… this reads almost like a Who's Who of geology and the budding science of nuclear physics … a worthwhile read for anyone interested in fuller pictures of the people behind scientific advance.' Anne Burgess, OUGS Journal
'Cherry Lewis' description of the twists and turns by which the oldest known rocks in the world came to have their now accepted great age made for a fascinating read, as did the winding tale of one man's part in this.' Robert S. White, Science and Christian Belief
'In this excellent book, Cherry Lewis has given a concise account of the development of geochronology and an insight into the life of a remarkable man. … There are few scientists, especially geologists, who are able to fire the public imagination with stories drawn from their own specification. Cherry Lewis is one of the few.' Rodney Walshaw