The Infinite Echo

B. Thomas Cooper is a freelance journalist, photographer, blogger and historian. Topics include Political Commentary, Satire and History

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Monday, August 25, 2008

De Re Metallica Revisited - The Medieval Book of Mining and Metallurgy Pt. Two

B. Thomas Cooper - Editor

Originally published in 1556, Georgius Agricola's groundbreaking book De Re Metallica remained the leading scientific journal of mining and metallurgy for over two hundred years. It was the first book about mining to be based on field research and observation. The massive tome was also the first to offer detailed illustrations of the various, highly specialized mining techniques, relevant to the period.


Agricola was born March 24th, 1494, arriving on the threshold of the Renaissance. De Re Metallica contains an unprecedented volume of material on alluvial mining, surveying, smelting, alchemy and more, and provides an otherwise unavailable glimpse into the world of medieval mining.

Georgius Agricola passed away on November 23rd, 1555 at the age of 61. Agricola had completed writing De Re Metallica by 1550, but the book did not go to press until 1553. Ironically, Agricola did not live to see his masterful volume published.


In 1912, Herbert Hoover and his wife Lou Henry Hoover translated De Re Metallica from it's original Latin text into English. This new edition was made available only in very limited copies, and was quickly bought up by libraries, historians and book collectors. Long out of print, this rare edition has itself grown in value. In 1950, the book was once again published in hardback, including all 289 of the original woodcut illustrations. These unusual, and highly detailed drawings offer a glimpse into the daily lives of medieval mining communities, and the curious devices they contrived.


Much credit is due Agricola, as his contributions to the sciences of the ages is without precedent. He is credited with advancements in Geology, Mineralogy, Mining Engineering and much more. Agricola was a scientist. He had little use for alchemy, and those who would be alchemists. He explored soil mechanics, tunneling procedures, and even expounded on a simple but profound understanding of potential dangers permeating the ground, and the release of deadly gasses, which he referred to as exhales.

The world has changed dramatically since the first publishing of De Re Metallica, as has the science of mining and metallurgy. Still, Agricola's work remains an irreplaceable scientific journal and indeed, one of a kind. The book is highly recommended to anyone interested in the history of medieval mining. The book can be difficult to find, but don't fret, copies are available. If you have trouble locating one right away, you just may need to do a little digging.

B. Thomas Cooper - Editor

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Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The World According to Garp - John Irving - Book Review

B. Thomas Cooper - Editor

John Irving
, iconic American novelist, born March 2, 1942, garnered critical acclaim in 1978 with the release of his fourth tomb, The World According to Garp, a dark, but gripping tale of love and loss, of friendship and of loneliness.

Sex and promiscuity return as the central theme in this modern tale of dysfunction, as Irving presents the reader with an array of colorful but sensitive characters. The central protagonist, Garp, as he is referred to, grows up in a world compromised by lust and betrayal. As an adult, little changes in his disturbing world but the names, as Garp confronts good intentions with disastrous results.

As is nearly always the case with an Irving novel, we learn to love his most dysfunctional characters the most. We grow as they grow, we suffer as they suffer, and ultimately, we die silent deaths in the shadows of these tragic people and the events which shape their lives.

The antagonist in The World According to Garp seems to shift from one chapter to the next, but in fact remains metaphorically consistent with John’s implied intent. The real antagonist is ourselves, always and forever in contrast with our own moral and ethical self loathing. It is we, who are the enemies of our souls. “In the World According to Garp,” a young Donald Witcomb would write, “we are obliged to remember everything.”

The novel ends as tragically and as ironically it begins, leaving the reader with a real sense of loss. It is an art form Irving has mastered, and continues to share with great passion. His novels are timeless statements on humanity, and although perhaps not suitable for young readers, I strongly recommend his work to adults of all ages.

Irving, who studied under the Late Kurt Vonnegut at the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop during the sixties, continues to live and write in his home state of New Hampshire. Other novels by John Irving include: Setting Free the Bears, The Water-Method Man, The 158-Pound Marriage, A Prayer For Owen Meany, The Hotel New Hampshire and Cider House Rules. For further information on John Irving and his novels, visit your local library or book store.

B. Thomas Cooper - Editor

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