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Stories in Stone: Travels Through Urban Geology Hardcover – June 23, 2009

4.7 out of 5 stars 15 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Stone buildings are symbols of urban denaturation, but in this engaging pop-geology excavation, Williams sees them as biological entities. That's literally true of the petrified-wood gasoline station in Colorado, the stately edifices made of Indiana limestone formed from the carbonate shells of ancient mollusks, and the fossil-strewn and dinosaur-tracked slabs of New York's ubiquitous brownstone facades. But Williams (The Seattle Street-Smart Naturalist) sets every kind of stone in an ecology, a habitat and a dramatic life cycle (Minnesota's celebrated Morton gneiss, he notes, owes its gorgeous black-and-pink swirlings to 3.5 billion years of fiery upheavals and catastrophic deluges). While telling these sagas, the author investigates the science of rock dating and techniques of quarrying, recounts the exploits of great geologists and the travails Michelangelo faced in transporting marble blocks from the quarry to his workshop, and ponders the often surprising structural and aesthetic character of different species of stone. (The coquina stone of St. Augustine's fortress is material for stopping cannonballs, even though it's as fragile as a Rice Krispies Treat.) Williams's lively mixture of hard science and piquant lore is sure to fire readers' curiosity about the built environment around us. 12 b&w photos. (July)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


“David B. Williams can see the invisible. He notices the lost dramas fossilized in brownstones and statues, in the doorsteps and roof slates we walk by every day. Only such an operatic theme as the enduring grandeur of stone could encompass in a single book everything from Martian meteorites to school blackboards to dinosaur tracks. Williams's epic story is rich in colorful eccentrics, from Michelangelo to Robinson Jeffers, but no character comes alive more vividly than the restless, creative Earth itself.” ―Michael Sims, author of Apollo's Fire and Adam's Navel

“From the Bunker Hill Monument in Boston to the Colosseum in Rome, David Williams distills gripping stories from building stone--of deep geologic time and the human quest for permanence and beauty.” ―Chet Raymo, author The Path: A One-Mile Walk Through the Universe

“This is the best sort of book, one that makes you see the familiar in strange new light. Now that David Williams has warmed our stone façades with beautifully told stories, never again will I pass a brownstone without looking for its telltale flaws or walk the Granite City without thinking of the natural wonders that produced its stony poetry.” ―Jennifer Ackerman, author of Sex Sleep Eat Drink Dream: A Day in the Life of Your Body

“By assigning human stories and values to stone in this fascinating book, David B. Williams links the living and the non-living. In the process, our homes and buildings come alive.” ―Robert M. Thorson, author of Beyond Walden and Stone by Stone


Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Walker Books; 1st Us Edition edition (July 28, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802716229
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802716224
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #644,389 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

I write about natural history, whether it is ecological recovery at Mount St. Helens, a journey to find salmon in Seattle, or an essay about seeing and holding first editions of On The Origin of Species. Some of my work can also be classified as science writing and/or environmental journalism. Over the past few years, I have focused in my books, including The Street-Smart Naturalist, primarily on urban landscapes.

A central goal in my writing is to encourage people to look more carefully at the natural world around them. I hope that my essays and articles will provoke the reader to ask more questions, to go outside and investigate, to delve deeper into the subject, to reevaluate what they may have taken for granted. I have written for publications as diverse as Smithsonian, Earth, Northwest Palate, and American History.

I grew up in Seattle, went to college in Colorado, worked as park ranger at Arches National Park and the Frederick Law Olmsted National Historic Park, and moved back to Seattle in 1998. I write full time, like to hike and bike, and explore urban nature.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Ages both of human and geological history, that is. In this well-written book, the author discusses building stones that have been used in America (including the rocks from Italy), the history of their use by humans, their geological formation, and often how they were quarried. Sometimes changes in fashion are important in determining demand-for example, the use of Indiana limestone increased after the 1893 Columbia exposition in Chicago made white a popular color for building.

