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The Man Who Found Time [Hardcover]

Jack Repcheck
3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Book Description

24 April 2003
The story of the gentleman farmer from Edinburgh who discovered that the earth was millions of years old, not six thousand, paving the way for Darwin's theory of evolution Three men's contributions helped free science from the straightjacket of theology - Nicholaus Copernicus and Charles Darwin, and James Hutton, who did not receive the same recognition, yet still profoundly changed our understanding of the earth and its forces. Hutton proved that the earth was millions of years old rather than the biblically determined six thousand, and that it was continuously being shaped and re-shaped by everyday forces, rather than one cataclysmic event. He went on to provide the scientific proof that allowed Darwin's theory of evolution to be viable. This is also the story of Scotland and the Scottish Enlightenment, which brought together some of the greatest thinkers of the age, from David Hume and Adam Smith to James Watt and Erasmus Darwin. It is also a story about the power of the written word. Repcheck argues that Hutton's work was lost to history because he could not describe his findings in graceful and readable prose: Unlike Darwin's Origin of the Species, Hutton's one and only book was impenetrable. Jack Repcheck tells the remarkable story of this Scottish gentleman and farmer, and how his simple observations on his small tract of land led him to a theory that was in direct confrontation with the Bible. This is a marvellous narrative about a little known man and the science he founded.

Product details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Perseus Books; export ed edition (24 April 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 073820692X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0738206929
  • Product Dimensions: 19 x 13 x 2.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,076,697 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

About the Author

Jack Repcheck is an acquiring editor at W.W. Norton with a long career in publishing great works of science. He holds an M.A. in Irish Social History from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

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ON A SUNNY JUNE AFTERNOON IN 1788, three gentlemen from Edinburgh, along with several farmhands, boarded a boat on a desolate Scottish beach. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing 15 Mar 2004
By Valerie Fletcher Adolph VINE VOICE
The topic of this book - the story of the man who first discovered how the earth had evolved over countless ages of geologic time - is intriguing and full of promise. Unhappily, the book does not live up to the promise.
To be fair, not a great deal seems to be known about James Hutton and any writer would be stretched to develop a book-length manuscript with so little directly relevant material. This explains the tediously detailed tangents that the writer chooses to indulge in. They provide background and context but are pedestrian and uninspired.
The writer is introduced on the back cover as an editor “with a long career of publishing works of science”. It seems that this is the first book he has written and one should therefore be tolerant. It doesn’t explain why it is so poorly edited. The copy editing alone is abysmal - was there no-one to check typos and spellings? He over-uses the word “rigorous” which only goes to point out that his own work is less than rigorous. The book is noticeably US-centric and in parts the US-based vocabulary is both inappropriate and distracting. A greater sensitivity to words would have added a lot.
We have to be grateful to the writer for introducing this little-known scientist to a wider readership. However, he does not do his subject justice.
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Amazon.com: 4.2 out of 5 stars  31 reviews
15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Rocky Road 27 Jun 2003
By Bruce Loveitt - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This is a difficult book to classify and to rate, because it is "all over the place." I can see some people giving it four stars and some people giving it two stars- it depends on your expectations. If you are looking, pretty much, for a "pure" science book you are going to be disappointed- you might only enjoy the last 60 pages or so. This is where the author delves into Hutton's conclusions and what happened after his death (i.e.- the academic battles between his supporters and detractors, and his influence on later geologists...specifically Charles Lyell). On the other hand, if your tastes are more catholic, you might enjoy the book a great deal. This is because for the first 140 pages of the book the author widens his scope and discusses lots of peripheral things- such as: the Scottish Enlightenment, with biographical interludes featuring such people as the philosopher David Hume, the economist Adam Smith, the inventor James Watt, and the chemist Joseph Black. Their work as well as their lives is discussed. There is even a pretty extensive detour into military history- exploring Bonnie Prince Charlie's efforts to reclaim the thrones of Scotland and England for the Stuart line. You certainly can't fault the style- the book is lively and well-written- but, again, you need to know that this isn't just a science book. If you just want to know about James Hutton and his theories, this book isn't for you. Conversely, if you enjoy meandering and exploring all sorts of "sidepaths," you'll find this book to be very satisfying.
13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Cross-Cutting Relationships 21 Aug 2003
By Bruce Crocker - Published on Amazon.com
Jack Repcheck's The Man Who Found Time elevates James Hutton to a mountain high enough so that folks not of the geologic persuasion can see Hutton's importance to history. Hutton did his thinking and geologizing during the Scottish Enlightenment, the period during the 1700's when much of the modern world arguably got its start. The title of the book is a reference to Hutton's greatest discovery - the great age of the Earth [or as John McPhee put it, "deep time"] - and the book does an excellent job at leading the reader through the events in Hutton's life and in Scotland's history that led to that discovery. This well-written story of controversy and characters is well worth a read. As a student of geology, we were not asked to read Hutton [or Playfair, Hutton's Boswell] in any detail, so I feel a little inadequate to comment on some of the detailed criticisms of The Man Who Found Time, but Repcheck's telling jives with everything I learned about Hutton in college and everything I've read since. I found no obvious historical errors in the book, especially ones that would warrant a 1-star review. My one complaint [and it may be unfounded given that this book was written for the layperson and not the geologist] is that Repcheck never really delves into the simple principle - usually referred to as the principle of cross-cutting relationships - that underlies the evidence Hutton used to support the claim for the antiquity of the Earth. Simply put, something can't cut something that isn't there first. This applies equally well to the granites intruding into [cutting] the older rocks at Glen Tilt and the flat rocks deposited on top of [cutting] the older, angled rocks at Siccar Point. I highly recommend this book to readers interested in geology, history, Scotland and the Scottish Enlightenment.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Solid, Breezy Overview of an Important Subject in the Earth's Geology 20 Feb 2007
By Roger D. Launius - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
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).
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars unearths a forgotten heroic scientific giant 10 July 2003
By Cliff Landesman - Published on Amazon.com
This books makes a powerfully convincing case that James Hutton was a revolutionary scientist who literally gave us our modern conception of the world. The planet earth is over 4 billion years old and it is Hutton who first rigorously refuted the dogma that the world was created a mere 6,000 years ago. More importantly, he saw that currently active physical processes were responsible for the world's present shape and history, that these processes acted slowly but over vast periods of time. To understand our world is to see it as James Hutton did.
Repcheck beautifully presents the social context in which Hutton lived, with a lively and fascinating account of the Scottish Enlightenment and Hutton's relations with the leading figures of his day, a remarkable period of human intellectual development. The social history is the greatest strength of the book. But one also walks away with an appreciation for the enormity of Hutton's contribution and a great fondness for this loveable and remarkable man.
10 of 13 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Eureka!! (not likely) 7 July 2003
By Kilchomin - Published on Amazon.com
You might enjoy reading this book but, believe me, it is not an accurate account at all of how James Hutton worked at all. Clearly, the author has tried just a bit too hard to get a popular handle on the subject, and has thrown all objectivity out of the window in the process. Just one example (a BIG one) -- Hutton already discovered an unconformity (at Jedburgh) that satisfied him before he came across Siccar Point -- of Jedburgh he wrote, "I rejoiced at finding what I had so long sought" -- so much for Repcheck's "Eureka moment" at Siccar! Oh, and long before finding his own unconformity, Hutton knew such things existed from French accounts of Alpine geology. So, "enjoy", but this is not an accurate account of how Hutton worked.
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