THE SEASHELL ON THE MOUNTAINTOP: A Story of Science, Sainthood, and the Humble Genius Who Discovered a New History of the Earth

Alan Cutler, Author . Dutton $23.95 (240p) ISBN 978-0-525-94708-0

Science writer Cutler (a contributing editor to The Forces of Change: A New View of Nature) re-creates a fascinating 17th-century world of political and religious upheaval and the progress achieved by curious scientists like the Danish anatomist and (according to Cutler) founder of geology, Nicolaus Steno (1638–1686). A one-time medical student renowned for "his preternatural skill with a scalpel," Steno discovered the parotid gland, which produces saliva, and tear glands. Steno's genius for anatomy provided him the tools to work on the mystery of fossils and the question of how seashells could be found in the rocks of mountains far from the sea. He hypothesized that layers upon layers of earth formed sediments in a sequence, recording a series of events and telling a story about the age of the earth. According to Steno, the stratum at the bottom is the oldest and that at the top is the youngest. Seashells, he said, found their way to mountaintops not by the great biblical flood, as many of his contemporaries believed, but by constant erosion and the sedimentation of soil. Steno published his discoveries in De Solido, after which he abandoned science, converted to Catholicism and spent the last 20 years of his life as an ascetic priest and eventually a bishop. In 1988, he was beatified. Cutler's animated and energetic prose provides a page-turning thriller of scientific discovery, and this splendid biography captures in intimate detail not only its subject but also the tenor of Steno's times. (May)

Reviewed on: 04/07/2003
Release date: 04/01/2003
Genre: Nonfiction
Peanut Press/Palm Reader - 240 pages - 978-1-4362-9692-2
Compact Disc - 978-1-56511-638-2
Paperback - 240 pages - 978-0-452-28546-0
Open Ebook - 240 pages - 978-1-4362-9519-2
Pre-Recorded Audio Player - 978-1-60812-728-3
Paperback - 208 pages - 978-0-09-942149-8
Hardcover - 228 pages - 978-0-434-00857-5
Analog Audio Cassette - 978-1-56511-637-5
Paperback - 222 pages - 978-1-939990-00-6
Show other formats
Discover what to read next