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November-December 2010

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Media Reviews: November/December 2010

Today almost everyone is familiar with “granite” countertops and in particular that peculiar gray variety rich in blue-flashing labradorite. This rock, which is the official stone of Norway, is commonly marketed as “larvikite” and originates in quarries exploiting the Larvik Plutonic Complex along the country's southeastern coast. The wonderfully varied and mineralogically complex igneous units comprising this sequence of rocks are the topic of this new book. The book is edited by Alf O. Larsen, who also wrote much of the text. It begins with a short foreword and an introduction, followed by a well-illustrated and detailed historical account of the district that includes the impact its study had on the careers of famous geologists, mineralogists, and mineral dealers such as Brogger, Johannsen, Flink, Kranz, Oftedal, and others. This is followed by a chapter on the Larvik Plutonic Complex, including larvikite proper and the associated nepheline syenite plutons and their pegmatites. The chapter is subdivided into sections on the Oslo rift, history of the study of nepheline syenites, structure of the Larvik Complex, age of the plutons (intruded about 300 mya), and a description of the major rock types (larvikite, lardalite, foyaite, and the Langesundsfjord nepheline syenite) and the major pegmatite groups or swarms. Next is a chapter on the larvikite industry that again is well illustrated and recounts the early quarrying of schillerising or “labrador” rock, which began in about 1811. Then comes the real meat of the book, starting with a good section complete with maps and many outcrop photographs, on the renowned syenite pegmatite localities, followed by 160 pages devoted to the minerals found in them.

The “minerals” chapter, coauthored by Larsen along with Svein Berge, Frode Andersen, Knut Edvard Larsen, and Ingulv Burvald, is wonderfully done. The minerals are arranged alphabetically with each species described in terms of its general characteristics, historical context, habit, crystal sizes where appropriate, and best localities. Virtually every mineral is illustrated by one or more photographs, the quality of which is uniformly outstanding. The photographers include such familiar names as R. Bode, M. Reinhardt, E. Jonnson, and the editor/author, to name only a few. Some minerals are illustrated in outcrop, others as photomicrographs, and some in crystal drawings. Particularly well-treated are zircon, natrolite, leucophanite, homilite, helvite, gonnardite, eudidymite, berborite, and aegirine-augite. The minerals described include a number of important species for which the district is the type locality. These include microcline, pyrochlore, thorite, hambergite, eudidymite, gadolinite-(Ce), astrophyllite, and catapleiite. The book closes with a number of tables that include a complete list of all species known from the plutonic complex; a listing with discussion of currently unnamed or unknown species from the district; a list of discredited, obsolete, and doubtful minerals; a tabulation of fluorescent species and related data; and a list of mineral localities within the complex organized by municipality. There is a final comprehensive reference section.

One way to evaluate a book is to determine how to improve it. That is quite difficult in this instance. The English is excellent, the photographs crisp with faithful color rendition, the paper slick and elegant, and the text comprehensive and apparently almost error-free. It could be hardbound, but that would have driven up the cost. In short, this is a definitive work on an important and often overlooked group of mineral deposits. It sets a new, clearly higher standard for this sort of work. I strongly recommend it for any mineral collector's library.

Robert B. Cook
Auburn University, Auburn, Alabama

This interesting and beautifully illustrated book is long overdue, filling the previous gaping void represented by the lack of a comprehensive English-language work on the collector minerals and gems of Brazil. It was written in collaboration with almost a dozen major dealers and collectors, a number of whom are fixtures at American gem and mineral shows, including Alvero Lucio and Luiz Menezes. Translation from the original Portuguese was by Business Translation Services with additional editing by Ian McReath. The book was sponsored by Vale, an international mining company headquartered in Brazil, and the Brazilian Cultural Ministry.

The book is an interesting collection of what are essentially 175 mini-chapters. The first 25 of these comprise introductory and background materials. They include informative sections on lithic art and art objects of Brazil's Indians, the historical aspects of mineralogy in Brazil, individual short sections on the country's major museum collections, and discussions of Brazil's type species. Next comes the bulk of the book, almost 150 chapters, consisting of descriptions of the more interesting, unusual, and best of Brazil's minerals and gems, organized somewhat loosely in the standard “Dana” format for the nonsilicates and by general structural classes for silicates, beginning with elements and finishing up with the tectosilicates. The treatment of species within this general framework is far from standard. Some minerals are discussed through as many as 19 mini-chapters. Many have fascinating titles. With respect to gold, for example, chapters include “Gold Fever in Serra Pelada,” “The Gold Mine of Morro Velho,” and “The Auriferous Claims.” Collectively, the 9 chapters on gold (the first set in the descriptive mineralogy section) present a comprehensive picture of what is admittedly a historically and geologically complex subject. Platinum is covered next in a single mini-chapter titled “The Mysterious Origin of Platinum in Brazil.” Diamond is discussed in 11 short chapters that include one on kimberlitic rocks and another on famous Brazilian diamonds. The detail of presentation is, of course, dictated by the importance of a particular mineral or gem with respect to its Brazilian occurrences. There are only single short chapters devoted to such familiar species as cassiterite, corundum, crocoite, phenakite, zircon, and epidote, each of which occurs in unusual specimens there. Others are covered in much greater detail. For example, the 5 chapters devoted to topaz contain excellent separate descriptions of the mines at Ouro Preto, the Capão do Lana mine, and the mine at Antonio Pereira. The garnets are covered in 5 chapters. Euclase and andalusite are covered in single chapters with enticing names: “The Magical Allure of the Euclase” and “The Remarkable Pleochroism of Andalusite,” respectively. Almost 50 pages contained in 8 mini-chapters present an excellent coverage of beryl and the beryl gems. Even more expansive is the treatment of tourmaline, consisting of 19 mini-chapters with separate treatment given to major districts and individual deposits, including the Jonas, Cruzeiro, Aricanga, and Pederneira. Opal is treated in the final technical chapters. The book closes with brief sketches of the major collaborators, a comprehensive bibliography, acknowledgments, and author biographies.

