Popular Science Monthly/Volume 12/February 1878/Literary Notices

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search


Elements of Geology: A Text-Book for Colleges and for the General Reader. By Joseph Le Conte, Professor of Geology in the University of California. 903 Illustrations. New York: D. Appleton & Co. Pp. 588. Price, $4.

Sir John Herschel has somewhere remarked that, in the vastness and sublimity of its leading ideas, geology is the rival of astronomy; for, as the latter has to deal with immeasurable space, the former opens the conception of immeasurable time. There is a splendor about the science of celestial phenomena that is, of course, unrivaled; but there is a deep fascination about the history of the development of our planet that comes from the immensity of the periods involved, the stupendous scale of the changes that have taken place, and the practical results derived from our knowledge of the constitution of the earth's crust.

These noble elements of the science must ever give geology a powerful claim upon the attention of cultivated people, and they have gained for it, and will secure to it, a leading place in all our higher courses of study. But scientific education is yet in its infancy, and its incorporation with the traditional culture has thus far been very much a matter of accident, caprice, or indifference. Geology has perhaps suffered more than any other science from the unsettled state of the relations between scientific and literary culture. Not that the subject has been neglected, but it has been treated without judicious and adequate preparation. We have had admirable elaborate works for the information of professional geologists and the training of students who design to become geologists; and we have had excellent rudimentary books for introducing beginners to the subject and for use in ordinary schools. But a good college text-book of geology has hitherto been wanting. There has been no American work for high-class institutions which treats the subject so as to meet the requirements of intelligent and scholarly people, who yet do not expect to become independent cultivators of geological science. This manifest gap has now been filled by the publication of the work before us, and a careful examination of the volume convinces us that it has been executed with great judgment with reference to the present needs of higher education. In his preface Prof. Le Conte thus states the purpose he had in view in writing the work: "I have attempted to realize what I conceive to be comprised in the word elements as contradistinguished from manual. I have attempted to give a really scientific presentation of all the departments of the wide field of geology, at the same time avoiding too great multiplication of detail. I have desired to make a work which shall be both interesting and profitable to the intelligent general reader, and at the same time a suitable text-book for the higher classes of our colleges. In the selection of material and mode of presentation, I have been guided by long experience as to what it is possible to make interesting to a class of young men, somewhat advanced in general culture and eager for knowledge, but not expecting to become special geologists. In a word, I have tried to give such knowledge as every thoroughly cultured man ought to have, and at the same time is a suitable foundation for the further prosecution of the subject to those who so desire. The work is the substance of a course of lectures to a senior class, organized, compacted, and disencumbered of too much detail by representation for many successive years, and now for the first time reduced to writing."

But, besides preparing a comprehensive text-book, suited to present demands, which was the author's main design, he has also given us a volume of great value as an exposition of the subject, thoroughly up to date. It is well known that geology is one of the most rapidly progressive of the sciences, but in recent years its advances have been very remarkable. Not only are its facts multiplying at an unprecedented rate, through the labors of the increasing multitude of geological observers in all lands, but its progress is to a still greater degree signalized by the light thrown upon it by various other sciences, and by the working out of fundamental principles by which its multitudinous details are organized into more perfect method. The law of evolution is now the key to geology. A vague principle of progress has long been obscurely recognized in geological phenomena, but that principle has now been brought out, amplified, formulated, and established, as the all interpreting law that has governed the unfolding of the globe. Much remains to be done, no doubt, in the elucidation of this grand principle, but its imperfection now becomes a measure of the imperfection of geology itself, and no presentation of that science is any longer possible which does not give prominence to the doctrine of evolution. Prof. Le Conte not only accepts it, but puts it to its proper scientific use, as his volume bears abundant witness, and as he explains in the following words from the preface: "In the historical part, I have found much more difficulty in being scientific without being tiresome, and in being interesting without being superficial and wordy. I have attempted to accomplish this difficult task by making evolution the central idea about which many of the facts are grouped. I have tried to keep this idea in view, as a thread running through the whole history, sometimes very slender—sometimes, indeed, invisible; but reappearing from time to time to give consistency and meaning to the history."

