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March-April 2017

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Media Reviews

Minéraux du mont Saint-Hilaire: Un Patrimoine Exceptionnel (The Minerals of Mont Saint-Hilaire: An Exceptional Heritage) by Gilles Haineault (in French). Patrimoine hilairemontais, Mont-Saint-Hilaire, Québec. 2014; 121 pages; $20 plus postage (softbound), $28 plus postage (hardbound). Available from

Gilles Haineault, the author of this book, is arguably the best-known field collector and dealer of Mont Saint-Hilaire minerals. For a number of years he organized an annual exhibition to draw attention of the local public and elected officials to the world-famous mineral locality in their midst. In 2013 he was invited by the Mont Saint-Hilaire heritage society (Patrimoine hilairemontais) to write a book about the mountain and its minerals. The book begins with a preface, an introduction to Haineault, and a note from him in which he writes (p. 13): “I am neither a mineralogist nor a geologist, but simply someone passionate about the minerals of this mountain.” It is from this personal perspective that the book is written, in plain language, aimed at a broad audience.

The book is in four main sections. In the first, Le mont Saint-Hilaire (16 pages), the reader is introduced to the geology of the mountain and the quarries, the history of the quarries, the discovery of the mountain's rare minerals, the involvement of Montreal's English- and French-speaking mineral clubs, some early mineral collectors, and the environments in which the minerals occur. In one of several personal collecting experiences described in the book, Haineault contrasts the collection of minerals from large open pegmatite cavities with the effort required to break up a large marble xenolith to extract exceptional crystals of sugilite while the temperature hovered around 35°C. Color photographs and illustrations complement the text.

The second section, Les minéraux (67 pages), presents the minerals of Mont Saint-Hilaire in five groupings: representative and rare minerals that have been found as exceptional thumbnail- to cabinet-sized specimens; microminerals; type minerals; pseudomorphs; and fluorescent and phosphorescent minerals. Minerals in the first three groupings are listed in alphabetical order, with the chemical classification after the species name. Short notes for each mineral touch on one or more characteristics such as color, habit, rarity, association, geological environment, and significant finds—they are not mineralogical descriptions. Chemical formulas and a literature reference are provided only for the type minerals. Included in this grouping is a tribute to Dr. George Y. Chao, who first identified and described so many of the minerals of Mont Saint-Hilaire. The mountain has produced a remarkable number of pseudomorphs, of which eleven well-crystallized examples are highlighted. Finally, Haineault notes that Mont Saint-Hilaire is one of the world's most important localities for fluorescent minerals, with about sixty fluorescent species. The Les minéraux section is lavishly illustrated with 146 mineral photographs. With few exceptions, they are Haineault's photographs of specimens in his collection. Interspersed are photographs of people collecting minerals.

Sometimes overshadowed is the fact that some remarkable and rare gemstones have been cut from Mont Saint-Hilaire minerals. Les gemmes et les pierres fines, is a brief section (5 pages) with photographs by Haineault of cut stones, in the collections of the Canadian Museum of Nature and the Royal Ontario Museum, and examples of lapidary art.

The final section (5 pages), Conclusion (in the English sense of “in closing”), notes the international renown of Mont Saint-Hilaire minerals, which are the subject of numerous publications, master's and doctorate theses, and displays in museums worldwide. Appended (8 pages) are an etymology of the type mineral names, a 2014 list of Mont Saint-Hilaire minerals (prepared by László Horváth), a brief glossary of geological and mineralogical terms, references (only three), and acknowledgments.

As a personal narrative, Minéraux du mont Saint-Hilaire complements the many articles on the mountain and its minerals in the mineralogical literature. It is the only book in French on the subject outside the more scientific literature. Anyone with even an elementary knowledge of French should not have a problem understanding the text. For Mont Saint-Hilaire aficionados, the main attraction of the book will be the photographs of mineral specimens in Haineault's collection, many of them world-class. Some readers will note the absence of many species—including type minerals such as khomyakovite, quintinite, steacyite, yofortierite, and others—a shortcoming that can be attributed to Haineault's choosing to showcase his own collection. The book is printed on heavy-weight, high-quality glossy paper that does justice to the photographs. It is reasonably priced and should be on the shelf of everyone interested in the minerals of one of the world's greatest localities.

