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Review

Author(s): C. Kidson
Review by: C. Kidson
Source: The Geographical Journal, Vol. 127, No. 1 (Mar., 1961), pp. 113-114
Published by: The Royal Geographical Society (with the Institute of British Geographers)
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1793235
Accessed: 07-03-2015 16:41 UTC

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REVIEWS 113

survival of the vertical columns to the weight of the cap rocks, rather than to the pro-
tection from erosion afforded by the caps. Figures 38-45, entitled "Cinematographic
history of North America", indicate important stages in the geographical development
of this continent from the earliest geological times, and show the characteristic forms
of life at each stage.
The author does not always distinguish between established fact and mere hypo-
thesis, as in discussing the parturition of the moon from the Pacific region, the shrink-
age of the earth and the formation of fold-ranges, on the analogy of the wrinkles of a
cooling apple, and the permanence of ocean basins. Also, he states that anything in the
nature of continental drift ceased shortly after the departure of the moon, said to have
occurred 5000 million years ago and, apart from ignoring well-known later arguments
in favour of continental drift, makes no reference to the light being thrown on this
question by recent palaeomagnetic observations, which indicate, for example, that in
pre-Jurassic time Europe and North America were 24 degrees closer than they are to?
day. It will doubtless be many years before general agreement is reached on these and
other major problems. Again, while one admits the necessity for some degree of
simplification in a popular work, the author has over-simplified a number of his presen-
tations; for example, the rocks of the crust, apart from limited sediments, appear to
comprise only "granite" and "basalt", the former building up the continents and the
latter forming a plastic layer on which the lighter continents float, and which underlies
the ocean at shallow depth; moreover, no mention is made of the important "Moho"
discontinuity which, at a depth of 35 kms. beneath the continents and 5 kms. beneath
the oceans, separates the basalt from denser ultrabasic rocks below. A short statement
should have been added to show that the "granite" includes not only granite as under?
stood by the geologist but also many other rocks of low density, particularly ancient
sediments and metamorphic rocks. Again, on page 120, from the reactions of a piece
of granite subject to high compression in a hydraulic press, the author regards it as
evident that during 2000 million years of the contraction of the crust, and consequent
crushing of the granite blocks, there must have been at least five great epochs of
mountain-folding activity! Some inconsistencies have crept into the work, as on page 5
where it is stated that prior to iJz billion (1500 million) years ago the surface of the
earth was too hot to support oceans, whereas elsewhere (page 236) the age of the
oceans is given as 3000 million years.
The final chapter, entitled "A glimpse into the future", is admittedly highly specu-
lative; it suggests, for example, that the glacial periods will recur 50,000 and 90,000
years hence and that an appreciably warmer climate will prevail in about 20,000 years;
ultimately, the sun will explode and the earth will be melted again! To the uncritical
reader the book is, nonetheless, very readable and it should prove of considerable
interest; in most respects it affords a general outline of the main trend of events, but in
a subsequent edition its value and accuracy would be much improved if faults of the
kind referred to were corrected. F. Dixey

GEOMORPHOLOGY. By B. W. Sparks. London: Longmans, 1960. 8s4X534


inches; 371 pages; text-figures andillus. 375 6d
Many of the standard textbooks of geomorphology were written before the war, and
new works, which take into account research conducted in the last two or three decades,
are to be welcomed. This volume in the 'Geography for Advanced Study' series is
both comprehensive and up to date. The approach is "critical [but] traditional rather
than revolutionary": the whole field of geomorphology is covered and fluvial, coastal,
glacial and desert land forms are all examined in the "traditional" manner. The critical
approach is perhaps best seen in the chapters on "The Davisian geographical cycle"
and "Erosion surfaces and their interpretation". It does, however, colour the whole
book and is demonstrated in an unwillingness to accept unproven hypotheses, even
those in current fashion. The discussion of the development of fjords is a good example
of this healthy scepticism.
One of the best features of the book is a very lucid style and the avoidance of the use
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ii4 reviews

of unnecessary jargon. The multiplicity of terms in current use, for example, in des?
cribing "Karst" topography, are reduced to an ordered simplicity. It would have been
pleasant to record that this technique is applied wholesale and that the confusing
variety of terms in accounts of, for example, the mass movement of materials on slopes
are codified. Unfortunately this is not so and such hybrid expressions as "debris
avalanche" are passed on to another generation of students. The clarity of presentation
which is such a feature of the book is sometimes dearly bought. The summing up of
the effects of Davisian ideas and terminology (page 20) is far too sweeping. Other
instances of over-simplification include the inference (p. 196) that dunes higher than
50 feet are only found piled up over solid rocks and the mis-statement (p. 199) that
Orford Ness "runs roughly parallel to the coast for its entire length".
These are, however, relatively minor blemishes. The book can be thoroughly
recommended. Particular praise must be reserved for the wealth of clear and simple
line diagrams and the splendid collection of photographs. It can safely be said that no
other textbook of geomorphology has included such superb views of Arran.
C. Kidson

FRONTIERS OF THE SEA. By Robert C. Cowen. London: Gollancz, 1960.


9x6 inches; 307 pages; maps, plates. 25 s
Oceanography was formerly the concern of no more than the biologist and the mathe-
matician who investigated water movements. Now, these have been joined by geolo?
gists, meteorologists, physicists, glaciologists, engineers and others and the result is
that it is not easy to keep abreast of developments in all these fields. Mr. Cowen, a dis?
tinguished scientific correspondent to various American journals, has thus rendered a
valuable service in summing up the state of our knowledge of the ocean "as", he would
say, "of now". It is very appropriate, at a time when our scientific probes are reaching
out into space and peering at the other side of the moon, to assess the extent of our
knowledge of the oceans and to draw attention to our vast ignorance of them. Mr.
Cowen deals with all aspects of the subject, from its historical background to details of
research vessels. The usual topics are covered with an attractive freshness, but the
general reader with only a nodding acquaintance with oceanography will probably find
most of interest in the chapters dealing with the evidence that has in recent times been
recovered from the depths on subjects such as the composition ofthe ocean beds?and
thus of the Earth itself?of the evidence for past changes of climate and the prognosis
for the future, of the possibility of increasing man's marine food-supply and indeed of
obtaining minerals, either from solution or by direct collection from the ocean floor.
Much of the modern progress in oceanography has naturally stemmed from new
and highly ingenious apparatus, usually involving electronics. Mr. Cowen introduces
us to this and here as elsewhere has obviously delved very deeply into the relevant
literature, and yet presents his gleanings to us in a most readable and attractive
manner. This is not to deprecate the book as "mere journalism"; it offers a great deal
to all but the specialist and also points the way, in its selected bibliographies, to further
study of the subject. R. Miller

UNDERSTANDING WEATHER. By O. G. Sutton. A Pelican Book. Harmonds-


worth: Penguin Books, 1960. 7x4 inches; 205 pages; charts and illus. 3s 6d
In his preface Sir Graham Sutton, who is Director-General of the Meteorological
Office, states that this book for the general reader is not designed as a systematic text-
book of meteorology but rather as a progress report of the science of the atmosphere.
With remarkable clarity he explains the exacting, complicated process, under time-
limit, of preparing daily weather forecasts from synoptic charts based on surface and
upper air observations, as well as certain new physical concepts which play a great
part in the technique of modern forecasting. He foresees (p. 139) a future for mathe?
matical methods of forecasting, which are still in the early stage, since electronic digital
computers can solve the equations supplied to those fast enough to keep pace with the
weather itself.

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