Among paleobotanists, Albert G. Long is best known for his meticulous work on Early Carboniferous seeds. Although the oldest seed plant, Elkinsia polymorpha (Rothwell et al. 1989), stems from the latest Late Devonian, the seed-bearing habit was already firmly established soon afterwards (in the seed fems, cordaites, and conifers) in the Early Carboniferous. These 360 million year old seeds differ from those of geological younger gymnosperms by the lack of an enclosed integument; the ovule commonly sits naked in a cupule with long, fused or free, upward projecting lobes-the precursor to the integument. One of the simplest Early Carboniferous seeds, Genomosperma kidstonii, like many of Long's other objects of study, was found by the man himself in permineralized coal balls from SE Scotland. The story behind Hitherto - meaning "up to now" - details the other side of Long's life as he is also an avid entomologist, prodigious collector, and keen observer of natural history. Although he may have earned his living as a science teacher, Long's true vocation was that of a naturalist; his great passions, fossil plants and living insects.
The book is divided up into 6 chapters, most of which are composed of articles which were previously published elsewhere, and two appendices. Two of the chapters, chapter 5 on botany and chapter 6 on paleobotany, will be most interesting to the neobotanical and paleobotanical reader, although the first chapter, an autobiographical essay, also includes some amusing paleobotanical anecdotes (pp. 15-16, pp. 19-22).
It is unfortunate, however, that the book starts off somewhat slowly with this rather rambling autobiography which is crammed full of personal details. This will certainly be cherished by Long's progenitors but is perhaps of lesser interest to non-relatives. It is also a pity that this first chapter is peppered with references to the author's devout faith in Christianity, as we Americans who are used to the separation of church and state (or in this case, religious and professional scientific life) may be scared off by Long's pious perspectives of the world. However, if you can look beyond this, it is very interesting to note that this deeply religious man sees no conflict between believing in God and natural selection.
Simply skipping up to Chapter 5 will solve this problem, however. You can always return to the first chapter once you have developed an appreciation for the man and his dry sense of humor. Among the botanical articles reprinted in Chapter 5 is a well written essay on the early history of seeds--Long's presidential address delivered at the Berwickshire Naturalists' Club.
For paleobotanists in particular, the most interesting parts of the book are the three articles on fossil plants in the last chapter. The first article is another version of the author's autobiography which focuses on his paleobotanical work and other scientific endeavors. This article repeats much of the information in the first chapter of Hitherto, but is more concise and is amusingly written. The second article is a rebuttal to W. N. Stewart's (I 983) textbook on paleobotany in which Long clarifies his views in order to stay in the running for credit for the cupule-carpel theory. The third and fourth articles are reviews of previous work on fossil plants in Berwickshire (SE Scotland) which are historically interesting and could be of great assistance to future paleobotanists wanting to collect in the area.
The book appears for the most part to be free of typographical errors, but there are some frustrating omissions, such as the dates of publication of the middle two articles on fossil plants in Chapter 6. The title of the fourth article is also missing from the chapter heading.
Disregarding the minor flaws in editing and the verbose nature of some of the prose, what I like best about Hitherto are the charming black-and-white snapshots from Long's family photo album which add a personal touch to the book. Also fun to read are the appended letters Long had exchanged with some of the giants of the English paleobotanical scene: F. W. Oliver, W. H. Lang, A. C. Seward. I am personally fond of listening to reminiscences of my aging aunts and of leafing through old family pictures, but Hitherto may not turn out to be everybody's cup of tea. - Carole T. Gee, Institute of Paleontology, University of Bonn, Germany.
Rothwell, G. W., Scheckler, S. E., and Gillespie, W. H. 1989. Elkinsia gen. nov., a late Devonian gymnosperm with cupulate ovules. Bot. Gaz. 150: 170-189.
Simpson, G. G. 1934 (renewed 1964). Attending Marvels - A Patagonian Journey. Time Inc., New York, 289 pp.
Stewart, W. N. 1983. Paleobotany and the Evolution of Plants. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge. 405 pp.