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Karl Sabbagh

A Rum affair

In the 1940's the botanist John Heslop Harrison (1881-1967) reported finding several rare plants and insects on the remote Scottish island of Rum. But many were suspicious - no one else was finding such specimens and the findings fitted in too well with Harrison's own theories. In A Rum affair: A True Story of Botanical Fraud Karl Sabbagh tells the story.

The book is based around an report written in 1954, by John Raven, a classics tutor at Kings College Cambridge. Following the suspicions about Heslop-Harrison's work, the powers that be had asked Raven to investigate, and in 1948 he managed to accompany Heslop-Harrison on a field trip there - Rum was a privately owned island and so it wasn't that easy for people to check up on Heslop-Harrison's work. Raven quickly came to the conclusion that the discoveries weren't genuine. Sabbagh takes the reader through some of the correspondence between Raven and Heslop-Harrison, and it soon becomes clear from Heslop-Harrison's bluster that he has something to hide. The surprising thing is that when Raven finished his report it was hidden away in a college library. In fact this book seems to be the only place where the evidence has been brought together for people to see. There was no public denouncement of Heslop-Harrison, rather his 'discoveries' were just gradually left out of the records. Sabbagh goes on to discuss scientific fraud in general, and in particular the work of C.P. Snow, who was a contemporary of Raven's father Charles. A Rum affair is a well written book considering the case from both sides and bringing to life the sometimes rather eccentric personalities involved.

Amazon.com info
Paperback 296 pages  
ISBN: 0306810603
Salesrank: 1536455
Weight:0.87 lbs
Published: 2001 Da Capo Press
Amazon price $2.00
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Amazon.co.uk info
Paperback 300 pages  
ISBN: 0306810603
Salesrank: 849775
Weight:0.87 lbs
Published: 2001 Da Capo Press
Marketplace::Used from £2.50
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Amazon.ca info
Paperback 304 pages  
ISBN: 0306810603
Salesrank: 975637
Weight:0.87 lbs
Published: 2001 Da Capo Press
Marketplace:New from CDN$ 13.81:Used from CDN$ 0.73
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Product Description
A Rum Affair is an absorbing tale of scientific chicanery and academic intrigue—critically acclaimed and a finalist for the Los Angeles TimesBook Prize. In the 1940s, the eminent British botanist John Heslop Harrison proposed a controversial theory: Species of plants on the islands off the west coast of Scotland, he said, had survived the last Ice Age. His premise flew in the face of evidence that the last advance of the ice sheets extended well south of mainland Scotland, but he said he had proof—the plants and grasses found on the Isle of Rum—that would make his name in the scientific world. Harrison didn't anticipate, however, the tenacious John Raven, an amateur botanist who boldly questioned whether these grasses were truly indigenous to the area, or whether they had been transported there and planted. What seems at first a minor infringement of academic honesty soon becomes an enthralling tale of rival scientists and fraudulent science, a skillful whodunit that, in the hands of the talented Sabbagh, joins the ranks of the best narrative nonfiction.