The Fate of the Mammoth

The Fate of the Mammoth

Fossils, Myth, and History

Book - 2002
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From cave paintings to the latest Siberian finds, woolly mammoths have fascinated people across Europe, Asia, and North America for centuries. Remains of these enormous prehistoric animals were among the first fossils to be recognized as such, and they have played a crucial role in the birth and development of paleontology. In this lively, wide-ranging look at the fate of the mammoth, Claudine Cohen reanimates this large mammal with heavy curved tusks and shaggy brown hair through its history in science, myth, and popular culture.

Cohen uses the mammoth and the theories that naturalists constructed around it to illuminate wider issues in the history of science, showing how changing views about a single object reveal the development of scientific methods, practices, and ideas. How are fossils discovered, reconstructed, displayed, and interpreted? What stories are told about them, by whom, and how do these stories reflect the cultures and societies in which they are told?

To find out, Cohen takes us on a grand tour of the study of mammoth remains, from England, Germany, and France to Russia and America, and from the depths of Africa to the frozen frontiers of Alaska and Siberia, where intact mammoth corpses have been discovered in the permafrost. Along the way, she shows how paleontologists draw on myth and history, as well as on scientific evidence, to explore the deep history of the earth and of life. Cohen takes her history from the sixteenth century right up to the present, when researchers are using molecular biology to retrieve mammoth DNA, calling up dreams of cloning the mammoth and one day seeing herds of woolly mammoths roaming the frozen steppes.

Publisher: Chicago : University of Chicago Press, 2002
Characteristics: xxxiv, 297 p. : ill., maps ; 24 cm
ISBN: 0226112926 (cloth : alk. paper)
Call Number: 569.67 COHEN


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May 03, 2012

This is the worst job of translation from French to English I've ever seen. The original book isn't about the fate of the Mammoth, but about the history of geology and paleontology as understood through mammoth remains.
The problem is that the translator, William Rorland, seems to not have read enough books on the subject in English and French to get an idea of how the different languages express ideas.
The translation adheres much too strictly to the original French, without realizing that often the literal translation into English doesn't make any sense.
Some sentences, in order to make them understandable, have to be retranslated back into French (which is easy since the translation adheres so closely to the original) and then looked at.
An example is a sentence where they mention "the theory of the earth." Now, I haven't read enough French geology to know what that's talking about but I hazzarded a guess, after thinking about the sentence for about 15 minutes, that what was meant was "The development of an understanding of earth history" or something like that. Instead, the translation stuck much too closely to the original French, without attempting to see that that made no sense in English, and often the very meaning of the original language was lost, as if they can't see the sentence for all the words in it.
After 76 pages I gave up. It was just too hard to understand, and I'd recommend its Dewey Decimal number be shifted from Science to Language, as a good example of what NOT to do when translating!


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