on 5 August 2012
Let's have no equivocation : This is a five star read, written by a world authority with verve and pace.
Martin Brasier is a top man in the world of Precambrian palaeontology, so we're entitled to expect a book of some distinction. He does deliver this, but you have to accept a certain 'professorial' style to his structuring of the book. Actually I'm well up for it; Brasier has a delightful turn of phrase and a garrulous way with his recounting of adventures in the field, usually somewhere impossibly hot and dangerous like outback northern Australia, which lead him to jump around and add twists and turns to an often complex narrative.
Well I'm fine with this. We're in the company of an Oxford don here, a man who's been at the forefront of ancient fossil research for the past four decades - important groundbreaking decades - and if the old boy rambles a bit it's all part of the fun. Absent, mercifully, is the all too common smugness or 'matey'-ness, characteristic of the Attenborough wannabe, desperate to have you come along for their "journey" - usually an ill-disguised attempt to bag a TV deal.
But I reckon this book should be read in conjunction with his previous "Darwin's Lost World" so that if you can enjoy the quirks of style and delivery, you'll get a fuller richer picture of this whole subject. My only slight gripe is Brasier's hero worship of long dead white males; we are regularly regaled with fulsome quotes from Darwin, Lyell, Hooke etc which is alright if you like that sort of thing but I find it rather trying and tedious ESPECIALLY when Brasier knew and socialised with a far greater scientist for our times, namely the wonderful Lynn Margulis, now sadly departed. She will come to be regarded as by far the more prescient contributor to human knowledge in the longer term.
So, in essence, Secret Chambers is a rewarding read. But I can't help feeling that Brasier is just limbering up here, restively shifting about like a prize hen preparing to lay us a champion egg. After all, this is : The Greatest Story Ever Told; and Martin Brasier is well placed to produce The Book... It's just that he hasn't written it yet.
Post Script: Tragically - it now appears that this book may never be written. Martin Brasier was reported as having been killed in a car accident last December. How very sad. A great loss to science and palaeobiology in particular.