The Dating Game: One Man's Search for the Age of the Earth

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9780521893121: The Dating Game: One Man's Search for the Age of the Earth
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How old is the Earth? At the end of the nineteenth century, scientists were all looking for a clock that would provide an answer to this, the greatest Time question of all. The Dating Game tells the story of one man's vision of developing a geological timescale, a great vision which lasted fifty years despite scientific opposition, financial hardship and personal tragedy. Arthur Holmes fought to convince The Establishment of an Earth of great antiquity: a fight which eventually transformed the moribund 'art' of geology into a dynamic science.

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Textbooks tell us that the Earth is 4.6 billion years old and that the dinosaurs died out 65 million years ago. Just as our understanding of human history is helped by dates, so the history of the Earth and life of the geological past have also been dated by scientists. Most people have heard of radiocarbon dating, which can be used to date archaeological materials up to 50,000 years old, but how is it possible to put a date to a rock? It was only a couple of hundred years ago that many scientists still believed that the Earth was 6,000 years old, a figure calculated by Archbishop Ussher in 1650 from biblical chronology.

In The Dating Game: One Man's Search for the Age of the Earth, Cherry Lewis tells the fascinating story of how the rocks of the Earth came to be dated and of the role played by the English geologist Arthur Holmes in the intellectual and practical struggle to do so. You do not need to know any science to appreciate the remarkable and protracted effort by Holmes and his colleagues to discover how to measure time in rocks. They were using the same principles as those of radiocarbon dating; namely, the radioactive decay of certain elements that naturally occur in rocks. At one time Holmes became a shopkeeper to earn enough money before being able to return to his research. And then money for research in Britain was in such short supply that Holmes had to make a special plea to the university authorities for 74 pounds and 8 shillings for an electronic calculator to help speed up his work.

As a trained geologist, Lewis knows her subject. Although it is her first book, she tells the story well, making the technical details digestible by weaving them around Arthur Holmes's life story, so that they are accessible for the general reader. Diagrams, photographs, and a bibliography help make The Dating Game useful as well as enjoyable. --Douglas Palmer, Amazon.co.uk

About the Author:

Cherry Lewis has had a life-long passion for rocks and fossils. After Drama College and running her own business for several years, she finally decided to indulge her passion and studied geology as a mature student at Bristol University. Her degree was succeeded by a PhD on Tibetan granites and post-doctoral research at University College London, which led to a career in the oil industry. Whilst writing her thesis she discovered the work of Arthur Holmes and became captivated by the man who pioneered the way towards determining the true age of the Earth.

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