Book of the Month
Author: Caroline Criado Perez
Reviewer: Kaya Wilson
Invisible Women by Caroline Criado Perez explores how data bias affects our daily lives, and the world unearthed in it is best summarised by her chapter 'One size fits men'. Perez describes a world designed for the default male, which is blind to sex differences that affect half the population. These differences range from the inconvenience of shivering in a cold office designed for male body temperatures to the deadly, whereby seatbelts are tested on 'male' dummies, leading to poor effectiveness on women who are 17% more likely to die in car accidents. The book is comprehensive with all spheres life covered from the workplace, to the home, to warzones. It is data-heavy, with statistics littering most pages and citations taking up a fifth of the book, but the writing has an entertaining clarity that keeps the density at bay. Perez's scientific merit was rewarded when Invisible Women won the UK's Royal Society science book prize in 2019.
It is a damning read, that lays bare the neglect of our society towards half the population, as well as the unjust expectations placed on women. Even regions with admirable gender equity show the disparity of care responsibilities in studies such as that on the recovery outcomes of heart surgery in Scandinavia: Single women recover faster than women partnered with men, as their care responsibilities deny them rest. Men partnered with women recover fastest of all. These are the divisions of care that have become so apparent during the COVID pandemic are just an amplification of the experiences of women during Ebola or other SARS outbreaks described in Invisible Women, whereby women shouldered the majority of care of the sick, thereby falling ill at increased rates.
The book is relevant and undeniable to all and makes a hefty, overdue case for re-addressing the problems of the world through a targeted lens of sex-disaggregated data.
Previous Book Reviews
Journey Into Dreamtime
Author: Munya Andrews
Reviewer: Kriton Glenn
Ever find yourself nodding – indicating that you understand the question but not really having an inkling what the answer is, particularly when topics like Dreamtime, scar trees, Totems, song lines, skin groups or the Rainbow serpent are mentioned? Well the book, 'Journey into Dreamtime' by Aunty Munya Andrews will help you with this.
This book is really an introductory guide to understanding connection to land, Aboriginal spirituality and philosophy. Aunty Munya is a Bardi lady (Dampier Peninsular WA) with an extensive education from both the traditional Aboriginal elders and Australian universities. While being a solicitor and barrister, she is sensitive to cultural rituals, including bush medicine, and she encourages the readers to observe and immerse themselves in nature's cycles.
We are invited to go on a journey to walk in the footsteps of Ancestors and to build an awareness of the interrelationships in nature respectful conduct in cultural lands and discover what it truly means to belong.
The distinct packages of information in the book make it easy to pick up and capture a slice of living culture, learn the difference between Lore and Law, and the similarities in symbology and historical structure. At the end of each chapter the reader is asked to dig deep and reflect, to see if the information presented affects our thinking and adds to our existing knowledge.
This is a gentle yet powerful book, easy to read and creates an enjoyable learning atmosphere. The reader is given opportunities to develop a deeper understanding of the practical implications of working on the land and the spiritual aspects that help govern Aboriginal life.
A Memory of Ice
Author: Elizabeth Truswell
Reviewer: Alix Post
"The ship left Fremantle in a warm dusk. I grew up mostly in Perth, so the local landscape was a familiar one. It was strange, and exciting, to feel the throb of the ship as it moved down the harbour, past the rocky groynes, and then turned hard left.
There was nothing in front of us then but a huge expanse of ocean, and the coast of Antarctica."
And so begins Elizabeth Truswell's account of her experience aboard the Glomar Challenger, embarking on the first ever Deep Sea Drilling Program expedition to the Antarctic margin. We can already sense the wonder and excitement as Truswell, then a young scientist, sets sail for 69 days of discovery. Their brief included determining the age and pace of seafloor spreading along the Southeast Indian Ridge and unravelling the climatic, ecological and oceanographic history of the Antarctic. So just a few small tasks to focus their days! Prior to this voyage it was generally accepted that the Antarctic had first grown an extensive ice cap approximately 3-5 million years ago. The findings during this voyage helped to rewrite the history of the Antarctic ice sheet.
