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Rough-Hewn Land: A Geologic Journey from California to the Rocky Mountains Hardcover – November 15, 2011

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Rough-Hewn Land: A Geologic Journey from California to the Rocky Mountains + 101 American Geo-Sites You've Gotta See (Geology Underfoot) + Geological Evolution of the Colorado Plateau of Eastern Utah and Western Colorado
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: University of California Press (November 15, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0520259351
  • ISBN-13: 978-0520259355
  • Product Dimensions: 7 x 1 x 10 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (48 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #329,477 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


“The writing is so conversational that it’s hard to believe this is science. . . . Meldahl has captured the wonder, as well as the facts that produced it [the geologic world of the American West] in this vaguely unsettling (so much activity in what we depend on to be still and solid) and enlightening book.”
(The Atlantic 2012-03-01)

“Informative and highly readable, "Rough-Hewn Land" belongs on the shelf of any Westerner curious about how that stunning view through the windshield came to be.”
(Bettina Boxall Los Angeles Times Book Review 2012-01-29)

“An absorbing book. . . . A good introduction to the geology of the region.”
(Ian Paulsen The Guardian 2011-11-27)

“A unique and intriguing book that perfectly brings together an infectious passion for earth science, a down-to-earth writing style, and deep thinking about how geology affects the human experience.”
(Josh Trapani Washington Ind Rev Of Bks 2012-01-31)

“A magnificent volume. . . . The broad coverage has something for every geologist, as well as anyone with an interest in the geography, geology, history, and development of the western United States.”
(Gary D. Webster Geological Journal 2012-03-29)

"A lively discussion, incorporating recent ideas, on the creation of one of the most dramatic landscapes on Earth . . . a great introduction."
(Craig H. Jones Nature Geoscience 2012-08-01)

“Landscapes tell stories, and Western North America has no shortage of geological sagas in the making. Keith Heyer Meldahl offers a fresh account of this gripping Earth epic in Rough-Hewn Land . . . this is much more than just a geology guide to the region.”
(Claire Peaslee High Country News 2012-04-30)

“In taking us as armchair guests along his road trip from San Francisco, over the gold-laden Sierra Nevada, across the rolling topography of the Basin and Range to the summit of the Rocky Mountains, Meldahl has written a paean not only to the landscape, but to those who put its story together. And what an incredible story it is.”
(David B. Williams Earth Magazine 2012-10-01)

From the Inside Flap

“A virtual road trip through geologic time that opens ancient windows on how the West was made. Meldahl is the ideal tour guide, blending history and geology to explain the rocks and topography of the American West and how geology shaped its settlement"--David Montgomery, author of Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations

"The geology of the western United States is as fascinating, yet as enigmatic, as that of any region in the world. Keith Meldahl not only makes it comprehensible, he makes us want to hit the road to see it for ourselves. If you are curious about how our unique American West got to be the way it is, read this engaging book."--James Lawrence Powell, author of Dead Pool and Grand Canyon

"This book is far and away the most readable and geologically informative about the West. A real tour-de-force."--William R. Dickinson, University of Arizona

"Meldahl effectively integrates human history with the much longer, and still active, geologic history."--Eldridge M. Moores, coeditor of Bedrock: Writers on the Wonders of Geology

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Customer Reviews

4.8 out of 5 stars
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The author's writing style is entertaining and engaging.
The author has a very engaging writing style which makes an inherently confusing subject easy to follow.
If the subject interests you I Highly recommend this book.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

39 of 40 people found the following review helpful By R. M. Peterson TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on February 3, 2012
Format: Hardcover
In ROUGH-HEWN LAND, Keith Heyer Meldahl (a Professor of Geology) takes the reader on a geological journey eastward, starting at the Golden Gate and ending on the eastern edge of the Rocky Mountains. The north-south band of his tour centers roughly on Interstate Highway 80. He explores such things as the pillow basalt heaped up around the Golden Gate (volcanic basalt that once formed part of the ocean floor thousands of miles west of California); other geological aspects of the accreted terranes that form the entire west coast of North America for one hundred or more miles inland; the gold and other mineral resources of the Sierra Nevada foothills; the dramatic evidence of past earthquake activity throughout much of the West and the geological reasons for it; the Basin and Range province, where to a degree unmatched anywhere else the Earth's crust has been stretched like an accordion; and the formation of the Rocky Mountains, where some of the oldest rock of the continent can be found on mountain summits.