The examples and applications of Prof. Le Conte's work are almost entirely derived from this country, so that the treatise may be properly considered an American geology. This involves no narrowness or incompleteness; for, although science is as wide as Nature, yet the illustrations of geology are necessarily local, and an important point is gained when those are selected which will be most naturally observed by the great mass of students for whom the volume was designed. The region of the Rocky Mountains and the Western portions of the continent, as is well known, have recently yielded the most striking and important contributions to the subject, both in dynamical and structural geology, and in the department of ancient life. Prof. Le Conte's residence in California, for the last few years, has been favorable to the cultivation of this field, of which he has fully availed himself by excursions of observations, and vacation-rambles with parties of students and graduates, through regions especially rich in geological interest. His book contains the results of these personal inquiries, and those of other observers, including the revelations of remarkable fossils by Prof. Marsh and the naturalists who have devoted themselves to paleontological exploration.

The volume is written with great clearness and with admirable judgment in respect to the proportions of space allotted to its multifarious topics. A prime object with the author has been to interest his readers, and for this purpose he has given prominence to principles and subordinated details, so that his work will prove attractive to the general reader as well as to the class-room student. It is profusely and elegantly illustrated, in a style of which the reader will be enabled to judge by referring to the article on "Geysers," in the present number of the Monthly, which is borrowed from the volume. This treatise is by an eminent working geologist, one who knows the subject thoroughly in its latest aspects, and we can commend it without qualification to all who desire an intelligent acquaintance with the science, as fresh, lucid, full, authentic, the result of enthusiastic study and of long experience in the art of teaching mature classes.

Deterioration and Race Education, with Practical Application to the Condition of the People and Industry. By Samuel Royce. New York: Printed by Edward 0. Jenkins, 20 North William Street. Pp. 504. Price, $4.50.

In this book education is considered from a broad, humanitarian point of view, and in connection with the great causes of decay and deterioration that are operating in society. The wealth of facts and materials of all kinds that the author has brought together seems to have proved somewhat embarrassing to him, as he has hardly succeeded in bringing them into close logical method. But he has collected a great deal of interesting material, interspersed with valuable observations and reflections, and the volume is pervaded by a reformatory and progressive spirit. Mr. Royce's chapter on "Classical and Scientific Education" contains much good sense, and his opinions are very decided, as the following passage illustrates: "Emerson says that he has not met in all his travels in America with half a dozen men who could read Plato profitably. This whole Greek and Latin scholarship is an imposture, the writing of miserable verses in these languages included. There is not one teacher in ten who has sufficient knowledge of these languages to derive from them a higher culture. The learned apparatus requisite for their thorough understanding requires the study of a lifetime. Must hundreds of thousands of students in the land throw away their years and opportunities for the sake of a few hundred Latin and Greek roots, which can be learned by any English student with the help of an etymological hand-book in a few weeks, if not days?"

Notes on Leather. By Lieutenant D. A. Lyle.

These "Notes," published by order of the Secretary of War for the use of the Ordnance Department of the U. S. Army, contain a large amount of useful and practical information concerning hides and the manufacture of leather. Sundry fraudulent practices used in tanning are pointed out, and their effects on the leather described. The author does not undertake to give judgment on the comparative merits of oak-tanned and hemlock-tanned leather; it would require an exhaustive series of experiments to decide this question ultimately.

Transactions of the Kansas Academy of Sciences. Topeka: Kansas PublishingHouse. Vol. V. Pp. 75.

Among the papers published in this volume are several natural history catalogues relating to the botany and entomology of Kansas, a meteorological summary for 1876, essays on evidences of ancient forests in Kansas, on river-bluffs, the habits of prairie dogs, the influence of food-selection upon animal life, etc.

The A, B, C, of Finance. By Simon Newcomb, LL. D. New York: Harper & Brothers. Pp. 115. Price, 25 cents.

Prof. Newcomb is an astronomer, and of course mostly interested in the stars, but he finds time to give a portion of his attention to the affairs of his country, and he, moreover, makes a contribution where it is most needed. It is in the field of finance that the nation now needs the greatest help, and we agree with Prof. Newcomb that the popular instruction at present most urgently demanded is in the A, B, C, of financial science. In the miniature form of "Harper's Half-Hour Series" the author has brought out a succession of chapters on "Labor," "Capital," "Wages," "Value," the "Different Kinds of Money," "Public Faith," and the "Lessons of History," which are written in a clear, simple, instructive, and most convincing manner. Such nimble little pocketbooks, pointedly summing up these large subjects, are wanted by the people, and are capable of doing more efficient service than larger books.

Robinson Crusoe's Money: or, The Remarkable Financial Fortunes and Misfortunes of a Remote Island Community. By David A. Wells. New York: Harper & Brothers. Pp. 118. Price, 50 cents.

