James Hutton – The Genius of Time

Published: 01 Sep 2022
Publisher: Birlinn Ltd
Imprint: Birlinn
Format: Hardback
ISBN: 9781780277851

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About the book

Discover one of the Scottish Enlightenment’s brightest stars.

Among the giants of the Scottish Enlightenment, the name of James Hutton is overlooked. Yet his Theory of the Earthrevolutionised the way we think about how our planet was formed and laid the foundation for the science of geology. He was in his time a doctor, a farmer, a businessman, a chemist yet he described himself as a philosopher – a seeker after truth.

A friend of James Watt and of Adam Smith, he was a polymath, publishing papers on subjects as diverse as why it rains and a theory of language. He shunned status and official position, refused to give up his strong Scots accent and vulgar speech, loved jokes and could start a party in an empty room.

Yet much of his story remains a mystery. His papers, library and mineral collection all vanished after his death and only a handful of letters survive. He seemed to be a lifelong bachelor, yet had a secret son whom he supported throughout his life.

This book uses new sources and original documents to bring Hutton the man to life and places him firmly among the geniuses of his time.


“Perman deftly picks his way through Hutton’s life explaining his complex theories and mind-stretching ideas.”


“Thought-provoking, easy-to-digest, and peppered with tales that could form the basis of a binge-worthy TV drama.”


“This engaging biography offers a rich and sympathetic account of one of the most important intellectual stars of the Enlightenment.”


“It is hard to see how Ray Perman’s excellent biography of James Hutton is ever likely to be supplanted as the definitive account of Hutton’s life and ideas.”


“In his attention to the social context of Hutton’s life and work, Ray Perman provides a welcome addition to the still short First Geologist bookshelf. James Hutton: The Genius of Time helps us to appreciate Hutton and the scientific fuse he lit.”