Saturday, November 29, 2014

65 years of van Bemmelen's book on the Geology of Indonesia

65 years of van Bemmelen's book on the Geology of Indonesia

This year, 2014, we are commemorating the 65th year of the publication of "The Geology of Indonesia" book, authored by R. W. van Bemmelen in 1949. This 3 volumes of publication is still one of the key reference now. Many people read "van Bemmelen" biography by Prof. Adjat Sudrajat. I took the opportunity to interview some people who interact with van Bemmelen directly with the following questions:
1. How did you find his personality and what you remember of him?
2. What is your comment about his book.

Here are the answers from various sources:

Prof. Harry Doust
Currently a professor in Utrecht University. He visited van Bemmelen when he was a young geologist with Shell. van Bemmelen lived a short distance from Shell office, about 10-15 minutes walk. His answer to the questions are as follow:
- van Bemmelen and his wife appeared to be a contented, pleasant and friendly couple. When I visted them they talked with pride about their plan to commit joint suicide (euthanasia) once they felt that their mission in life was complete and that they had no reason to live further. As a young geologist, enthusiastic at the opportunity to meet such a scientific celebrity, I found this talk of death a little disconcerting, but they were both very cheerful and matter-of-fact about it.
- van Bemmelen's book is wonderfully comprehensive - a mine of information and an essential reference for anyone studying the geology of Indonesia. Working with it is not without its challenges, however, because you find the information you need on a particular area scattered through different chapters and under different sections. Given time, though, the book stimulates hugely and provides more than ample rewards. 
Prof. Herman Verstappen
Probably Prof. Verstappen is the one who has more interaction with van Bemmelen, I've talked to. He is an emeritus professor of ITC/Enschede, the Netherlands.  His reply to my e-mail is as follow:
As to van Bemmelen and his famous book: I know him as an enormous worker, a workaholic with great charm. The compilation of the geology of Indonesia that he made in his book of 1949 is a masterpeace that gained great importance because it became a guideline for the young generation of Indonesian geologists trained, notably at the ITB in Bandung by Professor Klompé and coworkers. That the text and figures survived in WW2 is a miracle. The greatest tragedy in his life was the loss of his only son who died when climbing in the Pyrenees. I think that he never really has overcome this accident. It may at least in part account for some events in his later life but how are we to know, let alone to judge...!


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