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Reef Madness
Charles Darwin, Alexander Agassiz, and the Meaning of Coral
Written by David Dobbs

Reef Madness
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Category: Nature - Marine Life
Imprint: Pantheon
Format: Hardcover
Pub Date: January 2005
Price: $25.00
Can. Price: $35.00
ISBN: 978-0-375-42161-7 (0-375-42161-0)
Pages: 320
Also available as an eBook.



 
The controversy over the origin of coral reef held a critical place in 19th century science as a problem involving both how the earth was formed and how science should be practiced. No one was more sensitive to this issue than Alexander Agassiz, for whom the coral reef problem held singularly personal associations. As a boy growing up in Switzerland, Alexander had watched as his father, Louis Agassiz—who had enjoyed a fame no scientist had known since Franklin—fell from grace in the 1860's, when he undertook a decade-long battle with Charles Darwin that ended in defeat.

Obsessed with his father's fate and determined to avoid the limelight his father so craved, Alex turned his mind to the geology of coral reefs, a puzzle to scientists for more than a century. Seeking to defeat speculation with facts, Alex—a private, brooding man—began one of the most extensive field investigations yet undertaken. For 30 years, spending his fortune, he sailed tens of thousands of miles, visiting every significant coral reef formation on the globe: Hawaii, the Galapagos, Tahiti, Fiji, the great strands of coral in the Pacific--and in doing so layed the groundwork for modern oceanography.

In the end, Agassiz confronts the most confounding of puzzles—how can we trust what we know?—in a book that explores the conflict between the emotional and circumstantial complexities of ourselves and the demands of pure research and scholarship.





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