Although a good book in many regards, the strength of Minerals and Precious Stones of Brazil is in its more than one thousand uniformly high-quality color illustrations. Most are of mineral and gem specimens, but in the treatment of historical, locality, geologic, and biographical topics, appropriate illustrations abound. The specimen photography of Marcelo Lerner and secondarily of Jeff Scovil is featured throughout and is certainly to be admired.

The book is not without its shortcomings. There is no index, and this can be confounding. Without knowledge of specific mineral chemistry, how is one to find sellaite or villiaumite, for instance. These two minerals, and others, are included in the text under the heading Fluorite. A mineral and locality index would have been most helpful. In addition, the book is not a thorough geographic mineralogy in the same sense as the recently published Minerals of Britain and Ireland (Tindle 2008), and, frankly, such a work would be almost impossible if the quality and use of color photography were to be maintained. Still, the best and most interesting localities for Brazil's most important minerals and gems are well treated within its covers.

Minerals and Precious Stones of Brazil is a monumental work, surpassing all previous attempts to comprehensively treat this subject. The printing is excellent and the colors of the many featured specimens quite natural and perfectly reproduced. It is highly recommended for all serious mineral collectors.


1. Tindle, A. G. (2008) Minerals of Britain and Ireland, Terra Publishing, Hertfordshire, England.

Robert B. Cook
Auburn University, Auburn, Alabama

This attractive coffee-table-sized book contains approximately 150 paintings of mineral specimens done in the strikingly realistic style of Hildegard Könighofer. Each picture is a “mineral specimen portrait” produced through a combination of watercolor and colored-pencil techniques. Each clearly reflects her professional background as a technical illustrator and was painted from the actual specimen without the aid of photographs. An Austrian by birth, Könighofer and her partner have accumulated a fine collection dominated by Austrian specimens, and one of the goals of her work is the documentation of the best of her collection as well as specimens in other private and public collections in Austria. Each specimen is painted at a scale of 1:1 and reproduced in the book accordingly. Because each page contains only one painting, some pages contain a relatively small painting surrounded by an oversized field of white, the remainder of the page. At the bottom of each page is a caption that contains the mineral name, its location, some details of its provenance, and owner information.

Following the presentation of the major paintings is a series of short contributions, each with a well-done accompanying (side-by-side) English translation and scattered, generally reduced, additional illustrative paintings. These include essays on “Science versus Aesthetics?” by Bernd Moser; “Austrian Mineral Deposits and Occurrences” by Gerhard Niedermayr; “Classic Mineral Finds from the Koralpe Mountain Range (Styria/Carinthia)” by Walter Post; a discussion of “A Picture Gallery in Upper Austria's Innviertel, Alpine Minerals in the works of Hildegard Könighofer” by Wolfgang and Helga Stohr; “Minerals from Romanian Ore Deposits” by Simone and Peter Huber; “The Mineral Fluorite: A Great Diversity of Form and Color” by Robert Brandstetter and Dietmar Jakely; “Mineral Masterpieces: A Perspective” by Daniel Trinchillo; and a final section on “Appropriation and Reproduction” by Wenzel Mracek. The book closes with a specimen catalogue and index, a list of abbreviations, and contact information for all contributors.

Several important things can be learned from this attractive work. First, a great appreciation for the diversity and quality of minerals in Austria and nearby countries can be gained upon which to judge other specimens. Good information concerning mineral occurrences in this area can be gleaned from the concise essays at the end of the book, and the discussion of fine minerals by Daniel Trinchillo contains insights that should be of value to every reader. The book is heartily recommended for—in the words of Wendell Wilson taken from the book's introduction—“Hildegard Könighofer's paintings are thus sources of wonder and amazement, especially to the experienced mineralogist and mineral collector. To see minerals through the eyes of an artist is to see and enjoy them anew. … We can only peer into her exquisite world and wonder how on earth does she do that?”

Robert B. Cook
Auburn University, Auburn, Alabama

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