The Man Who Found Time: James Hutton and the Discovery of the Earth's Antiquity

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Overview


There are three men whose life’s work helped free science from the strait-jacket of religion. Two of the three—Nicolaus Copernicus and Charles Darwin—are widely heralded for their breakthroughs. The third, James Hutton, is comparatively unknown, yet he profoundly changed our understanding of the earth, its age, and its dynamic forces.

A Scottish gentleman farmer, Hutton’s observations on his small tract of land led him to a theory that directly contradicted biblical claims that...

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The Man Who Found Time: James Hutton and the Discovery of the Earth's Antiquity

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Overview


There are three men whose life’s work helped free science from the strait-jacket of religion. Two of the three—Nicolaus Copernicus and Charles Darwin—are widely heralded for their breakthroughs. The third, James Hutton, is comparatively unknown, yet he profoundly changed our understanding of the earth, its age, and its dynamic forces.

A Scottish gentleman farmer, Hutton’s observations on his small tract of land led him to a theory that directly contradicted biblical claims that the Earth was only 6,000 years old. This expertly crafted narrative tells the story not only of Hutton, but also of Scotland and the Scottish Enlightenment, including many of the greatest thinkers of the age, such as David Hume and Adam Smith.

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Editorial Reviews

Boston Globe
Worth reading...Repcheck's description of the Scottish Enlightenment is fascinating.
6/24/03
Curled Up With a Good Book
Fill[ed] with tone and bustle...Repcheck has attempted to bring Hutton and his enthusiasms back to life and has done his subject justice.
6/20/03
The Washington Post
The Man Who Found Time may not be the definitive Hutton biography, but it certainly succeeds in raising the profile of this mostly forgotten pioneer. — Julia M. Klein
The Los Angeles Times
The biography is a refreshing look at the importance of his ideas to future paradigm-shifting scholars such as geologist Charles Lyell and Charles Darwin. Repchek relies on Hutton's friendships and environment to recreate the evolution of his ideas and to carry them beyond Hutton's death to the current estimation of the Earth's age: 4.55 billion years. — Susan Salter Reynolds
Publishers Weekly
In this engaging account of scientific discovery, Repcheck (an acquiring editor at Norton) aims to elevate the little-known Scottish geologist James Hutton (1726-1797) into the lofty company of Copernicus, Galileo and Darwin, as one who wrested modern science from the "straight jacket of religious orthodoxy." Hutton, claims Repcheck, was the first to propose that the earth was shaped not by a cataclysmic Great Flood, but rather by "the inexorable forces of wind and rain, tides and storms, volcanoes and earthquakes" over a far longer period than the 6,000 years biblical scholars said was the planet's age. Repcheck frames his narrative around Hutton's theory, weaving together the many historical threads that led to this paradigm shift in the conception of geological history. There aren't many popular histories of science that can hop from a thousand years of Church doctrine about the age of the earth to the story of Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Scottish rebellion of 1745 without missing a beat, but Repcheck's comfortable style and enthusiasm for his subject permeate his book. He does a fine job of laying out Hutton's theory in the context of the Scottish Enlightenment as well as its consequences for later thinkers (most notably Darwin). Repcheck's account should appeal to anyone who's curious about intellectual history, geologist or not. (June) FYI: We'll watch as Repcheck dukes it out with Alan Cutler, who claims, in his book The Seashell on the Mountaintop (see p. 59), that his subject, Nicolaus Steno, discovered the science of geology and challenged the 6,000-year-old age of the earth. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Part biography and part science history, this first book by an acquiring editor at Norton strives to place an obscure Scottish gentleman farmer beside Copernicus, Galileo, and Darwin as the figures most responsible for separating science from the influence of orthodox religion. Considered the father of modern geology, James Hutton stunned the leading scientists of his time (the 18th-century Scottish Enlightenment) by openly declaring Earth's age as inestimably older than the long-accepted biblical date of October 23, 4004 B.C.E. More important, perhaps, his work so influenced Charles Lyell and Charles Darwin that, as Repcheck argues, Hutton paved the way for subsequent theories of evolution. Repcheck, a science book editor with a social history background, details the social milieu of Hutton's time, blending science with the social factors contributing to Hutton's personality and discoveries. Concentrating on the era in which Hutton lived, he finds a niche among broader works like Martin Gorst's Measuring Eternity, which examines the concept of time from the ancient era to the atomic age, and more technical ones, such as Stephen Jay Gould's Time's Arrow, Time's Cycle, which focuses on the geology. Engaging and suspenseful, Repcheck's excellent biography is highly recommended for most public libraries as the most recent and most detailed account of Hutton's life and science.-Andy Wickens, King Cty. Lib. Syst., WA Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Engaging biography of the Scottish scientist (and, in his day, renowned eccentric) who braved the "fire of damnation" by suggesting that the Book of Genesis was a metaphor, not a documentary. Repcheck, a science editor at Norton, reckons that James Hutton is something of an obscure figure today for several reasons: he lacked Charles Darwin’s genius for self-promotion, announced his greatest hypotheses at a time when the English-speaking world’s attention was fixed on the American Revolution, and, plainly put, "was not a gifted communicator." Moreover, his massive magnum opus, The Theory of the Earth, was a jumble of mathematical formulas and learned quotations in many languages, hard to slog through and in any event printed in an edition of only 500 copies. Yet, as Repcheck ably shows, Hutton’s work was profoundly influential. He presented formal proof, for the first time, that the world was far older than the 6,000 years the Bible allowed—a chronology, Repcheck writes, that was held to be sacred and irrefutable, for which reason Hutton was widely denounced as a heretic, even though he, like Copernicus (but unlike Darwin), "had strong faith in God." Furthermore, Hutton recognized that the Earth’s form required long periods of time by which cyclical processes such as volcanism and erosion could do their work—an idea that was of transformational importance to the new science of geology. "For Hutton," Repcheck writes, "there was no need to call upon unseen and unknowable catastrophes from the past, such as the Deluge or the Universal Ocean, to explain any geological formations; they were all understandable based on knowledge and processes still occurring." In other words, onevolution—and Repcheck does a fine job of showing how Hutton’s ideas paved the way for those of Lyell and Darwin, whose iconoclastic theories would soon overshadow his own. A welcome contribution to the history of science, one that merits shelving alongside Stephen Jay Gould and John McPhee. Agent: Susan Rabiner
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780465013371
  • Publisher: Basic Books
  • Publication date: 5/5/2009
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 256
  • Sales rank: 430,887
  • Product dimensions: 8.20 (w) x 5.56 (h) x 0.66 (d)