Collector's Guide to the Amphibole Group by Robert J. Lauf. Schiffer Publishing, 4880 Lower Valley Road, Atglen, PA 19310; 96 pages; 2015; $19.99 plus shipping (softbound).

The amphiboles are one of the most widespread and diverse groups of minerals (now considered a supergroup) that are often encountered by the collector. They are very difficult to identify at the species level without good chemical analyses; consequently, few collectors if any specialize in them. Still, at least some amphiboles are traditionally found in most collections; and several, such as edenite and pargasite, are well known as gemstones. As a group they are, however, important as essential minerals in those host rocks in which many of our best-known specimen occurrences are found. This recent offering by Robert Lauf presents this rather complicated mineral family in such a way that the interested collector can understand the nature of amphiboles and appreciate their complexity. One has only to look at the 2014 edition of Fleischer's Glossary of Mineral Species to realize just how great the complexity is because this important family of minerals contains many named species (based on probable chemistry and structure) that have yet to be identified in nature. The book continues the Schiffer Publishing venture to produce a series of mineralogical reference books that collectively represent a valuable educational resource.

The Collector's Guide to the Amphibole Group begins with an important table of contents—important because there is no index. Next comes a foreward that consists of two brief statements, one by Dr. Frank Hawthorne and the other by Dr. Roberta Oberti, both experts in minerals of the amphibole supergroup. A preface follows, and here we find such phrases as “maddingly complex from a chemical and therefore nomenclatural perspective.” The reader will quickly learn that this is an understatement. A page later one finds the introduction with its good review of initial amphibole research focused interestingly on tremolite as well as recent modern attempts to categorize and unravel what is a vibrant, growing population of related mineral species. The introduction contains sections on gemology and industrial usage of amphiboles including a brief discussion of potential health risks associated with some asbestiform or fibrous amphiboles. On page 12 we encounter an important, well-illustrated chapter on Taxonomy. It includes no less than ten tables that segregate the amphiboles into groups based on end-member compositions for those with certain dominant cations or cation groups, such as Ca amphiboles, for example. Additional tables show the use of prefixes and list obsolete names. A subsection dealing with crystal structure and morphology follows. The chapter closes with a review of amphibole color and pleochroism. A short chapter on amphibole formation and geochemisty comes next and includes brief sections on amphiboles in igneous, metamorphic, and extraterrestrial rocks. Those of extraterrestrial origin include richterite, fluoro-edenite, and kaersutaite.

The meat of the book, the systematic discussion of the minerals, begins on page 30. They are arranged alphabetically by the root name. For instance, minerals such as fluoro-edenite are found under edenite, ferro-hornblende and magnesio-hornblende under hornblende. Consequently, the descriptions begin with anthophyllite followed by arfvedsonite and barroisite. Ultimately we arrive at winchite on page 86. Information contained in species discussions include interesting descriptions of important occurrences, the mineral's dominant physical and chemical properties, and what minerals might be found in association with it. Most species are illustrated with good photographs of typical to very good specimens of the sort found in dealer stocks or particularly successful outings. The final 9 pages of the book are dedicated to a rather extensive list of references.

A Collector's Guide to the Amphibole Group represents the successful completion of a difficult though necessary task. Its production quality is consistent with the other well-done volumes in this series. It is a good buy and certainly worthy of its place on any mineral collector's bookshelf.

Mineralogy of Uranium and Thorium by Robert J. Lauf, Schiffer Publishing, 4880 Lower Valley Rd., Atglen, PA 19310; 352 pages; 2016; $59.99 plus shipping (hardbound).

