The Ice Finders

In The Ice Finders: How a Poet, a Professor, and a Politician Discovered the Ice Age, Edmund Blair Bolles' captivating book in the history of science genre, he recreates for the reader the mindset of people when the ice age was an unknown concept. Today, we accept the idea that a huge sheet of ice covered a large part of the earth between 1.8 million and 10,000 years ago. But few people know how this belief grew out of the hard work of men in the mid-nineteenth century; Bolles' book chronicles this development. Bolles' book is not a dry geological treatise, but a very human story about three principal characters who, despite (or because of) their pride, arrogance, jealousy, and egoism, formed a key insight into our past. Bolles organizes the book into interlocking stories about Louis Agassiz, Charles Lyell, and Elisha Kent Kane. At first, the jumps between sections on Kane's exploration of Greenland in the 1850’s and Agassiz's and Lyell's geological theorizing in the 1830’s seem ill planned, but as the book progresses it is clear that Bolles' organizational structure increases the tension and simulates the public's gradual coming to grips with the ice- age theory.

Bolles' subtitle to his book is a bit deceiving. While he suggests the ice age was discovered by “a poet, a professor, and a politician,” in fact two geologists—Agassiz and Lyell—wrestled with the theory of the ice age, and an explorer—Kane—through his witnessing and writing beautiful prose about the glaciers in Greenland, convinced people of the power and immensity of ice sheets.

Bolles' work is geared toward any generalist interested in how personality can affect the workings of science, and how scientific theories gradually make headway into our collective view of the world.