Meet the Author


Jack Repcheck is an editor at W. W. Norton & Co., where he publishes the work of leading scientists and economists. He is also the author of Copernicus’ Secret. He lives with his family in Bucks County, Pennsylvania.
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Table of Contents

Prologue 1
1 Looking So Far Into the Abyss of Time 13
2 First Came Adam and Eve, Then Came Cain and Abel ... 25
3 Auld Reekie 45
4 The Storm Before the Calm 67
5 Youthful Wanderings 85
6 The Paradox of the Soil 103
7 The Athens of the North 117
8 The Eureka Moments 145
9 Hutton's Boswell's 163
10 The Huttonian Revolution 179
Epilogue 199
Appendix 209
Sources and Suggested Readings 217
Acknowledgments 229
Index 235
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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 17, 2013

    The subject is more than just the life and geological work of Ja

    The subject is more than just the life and geological work of James Hutton, as the book covers the wider world of scientific thinkers and achivements of his contenporaries in England and Scotland. As usual for e-books, the illustrations are small and hard to "read" even when magnified.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 9, 2003

    A new classic

    Repcheck's book reminds me of Barbara Tuchman's A Distant Mirror. He aptly explains deep time through the life of Hutton, a Scottish gentleman/scientist who discovered the concept. And Repcheck tells the story quickly and succinctly. Quite an accomplishment, I'd say.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 5, 2013

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted January 2, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

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