For those collectors with a special interest in the rather complex mineralogy of uranium and thorium there was no relatively modern, comprehensive work other than the now half-century-old treatise by Clifford Frondel—the Systematic Mineralogy of Uranium and Thorium (U.S. Geological Survey Bulletin 1064)—published in 1958. Many new species have been discovered since its publication, structures and crystal chemistry have been refined, and the list of important mineral localities has grown dramatically. So, it was with some degree of apprehensive excitement that I opened Robert Lauf's latest offering to the world of mineral literature, Mineralogy of Uranium and Thorium. Frondel's work was excellent for its day, and to generate an equivalent publication inclusive of important new data would be a monumental task. Lauf has met the challenge and produced a modern, expanded, and beautifully illustrated version of Frondel's original tome.

The book begins with four short sections, a foreword, a preface that includes an important section on the safe handling of radioactive minerals, acknowledgements with special emphasis on crystal drawings and the use of Crystal Maker software, and a table of abbreviations. An introduction follows that includes sections on the discovery and exploration of uranium and thorium, worldwide economic reserves of the two commodities, and a review of the fundamental techniques for characterizing radioactive minerals including a review of radiation detectors, autoradiography, and ore microscopy. A concise review of the formation and characteristics of radioactive deposits follows with individual sections on the geochemistry of uranium and thorium, the classification of their deposits, and significant provinces and epochs.

The next section consists of a 55-page review of worldwide radioactive mineral localities. The discussion begins with North America, moves to South America and then to Europe and Central Asia, and ends with Australian and African deposits. The section is well illustrated with maps, specimen photographs, and important tables that list both the major deposits of certain areas as well as the radioactive minerals first described from them. Not surprisingly we find that fifty-two radioactive species were first described from Congo, many of these colorful secondaries from Shinkolobwe, Katanga.

The most important and longest section of the book, Systematic Mineralogy, comes next. It is broken down into two fundamental sections. The first deals with primary minerals and the next with secondary minerals. Individual sections under secondary minerals are devoted to oxides and hydroxides; carbonates; sulfates; selenites, tellurites, and arsenites; molybdates, tungstates, niobates, and titanates; phosphates and arsenates; vanadates; and silicates. Virtually every mineral is illustrated photographically, most in color, and with a structural diagram. Each mineral description includes important and interesting information such as locality history, details of its occurrences, chemistry and physical properties, a general structural description, and distinguishing features.

Just when one thinks there can be no more radioactives to describe, we come to the next chapter, which is devoted to Other Minerals Containing Essential U or Th. There are about fifty such species, many of which are more familiar as rare-earth minerals or as those containing important amounts of niobium and/or tantalum. The chapter is again well illustrated with both mineral photographs and structural diagrams. There is a final short chapter devoted to minerals that often contain U and Th as impurities. These include minerals of the allanite group, zircon, opal and agate, xenotime, rare-earth carbonates, and even barite.

The book contains two important appendices. The first lists obsolete and varietal names and synonyms. The second is a checklist of radioactive minerals that is a table giving the primary and secondary minerals along with their formulae, color, and ultraviolet fluorescence. The following bibliography is somewhat unusual in that it begins with a good discussion of the literature that makes up the core of knowledge from which much of this and other works have been compiled. This is followed by references arranged alphabetically, some 22 pages of them. The book closes with three indices—Mineral Names, Mineral Localities, and General Topics.

Mineralogy of Uranium and Thorium is a well printed and bound volume crammed with good information and copious illustrations. Even very rare species are well illustrated, and the book's many photographs can at least give collectors an idea of whether or not they are on the right identification track by comparing unknowns to the book's illustrations. The presentation of data is pleasing and the writing style engaging while at the same time maintaining a strong technical flare. Purchasers of the book are given a free download of CrystalViewer® through a special arrangement with CrystalMaker Software, Ltd. This includes complete access to the many files for crystals and structures found throughout the book. The program allows rotation and measurement of these features and is a valuable tool for the interested mineralogist and collector. The entire package, book and program, is well worth the price and will likely become the most popular general reference on radioactive minerals.


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