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The Deprat Affair: Ambition, Revenge and Deceit in French Indo-China Hardcover – 7 Oct 1999

3.7 out of 5 stars 3 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 244 pages
  • Publisher: Jonathan Cape Ltd; 1st edition (7 Oct. 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0224052950
  • ISBN-13: 978-0224052955
  • Product Dimensions: 21.8 x 14.2 x 2.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,952,099 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Amazon Review

In The Floating Egg, Roger Osborne set out to bring geology to a wider audience. The Deprat Affair continues his lifelong fascination for the subject and passes interesting social and scientific comment at the same time. Osborne's elegant account turns Jacques Deprat's life into a riveting picture of the nature of scientific study and inquiry when set against human foibles. Born the son of a teacher in provincial France, Deprat fought class barriers and financial disadvantage to become the golden boy of French geology by the time he was 33. A member of the French colonial service, he made his name in Indo-China, where his numerous fossil discoveries met with a rave reception back in France. Yet, just when he was at the height of his powers, Deprat's most important scientific papers were pronounced the results of fraud-- he was accused of having planted European fossils among those he claimed to have found in Indo-China and was ostracised by the scientific establishment.

Osborne expertly picks over the scientific arguments, while at the same time having a novelist's eye for the tensions between Deprat and those who accused him. In spite of the disgrace in which he was mired, Deprat's story is an uplifting one and Osborne turns his life of disappointments into a tale which is ultimately triumphant. --Toby Green


"Immensely readable and beautifully written." - Ruth Rendell "From the Trade Paperback edition.

Customer Reviews

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
A powerful description of one man's rise to the top of his field in 19th Century France. Deprat succeeded against the odds when the powerful French academic establishment was biased against outsiders. His ultimate demise is the more mysterious because he had achieved so much but he still had so much to do. In my opinion he contributed a lot to the field of geology. His loss of reputation and ultimate disgrace seems inexplicable viewed from the present day.
At the end of the book I wanted to know if he was the architect of his own downfall (I doubted it very much) or was his work sabotaged by jealous colleagues. The answer was left hanging - because investigators don't know the answer. I felt this spoiled the book but makes me want to read it again to look for further clues.
Roger Osborne made Deprat's character very real for me and I grew to admire him as a scientist and a man. I was sad when the story ended without conclusion I would recommend this book as a good read to anyone who enjoys history. It also gave me some new insights into the nature of French colonialism. Buy it. Its a good book.
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Format: Paperback
The book deals with a scandal at the Geological Service of Indochina in Hanoi early in 1917. It culminated with the demotion and later expulsion of Jacques Deprat, a brilliant geologist. Roger Osborne does an admirable job of analysing a very complex set of circumstances which saw Deprat accused of 'doctoring' his data by inserting European fossils in his collection of samples from Yunnan (South China). The book only requires basic familiarity of French Indochina at the turn of the last century and some familiarity with the world of geology. I am reading the book for the second time (as part of a PhD degree) and I cannot help feeling that despite Osborne's efforts, Deprat has not been totally rehabilitated. He was probably only guilty of arrogance and some deliberately misplaced fossils. An apology early in the unfolding of the scandal could have prevented his downfall and assured him the brilliant career he seemed destined for. Having said all of this, this morning I visited the Geological Museum of Vietnam in Hanoi and Deprat's dozens of other fossils are on display. His 40-odd scientific articles are also stored in the museum's library. In some sense, he has been rehabilitated because his fossils, and not those of his detractors, are on display in Hanoi some 80 years after the scandal broke out!
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Most interesting read
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 5.0 out of 5 stars 1 review
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Unwrap an Ordovician Trilobite mystery in French Indochina 1 Mar. 2010
By Little Me - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is a book only a geologist could love. But, as noted in the editorial review by Ruth Rendell, it's "a detective story without a solution." In that sense, the book will leave you with a strong desire for closure that is not forthcoming. (The author makes that very same observation in the book.) The story, however, is rather straightforward. A renown geologist, Jacques Deprat, is accused of slipping fossil specimens from Europe into his field collections from Southeast Asia. The fossils in question are all trilobites. Now, you might say, we should be able to uncover evidence of guilt or innocence since the various outcrops are all still available for investigation. Perhaps additional work will one day resolve the problem and confirm the fossils as genuine Asian specimens. But as Osborne makes clear, the situation was and still is a bit more complicated than that. The book delves into a variety of issues such as the nature of field work, lab work, analysis and interpretation, professional integrity, the good old boy network, and the emerging theories of continental drift and plate tectonics. The social status, egos, and personalities of those involved are also probed in some detail throughout the book. I found it all very interesting and wanted more.

I discovered this book while browsing for non-fiction about the French in Indochina during colonial times. The Deprat Affair (as the author notes) provides essentially no information about the Vietnamese in French Indochina. The historical background of the French in Indochina is also barely touched on. Look elsewhere for that information. (I'm open to recommendations in that regard.) Nevertheless, Osborne does a nice job of taking this WWI era mystery and making it come to life. He includes the results of more recent investigations into the Deprat Affair, but a nice neat solution to this mystery is still not obvious. There is no clear motive. The field notes are another notable missing piece of the puzzle. Where are the field notes of Jacque Deprat? Small, sturdy, hardcover notebooks would have been an essential part of Deprat's field kit. Field notes are still important today even in the age of GPS, digital cameras, satellite photos, and laptops. Deprat did have field notes, but he never gave them to investigators or, more correctly, his accusers. It seems very unlikely that Deprat would have destroyed them.

I said that this is a book only a geologist could love, but it may be of interest to others since it illuminates the interplay of human elements in objective scientific endeavors. You could draw parallels between The Deprat Affair and more recent misunderstandings with global warming research or the various cases of fraud in clinical trials for new pharmaceuticals. I'm giving this book 5 stars because it's well written, interesting, and seems to be the only available material about this story in English. I also liked how the book touched on Carl Popper's preeminent characteristic of science: it's falsifiable... or, conversely, you can't disprove a negative. As for the book itself, it seemed a little stiff to me. Perhaps because it was printed in 2000 and has been sitting on a shelf in a warehouse for 10 years. The book is printed on heavy paper in a clear readable font. The pages in my book are a little tan around the edges just like those shown in Amazon's Look Inside feature. (The publisher probably did not use acid-free paper.) The book also contains a few pages of black and white photos on glossy paper. By the way, there are two other reviews for this book on Amazon's UK website.
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