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Alfred Wegener

Alfred Wegener: Science, Exploration, and the Theory of Continental Drift
, 696 pages

28 b&w photos, 42 line drawings

October 2018



Availability Text

Pre-order. Will ship in September 2018

Alfred Wegener

Science, Exploration, and the Theory of Continental Drift

Updated Bibliography

Alfred Wegener aimed to create a revolution in science which would rank with those of Nicolaus Copernicus and Charles Darwin. After completing his doctoral studies in astronomy at the University of Berlin, Wegener found himself drawn not to observatory science but to rugged fieldwork, which allowed him to cross into a variety of disciplines. The author of the theory of continental drift—the direct ancestor of the modern theory of plate tectonics and one of the key scientific concepts of the past century—Wegener also made major contributions to geology, geophysics, astronomy, geodesy, atmospheric physics, meteorology, and glaciology. Remarkably, he completed this pathbreaking work while grappling variously with financial difficulty, war, economic depression, scientific isolation, illness, and injury. He ultimately died of overexertion on a journey to probe the Greenland icecap and calculate its rate of drift.

This landmark biography—the only complete account of the scientist’s fascinating life and work—is the culmination of more than twenty years of intensive research. In Alfred Wegener, Mott T. Greene places Wegener’s upbringing and theoretical advances in earth science in the context of his brilliantly eclectic career, bringing Wegener to life by analyzing his published scientific work, delving into all of his surviving letters and journals, and tracing both his passionate commitment to science and his thrilling experiences as a polar explorer, a military officer during World War I, and a world-record–setting balloonist.

In the course of writing this book, Greene traveled to every place that Alfred Wegener lived and worked—to Berlin, rural Brandenburg, Marburg, Hamburg, and Heidelberg in Germany; to Innsbruck and Graz in Austria; and onto the Greenland icecap. He also pored over archives in Copenhagen, Munich, Marburg, Graz, and Bremerhaven, where the majority of Wegener’s surviving papers are found.

Written with great immediacy and descriptive power, Alfred Wegener is a powerful portrait of the scientist who pioneered the modern concept of unified Earth science. The book should be of interest not only to earth scientists, students of polar travel and exploration, and historians but to all readers who are fascinated by the great minds of science.

Mott T. Greene is an affiliate professor of earth and space sciences at the University of Washington and John Magee Professor of Science and Values emeritus at the University of Puget Sound. He is the author of Geology in the Nineteenth Century: Changing View of a Changing World and Natural Knowledge in Preclassical Antiquity.

"A magnificent, definitive, and indefatigable tribute to an indefatigable man... Greene beautifully puts the record straight with a portrait of Wegener as a respected 'cosmic physicist.'"

"In this book Mott Greene has ably explained every detail of Wegener’s ideas and research and has created a well-deserved tribute to one of the most creative and energetic scientists of the twentieth century."

"A remarkably detailed and wonderfully well-written biography of Alfred Wegener... Includes insight into what makes a person such as Wegener a genius—what it was about him that led to an ability to create such a novel and correct view of nature.  That is the true value of this exceptional book, to be able to feel as though one can literally experience the scientific genius that was Alfred Wegener."

"Mott Greene's magnificent book reveals deep themes and connections to Wegener's many fruitful ideas and extraordinary scientific accomplishments, even as it examines the many distinct dimensions of thought and action that emanated from Wegener's apparently heedless embrace of all manner of risk-taking... Anglophone readers, especially, have never had such an opportunity to understand Alfred Wegener."

"This biography is clearly a labor of love for its author. Greene worked on this book for more than twenty years, conducting archival research, visiting libraries and collections across Europe and in North America, and conducting interviews with key figures, including Wegener’s surviving family members... I came away with a renewed appreciation for Wegener as an engaged scientist who refused to let the boundaries of academic disciplines dampen his enthusiasm for scientific endeavor."

"Mott Greene spent twenty years working on Alfred Wegener, a masterpiece in which he revolutionizes our understanding of Wegener, just as Wegener revolutionized our understanding of the Earth... a brilliant and compelling account of the life of one of the most talented, versatile, and remarkable scientists in history."

"Greene has created an important work that gives context to one of the most recent paradigm shifts in science... Greene tells the story with enough documentation to keep the story grounded in reality, yet uses his prose to maintain interest even after the 'eureka' moment, even after Wegener’s death on the ice."

"The definitive biography of Alfred Wegener—and a great read."

"Twenty-five years in the making, Greene's terrific biography of Wegener has absolutely no competition: it is a giant leap forward in our knowledge of Wegener's views and life. Readers will be immediately drawn into Wegener's life by the fresh, direct, and accessible writing. This is a must-read for anyone interested in the history of earth science, meteorology, aerology, atmospheric physics, and twentieth-century science."

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