“Readers of [Shinn’s] autobiography are likely to be…charmed.”—The New York Times
“Read the book, and become a friend of a most remarkable man”—AAPG Explorer
We are pleased to introduce the new paperback edition of Bootstrap Geologist: My Life in Science, an autobiography by geologist Gene Shinn. Known worldwide among geologists, marine scientists, and petroleum engineers, Shinn has made major geological discoveries that have elevated him to the top of his profession. He helped invent the technology for underwater core drilling, and, more recently, he has studied the effects of transoceanic African dust on coral reefs, agriculture, and human health. He’s even the basis for a character in a mystery novel.
In his autobiography, Shinn enthusiastically shares the highs and lows of his remarkable career. Readers are given a front-row seat to adventures in the field, along with the chance to reflect on issues such as the use and abuse of scientific research and the emergence of government-funded research. By sharing his memories, Shinn hopes to demonstrate how far passion and curiosity can take us while showing readers how the scientific process really works.
That passion shines brightly in this Q&A with the award-winning earth scientist.
“The best ideas come to you while in the field.”
You attended the University of Miami on a music scholarship. How did you transition from playing percussion in symphonies to becoming a spearfishing champion and working as a geologist?
A lot of it was serendipity—I enjoyed them all. The spearfishing was fun but it also put food on the table for my growing family. However geology and travel it afforded was the clincher.
What was it like to be one of the only Americans living in Qatar in the mid-1960s?
It was a wonderful adventure. We certainly learned much and the location provided a springboard to visit other parts of the world.
You won the Twenhofel Medal, the highest award given by the Society for Sedimentary Geology for your contribution to the field. What would you mark as one of the biggest reasons you were chosen for such an honor?
I met so many great geologists and others when I ran field trips and gave lectures at annual meetings. In 1977 I did a 6-week speaking tour at universities around the US and met just about everyone in the field of sedimentary geology. The fact that I published over 150 scientific articles was also a big factor. Some of my findings were controversial but I never got into verbal fights with others. Also, as a diver with lots of hands-on skills, I was one of few in my field. I think that comes through in my book.
What made you want to write Bootstrap Geologist?
My father had incredible adventures and was a gifted writer, but he would never sit down and write his biography. (He did some CIA work and he helped write the document that created the National Hurricane Center.) When I sat down to lunch with my colleagues and we got into conversations about my past, people would say, “Gene, you need to write a book.” When I retired from USGS in 2006 and moved next door to the College of Marine Science I needed a project and the timing was just right to start the book. Once I started there was no turning back. I must say I had no idea it would be so popular.
What was the response like when your book first came out?
All the responses have been positive. I keep receiving nice notes from people around the world.
You appear as the main character in Sarah Andrews’s novel, Killer Dust. What was it like to see yourself portrayed as the protagonist in a mystery?
It was fun! Geologists like her books because we can usually guess who the characters are.
You recently studied the effects of African dust on coral reefs, agriculture, and human health. What other geological issues are you currently researching or plan to study in the future?
I have a paper I have been working on for several years explaining the demise of Florida Bay ecosystems and coral reefs. I don’t think the world is ready for it. I am currently working on my next book on the geology of the Florida Keys, including coral reefs and Florida Bay. It is near completion. I’m doing it in collaboration with my long-time colleague, Barbara Lidz. The working title is Key Limes.
What natural location do you best like to study and why?
I am most comfortable with anything having to do with the oceans. As we speak, my 42-foot boat is in the Florida Keys, where I continue to document what is happening to the area. The best ideas come to you while in the field.
Do you have one sentence of advice for aspiring scientists?
If you have a good idea, stick with it and do not be afraid to keep on it, regardless if you have funding or not.