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No Nat'l Geo description, but here's their Indian Ocean floor map.

I loved those maps too, and we have a lot of them. I attended Nat'l Geo-sponsored lectures/slide shows presented by Jacques-Yves Cousteau at Constitution Hall when I was in high school.


This was a marvellous read, Lance. Tharp, or her work, seems fascinating, pioneering. Loved the art and science aspect of creating the maps. I had no idea that continental drift was controversial until so relatively recently. And had a trip down memory lane with your reminiscence of Nat Geo back in the day- it was indeed wonderful, fascinating, educational when I was growing up, superb photography and art- a superlative publication indeed. Thinking I ought to get my nephew a subscription. Anyway, thoughtful and informative post /review, thanks.


I haven't read the book, but what you say makes me inclined not to.As a scientist myself, I pay attention not only to results but to how those results were obtained. In science, if you find that some of the results are achieved by the wrong method, you have little choice but to throw out the entire body of the research. It has become tainted. In the same way, if I read a biography and realize that part of it is entirely made up, it makes me wonder about the rest of it. In science, it's legitimate to make assumptions or fill in some blanks, as long as it's pointed out what's being done, and as long as the validity of the conclusions doesn't rely on it. In the same way, a legitimate biography might use fictional passages for a legitimate reason, but the author should make it clear when and why.

Again, since I haven't read the book I don't know exactly how the seafloor spreading is treated, but the description makes it sound like the sonar mapping and subsequent discovery of seafloor spreading was the conclusive evidence needed to support the theory of plate tectonics ("continental drift"). I think the actual process by which plate tectonics became more universally accepted was considerably more complicated and relied on a lot of other supporting evidence (like the record of striped magnetic patterns in the seafloor around the mid-ocean ridges). I also suspect that the career risk of concluding in a paper that the continents are not fixed might have been exaggerated. The evidence they found is exactly the kind of thing that scientists really love - results that overturn convention.

But, as always, a very readable and thorough review.

Lance Mannion

Thanks, Belvoir, and Link, as always, thanks for the link.

Mark, you've raised an important point. I did start to wonder what I could trust. The science journalism portions of the book struck me as well researched and reported. I'm fairly sure Felt only gave herself optic license when trying to portray Tharp's inner life. But there's another problem. I'm not a scientist. There's a good chance I misinterpreted or oversimplified. It would have been helpful to me if Felt had found a couple of currently working oceanographers (sorry about the pun) to refer to throughout as guides to Tharp and Heezen's work and tell us how well it's held up.

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