Cover image for Alfred Wegener  science, exploration, and the theory of continental drift
Alfred Wegener science, exploration, and the theory of continental drift
Publication Information:
Baltimore, Maryland : Johns Hopkins University Press, 2015.


Physical Description:
1 online resource (693 pages) : illustrations, maps
General Note:
Includes index.
Local Note:
Electronic reproduction. Ann Arbor, MI : ProQuest, 2016. Available via World Wide Web. Access may be limited to ProQuest affiliated libraries.
Personal Subject:


Material Type
Shelf Number
Ebook XX(1494966.1) 1

On Order



Alfred Wegener aimed to create a revolution in science which would rank with those of Nicolaus Copernicus and Charles Darwin. After completing his doctoral studies in astronomy at the University of Berlin, Wegener found himself drawn not to observatory science but to rugged fieldwork, which allowed him to cross into a variety of disciplines. The author of the theory of continental drift--the direct ancestor of the modern theory of plate tectonics and one of the key scientific concepts of the past century--Wegener also made major contributions to geology, geophysics, astronomy, geodesy, atmospheric physics, meteorology, and glaciology. Remarkably, he completed this pathbreaking work while grappling variously with financial difficulty, war, economic depression, scientific isolation, illness, and injury. He ultimately died of overexertion on a journey to probe the Greenland icecap and calculate its rate of drift.

This landmark biography--the only complete account of the scientist's fascinating life and work--is the culmination of more than twenty years of intensive research. In Alfred Wegener , Mott T. Greene places Wegener's upbringing and theoretical advances in earth science in the context of his brilliantly eclectic career, bringing Wegener to life by analyzing his published scientific work, delving into all of his surviving letters and journals, and tracing both his passionate commitment to science and his thrilling experiences as a polar explorer, a military officer during World War I, and a world-record-setting balloonist.

In the course of writing this book, Greene traveled to every place that Alfred Wegener lived and worked--to Berlin, rural Brandenburg, Marburg, Hamburg, and Heidelberg in Germany; to Innsbruck and Graz in Austria; and onto the Greenland icecap. He also pored over archives in Copenhagen, Munich, Marburg, Graz, and Bremerhaven, where the majority of Wegener's surviving papers are found.

Written with great immediacy and descriptive power, Alfred Wegener is a powerful portrait of the scientist who pioneered the modern concept of unified Earth science. The book should be of interest not only to earth scientists, students of polar travel and exploration, and historians but to all readers who are fascinated by the great minds of science.

Reviews 2

Choice Review

Greene (emer., Univ. of Puget Sound) has provided readers with a remarkably detailed and wonderfully well-written biography of Alfred Wegener, the German scientist most famous for his theory of continental drift. That fame was cut short in 1930 when Wegener perished on an expedition to Greenland at the age of 50. The theory of continental drift (displacement) was superseded in the 1970s by plate tectonic theory, which continues to stand as a grand unifying theory in geology. Greene describes Wegener's life and work in greatest detail, but he does so within the context of German academic and scientific culture of the late 19th and early 20th century, so the reader gains more than a simple chronology of the life of a great scientist. This includes insight into what makes a person such as Wegener a genius--what it was about him that led to an ability to create such a novel and correct view of nature. That is the true value of this exceptional book, to be able to feel as though one can literally experience the scientific genius that was Alfred Wegener. Summing Up: Essential. All library collections. --Paul K. Strother, Boston College

Library Journal Review

Alfred Wegener (1880-1930), the German scientist who discovered continental drift, made contributions to geology, geophysics, meteorology, and more, all while enduring poor finances, wartime, a lack of scientific support, and illness. Greene's (earth & space sciences. Univ. of Washington, Seattle) research involves primary sources as well as his studies from travels for the book as far as the Greenland icecap, the destination Wegener was trying to reach when he died of exhaustion. © Copyright 2015. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.