One of the most valuable tools for the advancement of geological science has in fact been the humble road cut. United States Interstate 80 crosses the entire North American continent, in the process exposing hundreds of millions of years of geological history. In Basin and Range,
McPhee, accompanied at times by Princeton geologist Kenneth S. Deffeyes, demonstrates how the contorted and tilted rocks seen in these road cuts reveal how islands of the earth's crust have floated across the earth's surface, crashing and folding to form basin and range. This is a masterful and sometimes even poetic volume of popular writing about plate tectonics, communicating the profound satisfaction of using scientific research as a tool for understanding the world around us.
This is the first of four books on North American geology by McPhee, collectively entitled Annals of the Former World. The other volumes are In Suspect Terrain, Rising from the Plains, and Assembling California.
“In Basin and Range, McPhee is not so much a visiting amateur as a rhapsodist of “deep time” . . . The result is a fascinating book.” – Paul Zweig, The New York Times Book Review
“One result of the trip west is an introduction to plate tectonics--probably the most readable summary extant. Geologists will find it sound, others will find it understandable and illuminating.” -- Geotimes
“He triumphs by succinct prose, by his uncanny ability to capture the essence of a complex issue, or an arcane trade secret, in a well-turned phrase.” -- Stephen J. Gould, New York Review of Books
“An exciting account of geology and the geologist, providing both an excellent history and an up-to-date snapshot of our science in the 1980s.” -- Howard R. Gould President, the Geological Society of America
“McPhee has taken on something that all of us--especially the American Geological Institute and its news magazine Geotimes--should take on: the explanation to non-geologists of what geology is all about.” -- Wendell Cochran, Geotimes
“The best popular portrayal of geology that I have seen in my thirty-two years of experience as a professional geologist.” -- H. A. Kuehnert, Director, Worldwide Exploration, Phillips Petroleum Company