The 10 chapters of the book are entitled:

1. "The most hideous stone ever quarried" - New York Brownstone
2. The granite city - Boston granite
3. Poetry in stone - Carmel Granite
4. Deep time in Minnesota - Minnesota gneiss
5. The clam that changed the world- Florida Coquina
6. America's building stone - Indiana limestone
7. Pop rocks, pilfered fossils, and Phillips Petroleum - Colorado petrified wood
8. The trouble with Michelangelo's favorite stone - Carrara marble
9. Reading, writing and roofing - East Coast Slate
10. "Autumn 20,000 Years ago" - Italian travertine

Some of changes in taste are ironic. The use of brownstone, a brown sandstone readily available from near the Connecticut River and used as a sort of siding rather than as a structural feature of the building, declined not so much as a result of changing tastes but as a result of poor construction and quarry practices. The carrara marble used by Michelangelo, whatever its merits for sculpture, is not a good choice for the exterior of a building, because it is weakened by the daily swings in temperature and by the infiltration of water between the grains of the stone - but his use gives it prestige.
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Format: Hardcover
Geological finds aren't usually made inches from sidewalks of a major city or along rural roadsides - but natural history writer David Williams sees these discoveries everywhere, and in STORIES IN STONE he offers a survey of everyday stone appearing in modern life. From brownstone and granite to slate and limestone, he travels across the country to offer important insights into geology and architectural choices alike in a fine general-interest pick for any library.
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Format: Hardcover
Stories in Stone: Travels Through Urban Geology by David B. Williams hooks you in from the very first pages. Like the building stones that were meticulously laid down on top of and next to each other, Williams has carefully combined history, geology, and his own sense of wonderment and discovery to tell the story of the diverse stone that make up buildings such as the brownstones in New York, a gasoline station in Lamar, Colorado and Castillo de San Marco fort in Florida. .

Having lived in Bedford, Indiana I was particularly interested to learn that when my ancestors entered the United States at Ellis Island the first stones they saw were the off-white, fossil-rich stone quarried here. Williams also puts you the reader into the picture. The discussion about fossils will have you rushing out to examine every building made of stone while the description of the house designed and built by poet, Robinson Jeffers will spur you on to travel to Carmel, California the site of that building. In other words Stories in Stone is not only filled with interesting facts it is a very good read. I could hardly put it down as I eagerly wondered what secrets the next chapter would divulge.
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Format: Hardcover
A very enjoyable journey. "Slow down and look more carefully..." says Mr. Williams and that's what he does as he visits and examines several classic stone building materials. You know these materials (Brownstone, slate, etc.) because we have all seen them. But you may not have really experienced them until you have looked deeper. This is what this fine book provides. I enjoyed the wonderful connections that Mr. Williams orchestrates with these stone building materials. For each stone he weaves a thread through history, poetry, architecture, art, culture, scientific principals, practical understanding etc. The book reads like a wonderful travel guide that stimulates your curiosity and yields not only insight but a occasional laugh along the way. I'm a High School science and plan to use several of the geological connections to culture in my lessons. An engaging accessible read for anyone interested in history, science or the practical understanding of building with stone.
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Format: Hardcover
Geology is a marvelous science that allows one to go outside and experience it first hand. This book shows the reader the geological facet of stone building materials. The easy to read style mixes personal and historic stories into ten different chapters on stone types.

My favorite chapter was the one on Indiana limestone and its proliferation across the United States as a building material. The descriptions of the creativity and artistic skill of the stone masons as they shape limestone into ornamentation and monuments was fascinating. One can learn that such a solid stone, used to build the Empire State building and Pentagon, is based on a simple and tiny Paleozoic foraminifera sea creatures. The story about Florida's coquina clam fossils and how they helped Spanish stay in North America was educational.

One does not have to have geological background to read this book. After reading, a person should gain some knowledge in the basic rock types of sedimentary, igneous, and metamorphic. The author discusses the formation of rock through time, fossil creation, continental drift, and quarrying techniques. A helpful glossary of geological terms can be found toward the back of the book.

On the inside of the book jacket, a Web site address can be found which will lead to the author's blog. The blog has more color photographs of sites shown in the book along with expanded material on subjects covered in the book.
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