13 November 2022

A Geological Miscellany, by G.Y. Craig & E.J. Jones

Posted by Callan Bentley

A fun, if a little musty, compendium of random writings about geology and geologists from a wide variety of sources, excerpted and packed together into a slim paperback volume. It begins with Mark Twain and concludes with Russell Baker, and there are hundreds of entries in between – some poems, some short essays, some clipped correspondence, some newspaper articles, and so on. It’s miscellaneous, as the title suggests. Many of these are interesting from the perspective of illumination of past working conditions among geologists – persnickety government-issued instructions for maintaining a field camp in New Zealand, for instance, or formal letters telling the staff paleontologist that he’d better damned well show up for work. Others could be categorized as whimsy, some of it in the spirit of goofy inspiration during a dull moment, or the intentional letting-down-of-one’s-hair that accompanied boozy meetings of the Pick and Hammer Club. Several menus are included, of bygone feasts hosted by the Geological Society of London with roasted turtles and pigeons and turbots and eels and dozens of other options. The book is the sort of thing to keep on one’s bedside table as light reading before bed, a small bite at a time, nothing so meaty as a true “chapter.” But because of its heavy emphasis on the historical written record, stretching back to the founding of geology as a discipline in the stratified, sexist western Europe of yore, the people being discussed are even more starkly white and male than geology’s present-day lamentable lack of diversity. Because it carries this sense of “that’s what a geologist is,” I’m not sure I’d recommend it, but there are enough little gems of humor in here, separate from the identity of the humans that produced them, that I could see gleaning out a few of the most poignant quips for general consumption – I’m thinking a geo-poetry reading, or some such. Even William Smith contributed a funny little poem!