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The men of rock

Richard Fortey has written an elegant and informative biography of life on earth. But his preference for the rock over the intriguing idea lets him down

By Oliver Morton   October 1997

In 1988, the Royal Society held a meeting on geology and evolution at Carlton House Terrace. Many eminent British palaeontologists turned up; so did a small number of illustrious Americans, only to be fallen upon, mocked and debagged in an academic catfight. The basis for the unpleasantness was a feeling that the Americans were engaged in a sort of theoretical imperialism, importing suspect ideas from other disciplines and not paying enough respect to the encrusted, perhaps even procrustean, traditions beloved of the Brits. Hence, one of the British speakers pointed to a slide of a large outcrop and said: “This,…

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