Truswell presents the science throughout this book with a general audience in mind, but the narrative is so much richer than the scientific discoveries made during this particular voyage. The story is framed around Truswell's personal diary entries recording her experiences of the voyage, and is woven together with the history of previous voyages as their voyages 'cross paths'. This creates a rich history of exploration, scientific understanding and discovery. The Glomar Challenger sets sail from Fremantle 100 years (minus one day) after its namesake vessel, the HMS Challenger, left Portsmouth, England. The HMS Challenger was embarking on a four year journey undertaking the world's first ever voyage dedicated wholly to science, and focussed on dredging and sampling the deep oceans. One hundred years later, the equipment is far more advanced, but there is still much to discover from the deep sea. During investigation of the Southeast Indian Ridge to the south, the Glomar Challenger crosses the path of the HMS Resolution commanded by James Cook just over 200 years earlier. The Resolution was circumnavigating the Southern Ocean in search of the Great South Land. As the Glomar Challenger nears the coast of Antarctica, the geographic names provide the context for segues into the stories and discoveries of the early Antarctic explorers, naturalists and artists.
One story of particular significance is that of Joseph Hooker. He was a young botanist on the voyages led by James Clark Ross to the Ross Sea during 1839 – 1843. It was his work on the surrounding southern continents and islands that first suggested that there were common elements among plants growing at high southern latitudes that could be best explained by the previous existence of a single landmass near the pole, forming a common source for the plants. The key piece in the jigsaw puzzle connecting the botanic history of India, Australia, South America and South Africa was only discovered in 1914 when leaf fragments collected during Scott's ill-fated Antarctic expedition were identified as Glossopteris, providing the first tangible evidence of a supercontinent across the south polar regions. The rich botanical history of Antarctica becomes central to Truswell's work on the Glomar Challenger, providing new understanding of the climatic evolution of Antarctica, and the growth of the Antarctic ice sheet. The drill cores collected during this voyage ultimately pushed back the accepted timing for the growth of the Antarctic ice sheet by more than 20 million years.
Elizabeth Truswell will be familiar to many at GA and within the Geoscience community. A pioneering scientist and accomplished artist, one of her paintings hangs in the GA lobby and depicts her personal response to the 2003 Canberra bushfires. She also has the honour of having a GA WIFI network named after her! This book provides a glimpse into her early scientific career, before she rose to eminence as a fellow of the Australian Academy of Science, before she was GA's Chief Research Scientist for seven years during the 1990s, before she became a world leader in Antarctic palynology and before she gained a degree in visual arts, working at the interface between science and art. It's a privilege to be taken on part of her journey with her through A Memory of Ice.
When Peace Comes
Author: Sir Herbert Gepp
Reviewer: Chris Nelson
This book was a lucky find at the last Lifeline Booksale. In a long row of Australiana, I recognised the surname on its spine, and decided to take a closer look. I was delighted to find that it was inscribed on the front flyleaf, to Sir Thomas Gordon, a Director in the same wartime government department as the Mineral Resources Survey led by Harold Raggatt. (After the war the Survey would become the Bureau of Mineral Resources.) The inscription tells us a little of Gepp, too – he had been knighted five years before Gordon, but was too modest to use 'Sir' as part of his own signature.
So, who was Herbert Gepp and why is this book of interest? Gepp was born into an impoverished family in Adelaide in 1877. He earned a scholarship to finish college but could not afford university until he had worked a while as a junior chemist in a Melbourne explosives factory. A remarkable career followed, as an innovative metallurgist and industrial manager (with enlightened views on the welfare of workers), President of the Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy, a public servant and member (or head) of several Royal Commissions, and an influential promoter of the role of science in industry and agriculture. When Peace Comes was his second collection of public addresses and published essays, after Democracy's Danger (1939). It must have been popular, as the second edition was released just a month after the first.
Given this background and the time of writing, it is not surprising that When Peace Comes is divided into two related themes: War and Reconstruction. The breadth of specific topics, however, is wider than one might expect: national defence, industry, industrial relations, post-war planning, certainly, but also education, migration, nutrition, natural resources, and public relations. Yes, some of the chapters are dry and some phrases reflect now dated societal norms (eg. "no population can thrive unless the men have their women with them", p.126*); but other passages resonate just as strongly today, in the context of the current global situation, as they must have during the war:
"If the people of Australia are to be asked to face an entire reorganization of their everyday lives and liberty and a drastic rearrangement of their purses, they should also be given an opportunity to rearrange their minds beforehand… It is necessary to warn the whole of this democracy that the actions being taken and projected are for the benefit of the whole community."(From "The Defence of Australia", first published in The Sydney Morning Herald, 11 November 1938.)
The longest chapter of the book will likely hold the greatest interest to any readers at Geoscience Australia. "Exploring the Wealth of the Far North" highlights the work of the Aerial Geological and Geophysical Survey of North Australia, the first large-scale collaboration between Commonwealth and State governments (W.A. and Queensland). Conceived and led by Gepp, the aim of AGGSNA was to determine the mineral potential of the continent above 22°S by utilising aerial mapping and the new science of geophysics.
