Andrew Ellicott Douglass and the Role of the Giant Sequoia in the Development of Dendrochronology

Author: McGraw, Donald


“In this exhaustive and thoroughly researched analysis of Douglass’ adoption and use of Giant Sequoia in the search for a terrestrial record of sunspot cycles, Donald J. McGraw provides a much-needed critical review of the complexities and dynamics involved in the early development of one aspect, in this case climatology, of the multifaceted application of dendrochronology. . . . fills a wide gap in our understanding of how one remarkable scholar positively affected the development of an astonishing array of modern sciences.” – Stephen E. Nash

“The story of Andrew Ellicott Douglass and the ‘Big Trees’ provides a fascinating window into the contributions of an increasingly rare and essential kind of scientist. . . . In this compelling history McGraw recounts Douglass’ early search for climatic records in tree rings of the Southwest that led to his fruitful collaborations with the leading Southwestern archaeologists of the day. . . it was only after he started deciphering the ring patterns in Giant Sequoias from California that he fully grasped the key role of site and species in controlling the climatic fidelity of tree rings. Ultimately, the great age of the sequoias – exceeding 3,200 years in the oldest trees – provided Douglass with his most useful time series for addressing his deepest questions: Are there cycles in climate? And if so, are these cycles tuned by our pulsating sun? Now as we enter a new era on this planet, when we know with greater certainty than ever before that both astronomical events and people can drastically change climate and ecosystems at the global scale, it is all the more important that we bridge the gaps between natural and cultural sciences. . . . Along with his scholarly skills and science historian’s perspective, Don McGraw brings to this book a personal familiarity and attachment to Giant Sequoias that both enriches and enlightens.” – from the preface by Thomas W. Swetnam

“McGraw’s very readable account of Douglass’ search for a solar-terrestrial link through Giant Sequoia rings provides a glimpse of a driven man at work, and of the detailed dynamics of scientific discovery. . . . This is set in a larger context, the effect of the choice of a study organism at one time on the development of a field during succeeding decades. McGraw’s focus on one scientist and the results of his work brought me, I felt, closer to understanding something of the way science was done in the early twentieth century. In order to reduce the risk of their displaying hubris, all those seeking to ‘plan’ the progress of science should be required to read this book.” – Malcolm K. Hughes