Book Review — Earth (Object Lessons)

Earth (Object Lessons) by Jeffrey Jerome Cohen and Lindy Elkins – Tanton is a discussion of the planet we live on. Cohen is Professor of English and Director of GW Medieval and Early Modern Studies Institute at George Washington University, USA. He is the author or editor of 11 books, including Stone: An Ecology of the Inhuman, Elemental Ecocriticism: Thinking with Earth, Air, Water, and Fire. Elkins-Tanton earned her B.S. in Geology, M.S. in geochemistry, and Ph.D. in geology, all from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She was a professor at MIT and she was recruited to the directorship position at Carnegie’s Department of Terrestrial Magnetism. Her appointment as Director of ASU’s School of Earth and Space Science took effect on July 1, 2014.

Bloomsbury Academic presents an interesting twist in their presentation of the earth in the object lesson series. In this series, an English (Ph.D.) medievalist and a geologist discuss earth through letters, meetings, Skype, and email. In another twist, the two people had not previously met and in what may be a surprise to some the woman is the scientist and the man the English professor. What evolves through the correspondence is a unique mix of science and the humanities as they merge with the human element.

The conversations tend to compliment each person’s field. The science is detailed enough for a general discussion and the humanities add to the physical and emotional experience of the observable earth. There are exchanges of ideas in explanations of science, history, and folklore.  The two professors develop a friendship that grows throughout the exchanges.  The famous photograph, The Blue Marble, from the Apollo 17 mission, is mention more than a few times. It is reminiscent of astronauts impressions of earth from space– no national borders and a fragile oasis. To the nonscientists, there is a beauty captured in the image and a feeling of awe.

Image result for blue marble photo

Perhaps the point of this object lesson is that we all share this earth and we are all different but we share common experiences.   There are points of interest to both science-minded and the art-minded. Something to learn for everyone and a reminder for all.  It is a book as much about earth as it is of human understanding of the plant both through science and art.  A nice experiment in writing and presenting information.



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