EG -- Physics

Biographisches Lexikon zur Geschichte der Geophysik [Biographical Dictionary of the History of Geophysics]. Walter Kertz. Ed. Karl-Heinz Glaßmeier and Ruth Kertz. Braunschweig: Braunschweigische Wissenschaftliche Gesellschaft, 2002. 384 p. ill. 21 cm. ISBN 3-934656-10-2: EUR 15 [04-1-387]

This volume was published from the author’s estate as a biographical supplement to Geschichte der Geophysik, which was also published posthumously (1999). In the brief foreword the editors owe us more exact selection criteria than just the mere declaration that Kertz did not want “simply to put together heroic stories, but rather to portray as human beings the scholarly main characters and supporting actors on the stage of the history of geophysics.” This broadens the sample unreasonably. Perusing the personal name index for the 210 biographies, one finds names not usually associated with geophysics, for example Comenius, Darwin, Columbus, and Voltaire. However, universally learned persons like Goethe, both Humboldts, or Lomonosov (but not many mathematicians), are more logically included. The biographies range from half a page to five pages in length, averaging a mere two pages each. And because each biography begins on a new page, count on a lot of blank paper. Most biographies are illustrated with a portrait, and much of the biographical information is scant or trivial, often not illustrating what the cited person has to do with the field of geophysics (e.g., the entry for F. Bacon). The Dictionary of Scientific Biography is cited sometimes, while J.C. Poggendorff’s Biographisch-literarisches Handwörterbuch der exakten Naturwissenschaften [Bio-bibliographic Handbook of the Physical Sciences; see RREO 95-4-646] seems on principle not to have been utilized. One would do better to consult Kertz’s original Geschichte der Geophysik, another standard biographical encyclopedia of the natural sciences, or even a large general encyclopedia.

The editors state that “this biographical dictionary is a living, breathing publication that in the coming years will be continually updated and expanded on the internet.” The internet version of this work can be found at http://www.geophys.tu-bs.de/geschichte/index1.html. The editors invite interested persons to submit future contributions to the dictionary to h.glassmeier@tu-bs.de. [sh/jmw]

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