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The Planet Earth by Scientific American   (2013-02-10)

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by wppalmer

Review of The Planet Earth by Scientific American

CITATION: Scientific American (Editors, Gerard Piel and Dennis Flanagan) (1957). The Planet Earth. New York: Simon and Schuster. (A Scientific American book) (Boxed set of five)

REVIEWER: Dr W. P. Palmer

This book is one of a boxed set of five volumes which consists of Lives in Science, New Chemistry, Plant Life, The Planet Earth and The Universe. The Scientific American published five other scientific titles that are not currently being reviewed. It is hoped that the detailed contents of each volume which are included will assist historians of science.

`The Planet Earth' consists of a series of articles, published in the Scientific American prior to 1957 written by scientists in their own research areas, who are writing for the lay-person. The general editors were Gerard Piel and Dennis Flanagan and the book is a substantial one of 206 pages in length, without photographs, but containing some diagrams and tables. The value of this collection is that all the articles were written in the mid fifties more than half a century ago. Our understanding of our own planet has changed rapidly, so this collection provides an excellent historical record of the views of geologists and other earth scientists in the 1950s. The contents of the book are detailed and include the descriptors of each chapter:

The origin of the earth by Harold C. Urey

The earth was formed at about the same time as the sun in the condensation of an immense cloud of inchoate dust and gas. This, at least, is the story told by the dust cloud theory, the theory that squares best with the observations of astronomy and geology, at once explaining the craters on the moon and the age of the rocks in the earth.

The interior of the earth by K. E. Bullen
The earth's heat by A. E. Benfield
The earth's magnetism by S. K. Runcorn

The depths of the earth are less accessible to observation than the moon. Yet we have an increasingly detailed picture of the concentric spheres of the mantle and core. This work lays a secure basis for speculation about the forces that build mountains and set up the planet's magnetic field.


The shape of the earth by Weikko A. Heiskanen
The crust of the earth by Walter H. Bucher
The trenches of the pacific by Robert L. Fisher and Roger Revelle

The "round" earth is not only flattened at its poles but is irregularly misshapen, like a somewhat battered orange. The basement rock is warped in basins and swells beneath the surfaces of oceans and continents. This grand-scale topography, related to what we know and can surmise about the dynamics of the interior, is pointing to new understanding of how mountains rise and continents extend their shores.


Glaciers by William O. Field
The circulation of the oceans by Walter H. Munk

During the International Geophysical Year scientists may succeed in placing one or more man-made moons on orbits around the earth. From these tiny observatories, instruments will make the first readings on the universe outside the obscuring and protecting atmosphere.

The circulation of the atmosphere by Harry Wexler
The ionosphere by T. N. Gautier
Aurora and airglow by C. T. Elvey and Franklin E. Roach
Whistlers by L. R. O. Storey

The seeming unpredictability of the weather is a local aspect of a highly predictable system of circulation that stirs the great enveloping ocean of the atmosphere. There is an intimate connection, moreover, between the weather at the ground and events at very high altitude where our atmosphere interacts with forces and particles from outer space.

The satellite project by Homer E. Newell, Jr.

The distribution of water as between the solid and the liquid phase heavily conditions the climate and topography of the globe. In the liquid phase, in the oceans, it has a circulation pattern much like that of the atmosphere, being driven by much the same forces.


The contents of the book, listed above, provides historians of science with a basic description of scientist's knowledge of planet earth in the 1950s

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