Bretz's Flood: The Remarkable Story of a Rebel Geologist and the World's Greatest Flood

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The land between Idaho and the Cascade Mountains is characterized by gullies, coulees, and deserts--in geologic terms, it is a wholly unique place on the earth. Legendary geologist J Harlen Bretz, starting in the 1920s, was the first to explore the area. Bretz, a former science teacher at Franklin High School in Seattle and then a professor at the University of Washington and later the University of Chicago, eventually formed the theory that the land was scoured in a virtual instant by a massive flood. His original thinking was rewarded with various forms of public and academic humiliation. In the mid-twentieth century, his theory sounded a bit too much like the biblical flood, and the scientific world wanting nothing to do with that sort of idea. (Ironically, Bretz was an avowed atheist, so this was hardly his inspiration.) Bretz's Flood tells the dramatic story of this scientific maverick-how he came to study the region, his radical theory that a huge flood created it, and how the mainstream geologic community campaigned to derail him from pursuing an idea that satellite photos would confirm decades later.

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About the Author:

John Soennichsen is the author of Live! From Death Valley. He lives in Cheney, WA.

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J Harlen Bretz was an unusual geologist: more than a maverick-turned-icon, more than a conscientious and thorough field worker, and more than a demanding professor, he also had a remarkable sense of humor and the strength to persevere despite professional obloquy. Author Soennichsen (Live! From Death Valley) delivers a vivid portrait of the man whose pioneering work began by accident, when a 1921 summer field trip to the Cascade Mountains fell through. Instead, Bretz led his students on foot through the Washington Scablands around Spokane, and returned every summer after with his students and family to map, measure, and record the unique terrain-including the gigantic "ship" of eroded basalt at Grand Coulee and the dried remains of the world's largest waterfall. Bretz's conclusions, of a massive flood unlike anything ever observed, met with intense opposition (largely from those who never observed the Scablands in person). Only over time, and with the advent of aerial photography, were Bretz's ideas confirmed; it's now known that glacial Lake Missoula drained dozens of times, each time unleashing a vast flood across the Pacific Northwest. Soennichsen's book explores a fascinating life in science, and should have appeal for Pacific Northwesterners and science buffs. 20 b&w photos.
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