In this small volume Mr. Wells inculcates the lessons of political economy through a sort of allegorical artifice, in which commercial and financial truths and absurdities are brought out in a dramatic way that is both amusing and instructive. Many who would not like a dry, didactic treatise on economics would be pleasantly beguiled by Mr. Wells's imaginary narration, while the characteristic illustrations, by Nast, will serve to help on both the fun and the logic of the text.

A New Treatise on Steam-Engineering, Physical Properties of Permanent Gases, and of Different Kinds of Vapor. By John W. Nystrom, C. E. New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons. Pp. 188. Price, $1.50.

This book consists of numerous tables, data, and information, which appear to the author to be wanting in the profession, and which have not heretofore been published. Among the topics are horse-power of steam-boilers, chimneys, combustion, properties of fuel, smoke-burning, water-gauges, safety-valves, radiation, steam-boiler explosion, strength of steam-boilers, compression and expansion of air, properties of water and steam, and various other subjects of interest to engineers. The author rejects no less than thirty-eight terms or phrases that have grown up, and come into modern use in mechanical science.

Public Health Reports and Papers. Vol. III. Presented at the Meetings of the American Public Health Association in the Years 1875-1876. New York: Hurd & Houghton. Pp. 241. Price, 4.

Among the most important volumes issued from our press are the reports of the American Public Health Association. They comprise papers on a variety of important topics, connected with the health of the community, by our most eminent sanitarians; and they will be generally found valuable as summing up, and stating in a clear and readable form, the results of long study and well-directed investigation. Among so excellent an array of articles as the present volume furnishes, it seems invidious to discriminate, and in especially commending the papers of Dr. Austin Flint, on "Food in its Relations to Personal and Public Health;" of Prof. Washburn, on "Expert Testimony and the Public Service of Experts;" and of Mr. Charlton Lewis, on "The Influence of Civilization on the Duration of Life," we do not for a moment imply that the other discussions of the volume, all of them on important subjects, are not of equal interest and ability. This series of reports should be found in the libraries of all who take interest in the vital subject of personal and public hygiene.

From Prof. C. V. Riley we have received a reprint of five papers contributed by him to the "Transactions" of the St. Louis Academy of Sciences; their titles are as follows: "Larval Characters and Habits of the Blister Beetles belonging to the Genera Macrobasis and Epicauta;" "On a Remarkable New Genus in Meloidæ;" "Notes on Megathymus yuccæ;" "Remarks on Pronuba yuccasella;" "Differences between Anisopteryx pometaria (Harr.) and Anisopteryx æscularia (W.-V.)."

Annual Report of the Board of Regents of the Smithsonian Institution for the Year 1876. Government Printing-Office, Washington. Pp. 488.

In addition to the report of the secretary, on the operations, expenditures, and conditions of the Institution, this volume contains the following elaborate and important papers. "Eulogy on Gay-Lussac," by M. Arago; "Biographical Sketch of Dom Pedro II., Emperor of Brazil," by Anpriso Fialho; "Kinetic Theories of Gravitation," by Wm. B. Taylor; "The Revolutions of the Crust of the Earth," by Prof. George Pilar; "Ethnology," by Otis T. Mason.

The Religious Feeling, a Study for Faith. By Newman Smyth. New York: Scribner, Armstrong & Co. Pp. 171. Price, $1.25.

This is an earnest, and intended to be a philosophic and liberal, discussion of the modern problems of religious thought in relation to science, positivism, and Darwinian and Spencerian doctrines. It is too brief to have finished up the inquiry; but its issue is thus stated by the author: "The problem of problems, upon which the thought of our time labors, may be reduced in the last analysis to the simple alternative: is man, through whatever intermediate forms he may have descended, the son of God, or is he the unintended product of molecular forces?" It is hardly necessary to say that the writer accepts the former alternative, and vigorously belabors the school of thinkers which he charges with holding the latter opinion.

Sanitary Condition of City and Country Houses. By G. E. Waring, Jr. Pp. 145. Magnetism of Iron Vessels. By F. Rogers. New York: Van Nostrand. Pp. 126. Price, 50 cents each.

The first of these little volumes contains two papers read by Mr. Waring at meetings of the American Health Association, together with the rather voluminous correspondence occasioned by their publication in the American Architect. In this correspondence some of the author's facts and conclusions are criticised by other sanitarians. Mr. Waring's replies to these strictures form a very valuable appendix to the original papers. Of the other volume named above, we need only say that it was originally prepared for a manual designed to be published by the Navy Department. The publication of the manual having been abandoned, the treatise was incorporated into Van Nostrand's "Science Series."

