Born in England. Education: Attended Manchester University.
Writer, 1992—. Publisher of scientific, medical, and technical books, 1976-91.
(With Peter Freyberg) Learning in Science: The Implications of Children's Science, Heinemann (London, England), 1985.
(With Donald Tarling) The Viking Historical Atlas of the Earth: A Visual Exploration of the Earth's Physical Past, Viking (London, England), 1995, published as The Historical Atlas of the Earth: A Visual Exploration of the Earth's Physical Past, Holt (New York, NY), 1996.
(With Michael Benton) The Viking Atlas of Evolution, Viking (London, England), 1996.
The Floating Egg: Episodes in the Making of Geology, Jonathan Cape (London, England), 1998.
The Deprat Affair: Ambition, Revenge, and Deceit in French Indo-China, Jonathan Cape (London, England), 1999.
The Dreamer of the Calle San Salvador, Jonathan Cape (London, England), 2001.
Civilization: A New History of the Western World, Pegasus, 2006.
Science writer Roger Osborne trained as a geologist at Manchester University in the early 1970s before going into scientific and medical publishing. Becoming a full-time writer in 1992, he has since published several well-received books popularizing the earth sciences.
Osborne's collaborative effort with Donald Tarling, The Viking Historical Atlas of the Earth: A Visual Exploration of the Earth's Physical Past (published in the United States as The Historical Atlas of the Earth: A Visual Exploration of the Earth's Physical Past), is a blend of text and illustrations detailing the geological history of Earth. Their approach uses paleogeographical maps that show the formation of the continents at various times throughout Earth's history, emphasizing the importance of plate tectonics. Readers are taken on a visual tour through the geological history of the Earth, from the Pennsylvania coal belts to the creation of the chalky downs of southern England in this heavily illustrated atlas. A reviewer for the New Statesman commented: "A thousand maps add value to this excellent book." In a review for the Geographical Journal, L.E. Craig concluded: "Overall this is a helpful book for the non-specialist as an introduction to the subject of earth sciences." Writing in Booklist, Gilbert Taylor asserted that "tyros who will work on furthering the earth science may fondly remember devouring this excellent info-jammed atlas." Osborne, collaborating with Michael Benton, did much the same service for evolution with his The Viking Atlas of Evolution, a book which Lorraine Craig, writing in the Geographical Journal, thought should be "recommended to school children as a useful text."
In his 1998 work, The Floating Egg: Episodes in the Making of Geology, Osborne provides another novel introduction to the world of geology. As Richard Fortey noted in a New Scientist review: "If it crossed your mind that geology was dull, Roger Osborne's The Floating Egg will disabuse you of that notion." In a series of twenty-five stories dealing with the development of the science of geology from a gentleman's pastime into a true science, Osborne tells of the early discoveries of hyena bones and fossil reptiles in the Yorkshire landscape. In the pages of this book, readers meet men such as geologist William Smith and the explorer Captain James Cook. "Osborne's delightful book weaves intimate details of locality with the life histories of those who sought to understand the deep fabric of our islands," Fortey commented, concluding that "it is all most entertaining: quirky and thoroughly Yorkshire."
In The Deprat Affair: Ambition, Revenge, and Deceit in French Indo-China, Osborne tells the story of a French geologist whose career was ruined after being accused of scientific fraud. Jacque Deprat was well on his way to becoming one of France's most renowned geologists, when in 1919 he was drummed out of the French academic world for allegedly having placed European fossils among those he had gathered in China and Indo-China. A possible victim of the old-boy network in Paris, the young Deprat thereafter recreated himself as Herbert Wilde and became a prolific writer and mountaineer. Osborne presents a tale that is part detective story, part social history, part science history, and all human drama. Reviewing the book in the Times Literary Supplement, Eugen Weber allowed that the debate about Deprat is still going on in French scientific circles and commented that The Deprat Affair "provides an intriguing and knowledgeable account of it." Weber further noted that Osborne, a "trained geologist and experienced science writer …, makes the scientific stakes and details mercifully accessible to lay readers."
Something of a departure for Osborne is his 2001 title, The Dreamer of the Calle San Salvador, a recreation of the life and dreams of Lucrecia de Leon. This nineteen-year-old girl, living in sixteenth-century Spain, had such vivid and seemingly prophetic dreams that a group of disaffected clerics actually transcribed and published some four hundred of the dreams, considering them to be messages from God. Interpreters found that these dreams foretold political and military events. As some of these prophecies proved true, authorities in Madrid grew disdainful, and Lucrecia was ultimately arrested, a victim of the Inquisition. Osborne produces thirty-five of her dreams in his book, transcriptions of which were uncovered in the archives of the Spanish Inquisition.