Gepp's writing and public relations skills explain the survey's goals, operations and long-term benefits very well. Adopting first-person, he also enlivens sections of this chapter with an account of how a party flying between Tennant Creek and The Granites wound up having to risk a landing in spinifex grass near Lake Mackay. He goes on to explains how their technical knowledge and skills of improvisation allowed them to build a distillery to collect fresh water, erect a radio mast to stay in touch with the world, and generally stay alive and comfortable until rescue trucks arrived 10 days later. It is an engaging way to complete the chapter, and was a clever way to demonstrate the value of science and resilience in times of great threat.
Physiography of Victoria: An Introduction to Geomorphology
Author: E. Sherbon Hills
Reviewer: Steve Hill
It's an exciting privilege to be able to step back in time, into the scientific era of geographical discovery and early scientific connection to a new land. This drives my romance with Hills' Physiography of Victoria.
In many ways, there is no better person than Hills to lead us on that journey through his benchmark book (with its remarkable – for such a parochial scientific publication - five editions between 1940 and 1975). Hills has an impeccable scientific background and pedigree that included leading Australia's quest for better geographical information during and immediately after WW2. This included the construction of the plaster relief model of Australia, that effectively became a proto-DEM of our continent (part of this model is shown on p.277, but it is also on display on the wall of the Fritz Loewe Theatre in the Earth Sciences Building at the University of Melbourne). Construction of this relief model commenced while Hills was performing military service with the North Australia Observer Unit, in recognition of the lack of topographic data and the key strategic need for it at that time. It shows his deep appreciation for topography, landform and landscape, at detailed, continental and planetary scales. In this book he combines that background with his insights on geology, biota, climate and people, particularly for the state of Victoria. I wonder what Hills would make of the data and technology that we now have available to us in Geoscience Australia, and how this may have enhanced his account (I feel he covers this a bit in the book's preface where he explains the value of "competent authorities" providing distilled accounts of the already voluminous literature and data).
"Physiography", even in the 1975 author's preface, was acknowledged as an outdated term, but was retained in the book's title largely because it encapsulates a greater Earth System definition than geomorphology, which tends to have its foundations more in geology. His approach was truly multi-disciplinary, rather than what he describes as the "over-narrow conceptual limits assigned to scientific disciplines", and in many ways aligns well with Geoscience Australia's concept of "geoscience" in its broadest sense.
The book takes a traditional journey through the subject of geomorphology ranging from: Earth structure; weathering and soil development and into process-driven themes such as streams, arid landforms, glaciation, faulting, volcanoes, coasts. What makes this book most appealing is that it is largely parochial, with an emphasis on local Victorian or Australian examples. A map, block diagram, photo or text description therefore inspires an investigatory trip into the local countryside or the next camping adventure. The summary chapter on Victorian physiography caps off this approach, with the final chapter perhaps the most inspiring and ahead of its time, with its recognition of the importance of humans on landscape development.
The book has been a constant companion of mine since I first studied geology, physical geography and botany at the University of Melbourne. I confess to having a bit of a (now not so secret) passion for collecting previous editions of this book from secondhand book shops, as well as trying to reconstruct many of the book's photographs to allow for comparisons with contemporary times. Every time I pick up this book I find something different and engaging, even if it's just some of the author's quirkiness, such as the final photo by University of Melbourne geology professor, E.W. Skeats, with the caption, "So passes worldly glory". I have undoubtedly spent too long staring at the eye-bending upside down Figure IX-39, on p. 229. I thoroughly recommend at least a look at this book, particularly if you are planning travels in Victoria or have some familiarity with its landscapes.
Quaternary Sea-Level Changes: A Global Perspective
Author: Colin V. Murray-Wallace and Colin D. Woodroffe
Reviewer: Tony Nicholas
One of the big scientific topics at the moment is the potential for sea level rise, and there are a number of sub-topics to this subject, including for example what happens when coastal areas become permanently inundated with the sea. I spent my first 18 years of life growing up on the beaches of two northern hemisphere ports, and on the sea between them. The question of what happens when the sea rises has always been on my mind. At the boots on the ground scale we do not really have detailed answers to many of the questions associated with sea level rise, but from the sedimentary record, particularly that of the Quaternary – the interval of recent ice ages, we know that sea level has oscillated many times over the past 2.6 million years and we are able to learn from questioning this record what happens when the sea rises.
