Powell, James Lawrence 1936-

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POWELL, James Lawrence 1936-

PERSONAL: Born July 17, 1936, in Berea, KY; married 1959 (marriage ended), married Joan Hartmann, 1983; children: Dirk, Marla, Joanna. Education: Berea College, A.B., 1958; Massachusetts institute of Technology, Ph.D., 1962. Hobbies and other interests: Reading biographies and mysteries, writing, fly-fishing, dogs, horseback riding, Datsun Z-cars.

ADDRESSES: Home—1220 Poppy Valley Rd., Buellton, CA 93427. Office—National Physical Science Consortium, USC-RAN, 3716 S. Hope, Suite 348, Los Angeles, CA 90007-4344. E-mail[email protected]

CAREER: Geologist, writer, and educator. Oberlin College, Oberlin, OH, assistant professor, 1962–71, professor, 1971–83, chairman of department, 1965–74, provost, 1974–83, acting president, 1981–83; Franklin Marshall College, president, 1983–88; Reed College, president, 1988–91; Franklin Institute, president and chief executive officer, 1991–94; Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History, Los Angeles, CA, president and director, 1995–2001; National Physical Science Consortium, Los Angeles, executive director, 2001–. Pennsylvania Commission on Independent Colleges and Universities, chair, 1985–87; Central Pennsylvania College Consortium, chair, 1985–88; EDUCOM, director, 1989–93; PRIME, member of advisory board, 1991–94; member of Drexel University board of trustees, 1993–94.

MEMBER: Geological Society of America (fellow), Institute for European Studies (member, board of governors, 1985–88), National Science Board, 1986–1998, Phi Beta Kappa, Phi Kappa Phi, Sigma Xi.

AWARDS, HONORS: Sc.D., Oberlin College, 1983; L.H.D., Tohoku Gakuin University, 1986; Sc.D., Arcadia (Beaver) College, 1992; named Professor of the Year, Masters of Public Policy Program, SPPD, 2001; Asteroid 9379 named after Powell.


(With G. Faure) Strontium Isotope Geology, Springer-Verlag (New York, NY), 1972.

Pathways to Leadership: How to Achieve and Sustain Success, Jossey-Bass Publishers (San Francisco, CA), 1995.

Night Comes to the Cretaceous: Dinosaur Extinction and the Transformation of Modern Geology, W. H. Freeman (New York, NY), 1998, published as Night Comes to the Cretaceous: Comets, Craters, Controversy, and the Last Days of the Dinosaurs, Harcourt (San Diego, CA), 1999.

Mysteries of Terra Firma: The Age and Evolution of the Earth, Free Press (New York, NY), 2001, published as The Mysteries of Terra Firma: Exploring the Age and Evolution of the World, 2002.

Grand Canyon: Solving Earth's Grandest Puzzle, Pi Press (New York, NY), 2005.

Author or co-author of chapters in books, including Carbonatites, Interscience (New York, NY), 1966, and Alkaline Rocks, 1974. Contributor of numerous articles to professional journals, including the American Mineralogist, Geological Society of America Bulletin, Journal of the Geological Society of London, Journal of Geology, Journal of Geophysical Research, Journal of Petrology, Nature, New Directions for Higher Education, and Transactions: American Geophysical Union.

SIDELIGHTS: James Lawrence Powell has published several books dealing with geological topics, including extinction theory and scientific method. Powell's book Night Comes to the Cretaceous: Dinosaur Extinction and the Transformation of Modern Geology supports the theory of extinction first put forth by the distinguished physicist Luis Alvarez and his son, Walter. That theory suggests that the extinction of the dinosaurs was caused by the impact on Earth of an asteroid the size of Mount Everest. Powell's book describes the debate that ensued and supports the theory with evidence in such a way that even the most novice reader of science will understand. The asteroid theory sparked heated debate because it challenged the Ice-Age extinction theory long held to be the truth. But the Alvarezs' had their evidence, and Powell leads readers through it. Gloria Maxwell, writing in the Library Journal called the book "utterly engrossing," Powell's next study, Mysteries of Terra Firma: The Age and Evolution of the Earth, chronicles how twentieth-century scientists solved three of the greatest geologic mysteries. He calls these mysteries "revolutions," and has divided the book into three categories: "revolution of time," "revolution of drift," and "revolution of chance." Powell ties these revolutions together to show how each one has shaped our views of both the Earth and the planetary system. Sue Bowler of New Scientist called the book "a gentle introduction for those new to the subject," and remarked that "the bonus is that it's also a concise study of scientific method." Library Journal reviewer Marit MacArthur Taylor wrote, "Powell engagingly presents a wealth of fascinating information and also does much to explain why scientists have been so slow to accept new theories that in retrospect seem so obviously superior to their predecessors."

In Grand Canyon: Solving Earth's Grandest Puzzle, Powell lays out the latest scientific debates about how the Grand Canyon was formed. The author traces the development of scientific knowledge about the canyon beginning with the earliest theories formed by the first geologists to study the canyon, including John Newberry and the explorer, John Wesley Powell. These early theorists about the canyon's formation disagreed on many points. Likewise, more recent scientists have developed conflicting theories, which include new beliefs about how canyons are formed. In his prologue to the book, Powell writes, "Like a raft trip on the Colorado's white water, following the efforts of five generations of geologists to understand the river and its Grand Canyon stimulates our thinking, but it does require more concentration than a riverboat cruise on the mighty but placid Mississippi." A Kirkus Reviews contributor noted that those who read the book "will experience the feeling of watching a fascinating chess game." Ian D. Gordon, writing in the Library Journal, noted that Powell "provides excellent insight into the development of geological theory." A Science News contributor noted that the book is "certain to appeal mostly to geology buffs."



Powell, James Lawrence, Grand Canyon: Solving Earth's Grandest Puzzle, Pi Press (New York, NY), 2005.


American Scientist, November/December, 1998, Kirk R. Johnson, review of Night Comes to the Cretaceous: Dinosaur Extinction and the Transformation of Modern Geology, pp. 568-571.

Booklist, December 1, 2002, Gilbert Taylor, review of Mysteries of Terra Firma: The Age and Evolution of the Earth, pp. 619-620.

Discover, February, 2002, review of Mysteries of Terra Firma, p. 82.

Kirkus Reviews, March 15, 2005, review of Grand Canyon: Solving Earth's Grandest Puzzle, p. 341.

Library Journal, June 15, 1998, Gloria Maxwell, review of Night Comes to the Cretaceous: Dinosaur Extinction and the Transformation of Modern Geology, p. 103; November 15, 2001, Marit MacArthur Taylor, review of Mysteries of Terra Firma, p. 95; May 1, 2005, Ian D. Gordon, review of Grand Canyon, p. 112.

New Scientist, November 10, 2001, Sue Bowler, "Look Deep and Deeper," p. 50.

Publishers Weekly, October 29, 2001, review of Mysteries of Terra Firma, p. 53.

Science News, May 21, 2005, review of Grand Canyon, p. 335.


Atlantic Online, http://www.theatlantic.com/ (September 6, 2002), review of Night Comes to the Cretaceous.

James Lawrence Powell Home Page, http://www.jamespowell.org (August 30, 2001).

Natural History Magazine, http://www.naturalhistorymag.com/0905/0905_selections.html (September, 2005), review of Grand Canyon.

Stacey's Bookstore, http://wwwstaceys.com/ (September 6, 2002), review of Mysteries of Terra Firma.

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