In Civilization: A New History of the Western World, a Kirkus Reviews contributor stated, Osborne "set himself a daunting task—to confine to fewer than 500 pages the sprawl of western history." Moving from the prehistoric creators of Stonehenge to the present day, he examines the ways in which patterns of thought—particularly rationalism—have dominated the West. Western civilization, David Keymer stated in the Library Journal, has been responsible for "the ruthless marginalization of non-Western peoples and their cultures, enslavement, genocide, the destruction of native ways and values," and a large percentage of disenfranchised, disillusioned people within its own borders—part of the price we pay for our definition of progress. "This often sinister rationalism works in counterpoint, and sometimes opposition," the Publishers Weekly commentator concluded, "to what he sees as the redeeming organicity of Western culture," its ability to adapt to different conditions in different times without abandoning its roots. "Osborne has woven a narrative of extraordinary scope and clarity that ranges from the cave paintings of Altamira 7,000 years ago to today's video artists of urban black America," Tim Gardam wrote in the Guardian. "At his best, Osborne is a refreshingly unacademic synthesiser and his is an anthropological, philosophical, technological and social history of the West and its collisions with other cultures." "Mr. Osborne, with great skill," declared New York Times reviewer William Grimes, "ties his disparate topics together into a coherent narrative, as absorbing as any novel, with felicitous turns of phrase, and tidy summations, on virtually every page."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, April 15, 1996, Gilbert Taylor, review of The Historical Atlas of the Earth: A Visual Exploration of the Earth's Physical Past, p. 1403; December 1, 1996, review of The Historical Atlas of the Earth, p. 664; December 1, 1999, review of The Historical Atlas of the Earth, p. 677; December 15, 2006, Jay Freeman, review of Civilization: A New History of the Western World, p. 15.
Choice, July 1, 1996, review of The Historical Atlas of the Earth, p. 1824.
Farmers Weekly, May 10, 2002, "Royal-Winner Hangs Up Boots," p. 99.
Geographical Journal, July 1, 1997, L.E. Craig, review of The Viking Historical Atlas of the Earth: A Visual Exploration of the Earth's Physical Past, p. 228; July 1, 1998, Lorraine Craig, review of The Viking Atlas of Evolution, p. 231.
Geographical Magazine, August 1, 1996, review of The Viking Atlas of Evolution, p. 51.
Geography, January 1, 1997, review of The Viking Historical Atlas of the Earth, p. 91.
Geotimes, March 1, 1997, review of The Historical Atlas of the Earth, p. 32.
Guardian, January 29, 2006, Tim Gardam, "Civilised? On Our Good Days."
History Today, January 1, 2006, Roger Osborne, "Digging Up the Origins of Civilization: Geologist and Historian Roger Osborne Wants to Know Just What People Mean When They Use The ‘C’ Word," p. 70.
Independent (London, England), February 5, 2006, A.C. Greyling, "Reason: The Villain of the Story."
Kirkus Reviews, October 1, 2006, review of Civilization, p. 1002.
Library Journal, November 1, 2006, David Keymer, review of Civilization, p. 87.
Nature, April 18, 1996, review of The Viking Historical Atlas of the Earth, p. 592; November 12, 1998, review of The Floating Egg: Episodes in the Making of Geology, p. 131.
New Scientist, November 25, 1995, review of The Viking Historical Atlas, p. 54; October 10, 1998, Richard Fortey, "Set in Stone," p. 45; May 29, 1999, review of The Floating Egg, p. 47; December 25, 1999, review of The Deprat Affair: Ambition, Revenge, and Deceit in French Indo-China, p. 84.
New York Times, December 7, 2006, William Grimes, "Hurtling through History at the Speed of Enlightenment," p. E9.
Publishers Weekly, October 9, 2006, review of Civilization, p. 48.
Times Higher Education Supplement, May 26, 2006, "The Long Look Backwards to Find a Story of Ourselves," p. 24.
Times Literary Supplement, December 24, 1999, Eugen Weber, "Dreyfus of the Fossils?," p. 32; March 10, 2006, "Spirit of Victory," p. 10.