Good Reading : November 2008
word of mouth Griffith Taylor: Visionary environmentalist explorer Carolyn Strange and Alison Bashford G riffith Taylor had a fascinating life: he studied geology at Cambridge; went on Scott’s last Antarctic expedition; founded Sydney University’s School of Geography and became a controversial public intellectual; later he taught in Chicago and Toronto. A building is named after him at Sydney University. And yet he is largely forgotten. His books are out of print and the Griffith Taylor Building is a mediocre example of the International style. But Griffith Taylor is enjoying something of a renaissance. Tim Flannery in The Future Eaters describes him as ‘one of the greatest and most courageous scientists Australia has ever produced’, praising him for his opposition to both the ‘Australia Unlimited’ boosters of the 1920s and to the White Australia policy. In Griffith Taylor, Strange and Bashford look at this man’s well-documented life and retrofit him as a visionary and environmentalist by emphasising his early careers as a geologist and meteorologist. Considerable space is devoted to his participation in Scott’s last expedition, where he served creditably. The book’s thematic organisation means, however, that his early career – up until the mid-1920s – is presented in a number of different contexts and this tends to obscure the fact that Taylor, while enjoying a successful academic career in the United States and Canada from the late 1920s, had by that time ceased to be a significant public figure in Australia. In 1927 Taylor published Environment and Race, the basic thesis of which was that the more ‘advanced’ races had taken control of the most desirable portions of the earth, pushing their less advanced cousins to the periphery. The most advanced race, according to Taylor, was not the ‘European’ but the ‘Mongolian’. This conclusion, by the way, led to considerable interest in his work in imperial Japan. Taylor’s work has little bearing on whether the population-limitation environmentalists, such as Flannery, are right or wrong. Taylor predicted a maximum population for this country that is close to the present population, but his assumptions were idiosyncratic or outmoded. He thought, for example, that Europeans would not live in the tropics. He did not foresee that the sale of services such as finance, education or tourism would one day sustain the economy and that agriculture would become increasingly irrelevant to population capacity. But what Taylor’s career does show is that the certitudes of intellectual fashion change over time. Taylor was a talented man who invested his considerable ability and energy in areas of study which today are considered frankly embarrassing. In Griffith Taylor Strange and Bashford have given us a detailed (and handsomely illustrated) account of a man who is almost forgotten and probably rightly so; but fascinating all the same. ??? National Library of Australia $39.95 Reviewed by Grant Hansen ????????????????? ?????? ??????? ???????? NOVEMBER 2008 i goodreading 41 ????????????????? ????????? ?????????????
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