How to use the Microscope. By John Phin. New York: Industrial Publication Co. Pp. 181. Price, 75 cents.

Two years ago we noticed the first edition of this little manual for beginners with the microscope, and now we have to record the appearance of a second edition, fully illustrated and greatly enlarged. Its essential character as an elementary treatise is, however, still rigidly preserved.

Anales del Museo Nacional de México. México: Imprenta de C. Ramiro. Vol. I., Part I. Pp. 40. . With Plate.

This initial number of the "Anales" is devoted mainly to Mexican archæology. The principal paper is a description, by Don Manual Orozco y Berra, of a curious cylindrical monument of stone, the Cuauhxicalli of Tizoc, supposed to be a sacrificial stone employed in human sacrifices. This monument is elaborately engraved with human figures. The second paper is by Dr. G. Mendoza, and describes an Aztec idol of Chinese type, found in a tumulus in the State of Puebla. The third and last paper is a general introduction to the "Paleontology of Mexico," by Mariano Báreena.



Why we Trade and How we Trade, pp. 67; The Silver Question, pp. 47, both by D. A. Wells; The Tariff Question by H. White, pp. 30. New York: Putnam's Sons. 26 cents each.

Rotation of the Earth. By W. L. Walker. New York: S. W. Green. Pp. 64.

The Kabbala, or True Science of Light. By Dr. S. Pancoast. Philadelphia: J. M. Stoddart & Co. Pp. 312. $2.

Transcendentalism. By J. Cook. Boston: J. R. Osgood & Co. Pp. 305. $1.50.

Manual of Heating and Ventilation. By F. Schumann, C. E. New York: Van Nostrand. Pp. 89. $1.50.

Daily Bulletin of the Signal Service, United States Army, for September, 1874.

What was He? or, Jesus in the Light of the Nineteenth Century. By W. Denton. Wellesley, Mass.: The author. Pp. 259. Paper, $1: cloth, $1.25.

The Spiritual Aspect Nature presents. By J. Wilmshurst. Boston: Colby & Rich. Pp. 151. 35 cents.

The Silver Country of the Southwest. By A.

D. Anderson. New York: Putnam's Sons. Pp. 221. $1.75.

Mechanics of Ventilation. By G. W. Rafter, C. E. New York: Van Nostrand. Pp. 96. 50 cents.

Golden Songs of Great Poets. New York: Sarah H. Leggett. Profusely illustrated. $5.

The Action of Medicines. By Dr. I. Ott. Philadelphia: Lindsay & Blakiston. Pp. 168. $2.

Notes from Chemical Laboratory of Johns Hopkins University. Nos. 4-8.

Mansill's Almanac of Planetary Meteorology. 1878. Rock Island, III.: R. Crampton. Pp. 60. 50 cents.

Ueber die als echt nachweisbaren Assonanzen der Chanson de Roland. Von A. Rambeau. Pp. 38.

Are the Indians dying out? Washington: Government Printing-Office. Pp. 42.

Mound-making Ants of the Alleghenies. By Rev. H. C. McCook. Philadelphia: Sold by J. A. Black. With Plates. Pp. 43. 75 cents.

Relation of Moisture in Air to Health. By R. Briggs. Philadelphia: W. P. Kildare print Pp. 33.

Papers read before the Pi Eta Scientific Society. Troy: The Society. Pp. 40.

The Preliminary Arctic Expedition. Washington: Beresford print. Pp. 32.

Report of the Asylum at Walnut Hill, Hartford, Conn. Pp. 20.

The Heavenly Bodies; How they move. By D. McDonald. Montreal: Gazette print. Pp. 45.

Immortality. By W. Bross. Chicago: Jansen, McClurg & Co. Pp. 8.

Direct Process of making Iron and Steel. By C. M. Du Puy, C. E. Philadelphia: W. P. Kildare print. Pp. 12.

Medical Jurisprudence of Insanity. By Dr. H. Howard. Montreal: Gazette print. Pp. 13.

Every Saturday (weekly). Buffalo: D. Welch. Pp. 12.

A Decimal Gauge for Sheet-Metal and Wire. By R. Briggs. C. E. Philadelphia: W. P. Kildare print. Pp. 13.