Southwestern Historical Quarterly
Grove Karl Gilbert: A Great Engine of Research. By Stephen J. Pyne.
(Austin: University of Texas Press, 1980. Pp. xiv+306. Preface,
illustrations, index. $2o.)
Every historian of science worth his salt has heard of Grove Karl
Gilbert. This brilliant geologist was born of humble but extremely
intellectual parents in New York in 1843. He worked his way into
geology by way of salvaging mastodon bones at Cohoes Falls, New
York, for Cosmos Hall, a "scientific factory of natural history." From
there Gilbert went to work for the Geological Survey of Ohio, making
the acquaintance of John S. Newberry and James Hall as he pro-
gressed. All the while he was absorbing knowledge, speculating about
geologic problems, and forming hypotheses. Then in 1871 Gilbert
went West with Lieutenant George M. Wheeler's United States ge-
ographical survey west of the ooth meridian.
Next he was with John Wesley Powell and Captain Clarence E.
Dutton in the canyon and mesa country of Utah. One result of all this
exploration was Gilbert's Henry Mountains, a seminal study of a
mysterious range in southeastern Utah. Issued in 1877, this monograph
established his reputation as a brilliant geologist tackling problems of
volcanism and geomorphism. Subsequently Gilbert published three
more monographs, of which his Lake Bonneville (1890) is best known.
He went from Powell's Survey to the United States Geological Survey,
where Director Powell-whom Pyne rightly cuts down to size-placed
this brilliant geologist in deadening managerial positions. Yet Gilbert
did return to the field and continued to expand and enhance his repu-
tation until his death in 1918.
A biography of this man is long overdue, but this one was worth
waiting for. Pyne possesses scientific as well as historical training-a
rare combination-plus the ability to write well. The result is a
biography that should meet the high standards of scientists and his-
torians of science as well.
Depending upon one's point of view, the following comments may
be considered as criticism or praise. Pyne's analyses of Gilbert's works
are akin to those of a literature professor who writes a 6o,ooo-word
critique of a io,ooo-word essay. Was so much analysis necessary? A
second comment concerns the book's structure. Much of the work dis-
cusses Gilbert's colleagues and the milieu of the scientific commu-
nity: the book could have been entitled Grove Karl Gilbert and the
Earth Sciences, 1843-1z98, although organizational changes would
have been necessary.
Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 85, July 1981 - April, 1982. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101208/. Accessed April 24, 2014.