Book: The Earth


The book: The Earth. An Intimate History, by Richard Fortey

The edition: Harper Perennial paperback, 501 pages, plus preface, a P.S. with interviews and ideas, and two color inserts

About the book: part travelogue (but a travelogue written by a geologist on the road to visit places important to geology, and looking for geological tales), part history of geology, part popularization of the current understanding of how our Earth works.

My experience with the book & my thoughts: to understand my take on this book, you have to understand that I love geology as far as it explains systems, and how mountains are created, and how plates move… but I cannot for the life of me remember the different rocks and minerals, nor care about them (come on, they’re rocks after all! OK, so maybe that’s a reason why I don’t agree with the general view that “diamonds are a girl’s best friends” and never wanted one!). Here for the first time I could see how much the two aspects are interconnected, so the book gave me a completely new perspective on geology as a whole. On the other hand, given my take on rocks, it was a bit too much, too many details about too many minerals — which is the only thing that slowed me down irremediably. If you have an interest on the subject, it’s still as good as it can get: thoroughly explained, at times funny and touching, easy to understand, and beautifully showing how geology shapes our lives even if we never think about it.

What I liked: the way the author blends perfectly a travelogue-style visit to, say, Mt. Vesuvius or Hawaii, with notes about culture and people living there, and a deeper understanding of how the system Earth works as a whole. It’s a very good balance of the detail with the general, always shifting back and forth between the two.

What I didn’t like: rocks. 🙂

In the author’s own words: if you don’t like geology, here’s why you should care about it anyway (part of a description of the Grand Canyon’s strata):

We shall never know what happened in the Grand Canyon during this great period. Without a rock record, there is no way to read the book of time. It is lost to us more definitively than the secrets of the Aztecs, or the rituals of the Easter Islanders.

And here’s one of the funny lines:

A rapakivi granite forms the counter of a bar at Paddington Station in London. I come through this station most days. Although Paddington is one of Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s finest engineering achievements, the bar is a recent addition. If you have just missed your train, you can at least lean on a bar that is 1500 million years old and reflect that perhaps half an hour is not that serious a delay.

Random thought: who designed that white quarter-circle on the bottom right of the cover? Each time I look at this book I fear that it has been ruined, and then see it’s made like that on purpose…

Read this if: if you have an interest in geology it’s a good starting point. If you are interested in rocks, it will definitely help!

Counts as: One Two Theme Challenge – geology

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