Quaternary Sea-Level Changes is authored by two eminent Australian scientists who have dedicated their careers to finding and sharing the knowledge of sea level change, and to passing on this knowledge by teaching a very large cohort of students, of which I am one. A number of scientists working at GA have in the past and continue to collaborate with these experts of the marine geological realm. I recommend the book because it is a key guide that I use in my endeavours to understand the science of past and potential sea-levels, and the sedimentary record.
Quaternary Sea-Level Changes summarises the knowledge of the science of sea level change and the associated climate changes that have occurred during the past 2.6 million years, examines the global drivers of these events, and puts new objectivity on this topic as it is written from a southern hemisphere perspective. I heartily recommend it to any and every one with an interest in beaches, the sea and the sedimentary record of our world.
Author: Marcia Bjornerud
Reviewer: Chris Nelson
Given her profession, her view of time past is, naturally, very long indeed – the entire history of the Earth. However, Bjornerud's aim with Timefulness is to address a present-day "pervasive, stubborn and dangerous temporal illiteracy in our society." Dangerous? Very. It even gave her the subtitle of her book: How thinking like a geologist can help save the world.
In the first of just six chapters, Bjornerud discusses her motivation for writing the book, and gives examples of temporal illiteracy and its consequences. The next four chapters give concise accounts of how the geological timescale has been developed (from the fossil record through to isotope geochemistry); the durations, rates and recurrence intervals of geologic processes (tectonics, erosion, etc.); the evolution of Earth's atmosphere (particularly, the rates of change of its composition during dramatic environmental changes and mass extinctions); and climate change considered across the Pleistocene (Ice Age), Holocene (when human civilizations began) and the current Anthropocene (when human activities have had significant impacts on Earth's ecosystems).
This may sound like a difficult read for those who haven't studied geology, but Bjornerud's target is a lay audience and she keeps her readers' interest by her enthusiasm for her subject, a regular use of metaphors from everyday life, and scattered anecdotes illustrating personal epiphanies (eg., pp.126-128), or her inclusive approach. (In one instance, she notes "that one person almost single-handedly created the first maps of two-thirds of the planet" before introducing Marie Tharp, the only female in a post-war team of graduate students using sonar to determine the depth of the oceans. By creating three-dimensional relief maps of their soundings, Tharp revealed the ocean basins to the world and recognised seafloor spreading a decade before the first published paper on the topic.)
In her final chapter, "Timefulness: Utopian and scientific" Bjornerud takes a different tack as she "looks to the geologic future and outlines ideas for building a more robust, enlightened, time-literate society that is able to make decisions on intergenerational timescales". Given the era of highly polarised views and alternate truths we find ourselves in today, this is an ambitious goal. How well Bjornerud achieves it, I leave as an exercise for the reader.
The Science of Communicating Science
Author: Craig Cormick
Reviewer: Rachel Przeslawski
According to this book, storytelling is a sharp hook to get people interested in what you've got to say (so are metaphors). Here it goes…
During my undergraduate years, I took courses in both the humanities and sciences with the aim of getting a double major. This was America in the 90s, and a liberal arts education was stock standard for many universities. When it seemed I might actually pull this off, my academic supervisor called me into his office to have a candid chat about being taken seriously as a scientist. He recommended that I stop working on my English course and instead just complete the Biology one. This would show everyone that I was committed to science and not distracted by communication and 'softer' skills. I felt deflated. To me, the combination of science and communication seemed natural, even ideal. However, as I progressed in my career, there was a shift in which scientists were expected to be able communicate outside their own bubbles. Fast forward 20+ years, and we now have a world where science and communication go hand-in-hand (this book also recommends subtle but logical transitions).
Craig Cormick launched his new book The Science of Communicating Science at the ANU in November. Written from an Australian perspective (with the associated Australian irreverence), the book synthesises hundreds of academic research papers on science communication in a really digestible and engaging manner. This is an evidence-based book that every scientist and communicator should read… it doesn't just explain how to do something; it explains why we should do it. The normal communication commandments are certainly in here (tell a story, keep it simple, know your audience, define your purpose), but there's also science-specific advice too. Things like finding the balance between framing your story but still maintaining trust and credibility, communicating your science to policymakers, understanding how beliefs affect a person's engagement with evidence, and accounting for risk and uncertainty. And of course, there's a chapter on social media… always social media (@GeoAusLibrary, #LibrariesAreAwesome).
Ultimately, this is a book about how to influence people and make an impact with your science, complete with daggy dad jokes and poorly-drawn cartoons. Isn't that what we all want?
We welcome reviews from outside of GA on books related to Earth Science and related subjects to firstname.lastname@example.org.