It is hard to find a more significant figure in the history of geology. James Hutton (1726-1797) was an exceptional amateur geologist who was the first to put together a compelling explanation of the age of the Earth. This interesting and accessible book presents in a compelling manner the life and work of this remarkable Scotsman. Written in a breezy style, it will not satisfy scholars but it nonetheless presents a compelling introduction for non-specialists in the history of geology. A Scottish physician, Hutton dabbled in all types of scientific inquiry, especially the practical aspects of farming, crops yields, and the like. While engaged in this effort he began to study the surface of the Earth, gradually forming questions and methods of resolving them.
This book is a breathless survey of the life and career of James Hutton as a gentlemen scholar, his work on the age of the Earth, and his place in the larger story of the Scottish Enlightenment. Trained as a physician, Hutton lived a life of ease where he undertook scientific investigations and scientific farming. In terms of his work on the geology of the Earth, he really published three items. The first is an abstract of a talk that he gave in Edinburgh in 1785 outlining in general terms his conclusion that the Earth must be far older than the 6,000 years usually thought because of the analysis base on the Bible. He then published a longer paper, "Theory of the Earth; or an Investigation of the Laws Observable in the Composition, Dissolution, and Restoration of the Land upon the Globe," in 1788 in the "Transaction of the Royal Society of Edinburgh" that created a huge stir among scientists and led to denunciations from several zealous academics. In 1795 he published a two volume "Theory of the Earth, with Proofs and Illustrations" that sought to answer his critics, but written as he was rapidly declining this work proved insufficient to counter their arguments.
Hutton was correct that the Earth is much older than the biblical account would lead one to believe. He was also right to posit a dynamic structure at the Earth's core and the shaping of land masses based on cataclysm and upheaval, though probably not a universal flood. Because of some committed believers who came later, this understanding became dominant in the nineteenth century.
This is a very fine, easy read about an important topic. It ranges far across the eighteenth century, especially commenting on the Scottish Enlightenment, which gave us several great thinkers including Adam Smith and David Hume as well as Hutton. It even explores the Scottish rebellion of the 1740s led by Bonnie Prince Charlie in a chapter that seems misplaced in this volume. Overall, "The Man Who Found Time" is a useful introduction to an important subject. For those seeking a more detailed, scholar account, I recommend Dennis R. Dean's "James Hutton and the History of Geology" (Cornell University Press, 1992). For those interested in the larger questions of the Earth's geology, especially the age of the planet, I recommend G. Brent Dalrymple "The Age of the Earth" (Stanford University Press, 1991).