What underpins the geology of the book is plate tectonics, and Meldahl helped me appreciate much better that the explanatory power of plate tectonics is roughly on a par with the concept of biological evolution and with quantum physics. Most of the book is in accord with the current consensus of geological science, though on a few specifics Meldahl ventures beyond the accepted consensus. For instance, does the San Andreas fault mark the western edge of the North American Plate, as reflected in all the textbooks? Meldahl says no, that wedged between the Pacific Plate and the North American Plate there is a separate plate that moves on its own, which he calls the "Sierran Plate".
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Felice A. Picano on May 3, 2012
Format: Hardcover
Sure I took Geology 1 in school, called by us Rocks for Jocks, but that was more to get close to the jocks, than to the rocks. Still when I, a North Easterner by birth and upbringing, began driving around California and Arizona, Utah, and New Mexico, Oregon and Colorado in the late 1960's and ever since and then moved to L.A. it soon became clear that geology was a subject I had to know. If only to understand why the Western third of this country is so utterly magnificent and unique among the any other many places in my travels.

Meldahl's got all the answers. He tells his story from the Left Coast in, which was perfect for me, since I know it -- from Vancouver Island down to Baja -- better than any other area in the U.S. And yes I've stood pissing off the edge of Highway 40 in the middle of nowhere wondering why the heck are those mountains ahead of me sharp ridged and chocolate brown, while the ones in back of me are dusty yellow and facing the other way.

Meldahl explains it all in this terrific book.

I've never gotten such a clear understanding of how plate tectonics works than right here. It is, as Meldahl himself says almost casually in passing, one of the great scientific revelations of our time: equal to the Big Bang Theory and Evolution and yet he makes it simple.

Despite all that Seriousness, the author tells it all so straightforwardly, with various characters and anecdotes and historical movements and he tells it involvingly and often so amusingly that the enormous amount of material he lays out is easily absorbed. His illustrations too are great, with captions such as "note bored spouse in car for scale" and my all time favorite scientific diagram, the three smashed beer cans exhibit of how California's mountain ranges developed.

Meldahl is a "Rock" Star and Jock of All-Rocks.
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14 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Jack Bebinger on December 23, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Anyone who has read the author's previous book, 2007's Hard Road West, knows that Keith Heyer Meldahl is a master at explaining geological concepts to the layman. His latest book is even more accomplished than the last. If you want to know the story of the how the American West came to be the way it is today, in all of its majestic and at times forbidding beauty, you couldn't ask for a better guide than Rough-Hewn Land.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Stretchkev on January 29, 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
When it comes to books written about geology for a general audience there is only one definitive classic: Annals of the Former World by John McPhee. It's hard to imagine that anything could really improve upon the classic, but I think Rough-Hewn Land has in many ways added to McPhee's geological chronicle across the western portion of I-80 and is a worthy companion piece. For a complete history of the assembling of California to the exhumation of the Rockies you can't go wrong with either of these books, but there are a few key differences:

The first key difference between Rough-Hewn Land and the Annals, is that Rough-Hewn Land has been written by a professional geologist, that is intimate with the geology of the western United States. McPhee uses his unique narrative style to essentially relate a very detailed interview/tour guide of a local expert. Medahl on the other hand is the expert, so his story is more coherent and complete. He also is better at relating how plate tectonics controls the dramatic landscapes of the American west. I was worried that Medahl's prose would be somewhat dry considering that he is a professor after all, but I was pleasantly surprised that his writing is not only very readable but it is also quite enjoyable. There was even a bit of humor in his writing, that is if you find geologist “humor” to be funny (Beer cans are used at one point to illustrate a concept). And if the geology bores the reader Medahl has included some asides into the regional histories like the California gold rush and why the geology of Utah doomed the Donner Party long before they got to the infamous pass named in their honor. However, it does lack the amateur enthusiasm of the McPhee's books.
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