(Charles B. Officer)
PERSONAL: Education: Columbia University, Ph.D.
ADDRESSES: Agent—c/o Author Mail, Houghton Mifflin Company, Trade Division, Adult Editorial, 8th Fl., 222 Berkeley St., Boston, MA 02116-3764.
CAREER: Geologist and author. Dartmouth College, Hanover, NH, professor in earth sciences department and research professor at Thayer School of Engineering.
Introduction to the Theory of Sound Transmission with Application to the Ocean, McGraw-Hill (New York, NY), 1958.
Introduction to Theoretical Geophysics, Springer-Verlag (New York, NY), 1974.
Physical Oceanography of Estuaries (and Associated Coastal Waters), Wiley (New York, NY), 1976.
(With Jake Page) Tales of the Earth: Paroxysms and Perturbations of the Blue Planet, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1993.
(With Jake Page) The Great Dinosaur Extinction Controversy, Addison-Wesley (Reading, MA), 1996.
(With Jake Page) Earth and You: Tales of the Environment, Peter E. Randall (Portsmouth, NH), 2000.
(With Jake Page) The Big One: The Earthquake That Rocked Early America and Helped Create a Science, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 2004.
SIDELIGHTS: Charles Officer is a geologist, professor of engineering, and author who has written a number of books with Jake Page, editorial director of Natural History and founder and former director of Smithsonian Books. The first of these publications, Tales of the Earth: Paroxysms and Perturbations of the Blue Planet, documents geological and other events and manmade disasters that have affected our environment. A Kirkus Reviews contributor wrote that the coauthors "present a grab bag of awesome earthly happenings, concentrating on events so stupendous that they changed the course of history, or are in the process of doing so." Officer and Page note that in 1816, blue, brown, and red snow fell in Maryland; brown snow fell in Hungary; and in Italy, where any snow is rare, red and yellow snow fell. In New England, 1816 was called the "Year without a Summer." With the failure of crops, grain prices soared and American farmers were forced to sell their livestock, collapsing beef and pork prices, while Western Europe—in even worse shape—experienced food riots. The cause of this worldwide catastrophe was the volcanic eruption of Tambora on the Indonesian island of Sumbawa the year before. The eruption was so huge that it was heard a thousand miles away and resulted in the drift of dust particles around the world. The authors also discuss the ice ages and the greatest earthquake in recorded history, the Lisbon quake of 1755. Other subjects covered include plate tectonics, paleomagnetism, and isotope geochemistry. In addition, they offer scientific explanations for biblical miracles, including the parting of the Red Sea.
In writing about humanity's part in bringing about environmental change by polluting and depleting our Earth and its resources, the authors point out that "the most worrisome thing about human mischief is the speed with which it has been accomplished," noted Malcolm Jones, Jr., in Newsweek. Jones went on to say that Officer and Page "respond to catastrophe with curiosity, not panic: if we can't banish natural disasters, we can at least learn to be better stewards of the planet." Subjects here include plagues, the fallout from Chernobyl, acid rain, the depletion of the ozone layer, global warming, and the poisoning of our streams, rivers, lakes, and oceans. The authors note that the Killer Smog of 1952 was responsible for the deaths of four thousand people in London.
Peg Padnos wrote in the Wilson Library Bulletin that Tales of the Earth "avoids the breathless, overwrought prose that mars so many science works…. Instead, the authors rely on their expertise,… an instinct for just the right amount of background explanation, judicious selection of eyewitness accounts, and illustrations and dramatically vivid details." Dale M. Gnidovec commented in Rocks and Minerals that "the final chapter, about making (sometimes costly) policy decisions based on our limited understanding of natural systems, should be read by everyone. They point out that 'science is not just the accumulation of facts; it is the reduction of ignorance.' This book is a pleasant way to decrease your ignorance."
Officer and Page touched on the extinction of dinosaurs in Tales of the Earth, but with The Great Dinosaur Extinction Controversy, they devote an entire volume to the subject. They do not accept the Alvarez theory that a meteorite was responsible for killing off the dinosaurs, a hypothesis based on the discovery of concentrated iridium at the Cretaceous-Tertiary boundary. Iridium is an element so rare that it was attributed to an extraterrestrial origin. Officer and Page claim that iridium can be found in the gases of volcanoes, particularly in India. They hypothesize that the actual reason for the extinction was the cooling and darkening caused by volcanic activity, the loss of shallow seas around North America, a decline in sea level, and the extinction of small shallow-water marine life and plankton.
Choice reviewer P.K. Strother found the book's style to be "more journalistic than scholarly." Isis contributor Ellis L. Yochelson wrote that "the ideas presented in the book are worth considering. Of considerably more interest is the discussion of how ideas develop and the impact of the modern mass media culture on their dissemination…. In some ways this part of the book is far scarier than the notion of an asteroid hitting us. Even if one does not care one iota about long-dead animals, the discussion of how some current ideas of science are circulated in the popular press makes reading this book worthwhile."
Officer and Page next wrote Earth and You: Tales of the Environment. In it, they study the environment mainly as it is impacted by accelerating population growth and the depletion of Earth's resources, and they project what the world will be like fifty years forward if we fail to take remedial action. Officer and Page are generally optimistic. "Many environmentalists would consider too complacent the authors' belief that future environmental problems 'will be addressed,'" wrote W. Ouderkirk in Choice. Subjects discussed include people and groups from the local to international level who have made a commitment to positive change.
