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John William Dawson: Faith, Hope, and Science

In the first full-length biography of John William Dawson (1820-1899), eminent scientist and principal of McGill University, Susan Sheets-Pyenson highlights the extraordinary scope of Dawson’s educational and scientific career and his commitment to science, rationality, and the advancement of knowledge. rnrnDawson was born and raised in Pictou, Nova Scotia, where the many sandstone and coal formations provided fertile ground for his first scientific explorations, which culminated in the publication of Acadian Geology. He became principal of McGill University in 1855 and over the next forty years worked unceasingly to transform McGill from a “tiny, poverty-stricken provincial school” into a scientific institution of the highest rank. He was the only person to hold the presidency of both the American Association for the Advancement of Science and its British equivalent. Dawson’s energetic promotion of scientific institutions in Canada remains one of his most enduring legacies, particularly his role in creating the Royal Society of Canada.rnrnDrawing on Dawson’s correspondence and personal papers, Sheets-Pyenson paints an intimate portrait of a pivotal figure in Canada’s scientific heritage and a proper Victorian gentleman whose pious Presbyterianism, missionary zeal, and unwavering belief in the light of knowledge drove him on a quest to conquer ignorance, eradicate prejudice, and vanquish bigotry.

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