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University of Iowa News Release


July 26, 2007

UI Press Releases Biography Of First U.S. Chief Geologist Aug. 20

The life of Grove Karl Gilbert, first chief geologist of the U.S. Geological Survey, spanned the heroic age of American geology during the time that this young earth science was being intellectually and institutionally defined. By the time of Gilbert's death in 1918 at age 75, geology ranked as one of the outstanding traditions in American science, with a magnificent history of exploration.

Stephen Pyne's biography, "Grove Karl Gilbert: A Great Engine of Research," will become available from the University of Iowa Press on Aug. 20. The book is available directly from the UI Press by phone at 800-621-2736 or online at In the United Kingdom, Europe, the Middle East, or Africa, contact Eurospan by phone, +44 (0) 1767 604972, by fax +44 (0) 1767 601640, or online at

As Pyne reveals in his biography, few other scientists can match Gilbert's range of talents. A premier explorer of the American West who made major contributions to the cascade of new discoveries about the Earth, Gilbert described two novel forms of mountain building, invented the concept of the graded stream, inaugurated modern theories of lunar origin, helped found the science of geomorphology, and added to the canon of conservation literature.

The man who wrote that "happiness is sitting under a tent with walls uplifted, just after a brief shower" answered the larger questions of the Earth in ways that have become classics of his science.

Gilbert knew most of geology's grand figures -- including John Wesley Powell, Clarence Dutton and Clarence King -- and Pyne's chronicle of the unconventional Gilbert is counterpointed with sketches of these prominent scientists.

Pyne is Regents Professor and historian in the School of Life Sciences at Arizona State University and the author of many books and articles on the history of exploration and environmental history. In 1995 he was awarded the Robert Kirsch Award from the Los Angeles Times for his body-of-work contribution to American letters.

His book is part of the UI Press American Land and Life Series, edited by Wayne Franklin of the University of Connecticut.

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