A Fabulous Kingdom: The Exploration of the Arctic is a survey of exploration in the far north and provides a history that dates back to antiquity, when Roman and Greek explorers returned to their countries with tales of an ice-filled ocean, astrological phenomena, and unusual animals. Officer and Page continue by showing how, centuries later, European explorers charted their courses to Asia through the fabled Northwest Passage. They provide the details of explorations conducted by Vitus Bering, Henry Hudson, John Ross, James Clark Ross, John Franklin, Elisha Kent Kane, Charles Francis Hall, Robert E. Peary, George Washington DeLong, Martin Frobisher, William Edward Parry, Frederick Cook, Richard Bird, and others. A Publishers Weekly contributor noted that the first chapter is an "in-depth look at Arctic weather and its impact on explorers. The sun, for instance, cannot be used to measure time, because its relative elevation to the land doesn't change." Officer and Page note that in 325 B.C. the Greek merchant Pytheas sailed to the sea "you can neither walk nor sail upon," and the authors end the book by describing the Russian icebreakers who take tourists to the northernmost regions of the globe.
A reviewer for Mercator's World commented: "Officer and Page reveal the unsung heroes while setting the record straight about the actual achievements of famed explorers…. The authors present stories of Arctic expeditions and the changing myths, dreams, and goals that fueled them." "There is a good deal of scientific fact mingled with the human history, as well as some interesting bits of trivia," noted Library Journal contributor Joseph L. Carlson.
Officer and Page look at a series of massive earthquakes that shook the Mississippi Valley in 1811 and 1812 in The Big One: The Earthquake That Rocked Early America and Helped Create a Science. In December of 1811, residents of the region awoke to crumbling buildings, undulating ground, and even the sight of the Mississippi River running backwards. More temblors followed in January and February of the next year, strong enough to rattle windows one thousand miles away. The quakes caused 1,500 deaths and swallowed up entire towns, with extensive damage occurring in an area twice the size of Texas. In addition to giving detailed information about the quakes themselves, the authors show how the event led to significant advances in the study of earthquakes. It is "an informative, well-written investigation of the development of the science of seismology," wrote Ted Woodcock in the School Library Journal. Laurence A. Marschall, a contributor to Natural History, concluded that The Big One is a "genial history of modern earthquake science."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Officer, Charles, and Jake Page, Tales of the Earth: Paroxysms and Perturbations of the Blue Planet, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1993.
Officer, Charles, and Jake Page, A Fabulous Kingdom: The Exploration of the Arctic, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 2001.
Booklist, May 1, 1993, Donna Seaman, review of Tales of the Earth, p. 1556.
Choice, January, 1994, C.W. Dimmick, review of Tales of the Earth, p. 817; December, 1996, P.K. Strother, review of The Great Dinosaur Extinction Controversy, p. 641; December, 2000, W. Ouderkirk, review of Earth and You: Tales of the Environment, p. 728; December, 2001, B.M. Gough, review of A Fabulous Kingdom, p. 736.
Environmental Law, fall, 2000, review of Earth and You, p. 913.
Isis, March, 2001, Ellis L. Yochelson, review of The Great Dinosaur Extinction Controversy, p. 237.
Journal of Geology, January, 1994, Dorothy B. Vitaliano, review of Tales of the Earth, p. 117.
Kirkus Reviews, April 1, 1993, review of Tales of the Earth, p. 437.
Library Journal, May 1, 1993, Joseph Hannibal, review of Tales of the Earth, p. 110; April 15, 2001, Joseph L. Carlson, review of A Fabulous Kingdom, p. 123.
Mercator's World, May, 2001, review of A Fabulous Kingdom, p. 52.
Natural History, September, 2004, Laurence A. Marschall, review of The Big One: The Earthquake That Rocked Early America and Helped Create a Science, p. 66.
Nature, January 2, 1997, Peter Ward, review of The Great Dinosaur Extinction Controversy, p. 36.
New Scientist, August 10, 1996, Bob White, review of The Great Dinosaur Extinction Controversy, p. 42.
Newsweek, July 26, 1993, Malcolm Jones, Jr., review of Tales of the Earth, p. 45.
New York Times Book Review, July 22, 2001, Robert R. Harris, review of A Fabulous Kingdom, p. 24.
Publishers Weekly, March 19, 2001, review of A Fabulous Kingdom, p. 88.
Rocks and Minerals, May, 1998, Dale M. Gnidovec, review of Tales of the Earth, p. 216.
School Library Journal, December, 2004, Ted Woodcock, review of The Big One, p. 176.
Science News, July 10, 2004, review of The Big One, p. 31.
Scientific American, September, 1997, Michael J. Benton, review of The Great Dinosaur Extinction Controversy, p. 95.
Skeptic, March, 1996, review of The Great Dinosaur Extinction Controversy, p. 105.
Stanford Environmental Law Journal, May, 1994, Pamela R. Lacey, review of Tales of the Earth, pp. 477-479.
Wilson Library Bulletin, December, 1993, Peg Padnos, review of Tales of the Earth, p. 95.
Guardian (London, England), http://books.guardian.co.uk/ (October 7, 2001), review of A Fabulous Kingdom.