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Supercontinent: Ten Billion Years in the Life of Our Planet Paperback – March 30, 2009

ISBN-13: 978-0674032453 ISBN-10: 0674032454
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Editorial Reviews


Ted Nield tells the fascinating story of how the world has been made – and re-made – through billions of years of geological time. Geology underpins everything, yet the history of the continents on which we live has remained almost neglected. Nield has put this right with his imaginative and dynamic account of the movements of plates, and the assembly of the familiar world from an unfamiliar past. (Richard Fortey, author of Earth: An Intimate History)

'The four dimensional complexities of our happy little planet - "earth's immeasurable surprise" - are made elegantly accessible by Ted Nield in this truly exceptional book. At least until the next major discovery it deserves to become the standard work, ideal for students of the subject, and hugely enjoyable to those for whom the world remains an unfathomable enigma. (Simon Winchester)

For centuries, people have dreamed of lost continents. Today, the author of this fascinating book shows, geologists can detect evidence of a continuing cycle of formation, breakup and reformation of one giant landmass--a supercontinent--over billions of years. Nield, editor of Geoscientist magazine, imagines what these supercontinents might have looked like and tells the stories of the scientists who have discovered and studied them...Making highly technical material understandable, Nield explains why "the Earth's Supercontinent Cycle matters to everyone, everywhere." (Publishers Weekly 2007-10-01)

Both informative and entertaining. [Nield] has thought well outside any academic box, touching on a huge diversity of topics...Nield relates many subjects that are currently major foci of research in Earth history to his theme. (Kevin Burke Science 2007-11-30)

One of the best popularizations of geology...Giv[es] us a sense of the ancient yet powerful forces underneath us. (P. D. Smith The Guardian 2007-10-06)

A fascinating and eye-opening book...In a most engaging way, Nield reveals how science has unraveled the complex evolution of our planet's surface, and presents the reader with a tantalizing glimpse of the Earth of the distant future. (BBC Focus)

A book that examines the romance of its subject alongside its hard science... If you don't know much about how the planet's crust works, Nield's book will teach you the basics...He rocks. (Helen Brown Daily Telegraph 2007-12-01)

An accessible account of how the Earth has several times consisted of a single island landmass and will again, in about 250 million years. (Peter Calamai Toronto Star 2007-12-30)

As a geologist turned science journalist, editor and provocative blogger, Ted Nield has a complex view of life and science. His skills as a writer successfully convey in Supercontinent the recent exciting work in grand-scale geoscience to a wide scientific audience...The attempted reconstructions of past and future continents and oceans is a major field of activity in contemporary geoscience. To handle it without oversimplification or getting lost in a maze of detail is no small accomplishment. (David Oldroyd Nature 2007-10-04)

About the Author

Ted Nield is Editor of Geoscientist magazine, and Science and Communications Officer, Geological Society of London.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press (August 5, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674032454
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674032453
  • Product Dimensions: 8.8 x 5.7 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,084,718 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

35 of 38 people found the following review helpful By Patrick J. Callahan on December 20, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Ted Nield's book Supercontinent was very interesting, and I am glad I tackled it. However, it was not entirely what I expected. At least half the book delves back into the history of "lost continents," including Madame Blavatsky with her Lemuria, and James Churchward with his Mu. These were both bogus prehistoric continents put together by erstwhile self-styled prophets. Neither had any scientific underpinning. This seemed out of place in a science book.

Nield also spends several chapters going back to retrace the development of the continental drift theory, and includes a lot of biographical information. I could have dispensed with this.

There are some pluses to the book. For one thing, Nield writes very well. Chapters devoted exclusively to the supercontinent cycle from a scientific perspective are very interesting and worthwhile. Moreover, the book is new, just having been released in 2007. Lastly, the introduction and last chapter are both excellent essays on the benefits and promise of science, and deserve to be read even if nothing else.

My final viewpoint is -- the book is an excellent place to skip around. Read a chapter carefully, skim some material, read another chapter, skip some things, and so on. This is because the topic "supercontinent" is used by Nield as a kind of peg to hang things on. Much of it is scientific, some of it is just "odds and ends." For instance, what Madame Blavatsky and James Churchward have to do with anything scientific is beyond me.

All in all, a mixed bag.
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19 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Stephen A. Haines HALL OF FAME on March 31, 2008
Format: Hardcover
"Did the Earth move for you?", asks the voice beside you. Well, yes. Because that's what it does. All the time. The continent you live on used to be someplace else, and far away from where it is now. Your home ground has even been part of a greater landmass known as a "supercontinent" - and will be again. Hence, the title of this book. Ted Nield provides us with a fine account of how we came to learn about these movements. He has brought together the years of research tracking where the rocks have been and where they are likely to go. He likens the movement of continents to a dance of landforms - a "Grand Quadrille". A fine synopsis of the history of geology and its compelling figures - scholars who had to project what was known in their time back into a distant past.

Earth has been a busy place for the past four billion years, and it hasn't stopped to rest. We speak of the "firmness of the Earth", but that phrase is a sham. The key figure in this story is the great supercontinent of Pangaea that began breaking up 250 million years ago. Assembled from previous continents that had once joined and also separated, Pangaea's breakup into places we live on today have been traced in exquisite detail. The matching of rocks in places separated by wide seas provided the clues. In fact, as Nield relates, it was the vast Atlantic that bears the responsibility for Pangaea's fracturing to form the basis for the continents we know today. The author explains how the continents have been engaging in a Grand Quadrille and will continue to do so - for another five billion years, at least.

The progenitor of the idea of "drifting continents" was Alfred Wegener.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Jonathon R. Howard on December 6, 2007
Format: Hardcover
A great resource for the geological history of the planet for the interested amateur. Nield explains in easy to understand terms and analogies the complicated science that allows us today to "travel" back over 4 billion years and witness the development (and redevelopment) of the earth. He also subtly points out the difference between science and myth and why humanity must embrace reality and abandon myths that do not reflect the reality of our situation here on Earth today. He appeals for us to be reasonable and abandon our arrogance and ignorance! Powerful, educational, and ever more important in a world being pushed closer and closer to the brink (for us, the earth will abide...)
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By JavaMan on July 21, 2008
Format: Hardcover
This book tackles the great subject of the geologic history of the Earth from the vantage point of plate tectonics. Along the way, the author writes compellingly of the origins and development of life and the history of our atmosphere. He also gets side-tracked in biographies of some key geologists in the Continental Drift controversy as well as a light-hearted discussion of fictitious 'Lost Continents'. Luckily the book is organized in such a way that these digressions can be skipped if desired. My main objection in this book is the lack of good and relevent illustrations and maps. At the very least, a detailed stratigraphic chart relating geologic periods to continent-building and other events would be helpful. Also, maps detailing the assembly and disassembly of the supercontinents would greatly enhance his narrative of these events.

In many ways this is a wonderful and informative work. Paradoxically, it is not an easy read in the most interesting sections but it is well worth the effort.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Rob Hardy HALL OF FAME on December 1, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Each of us gets our three score and ten years, more or less, and as good as such a spell might be, it does not prepare us for seeing the longer picture of the past. We are used to changes in the weather, and we might even be used to earthquakes which are signs that the continents themselves are changing, but continental change comes far too slowly for us to appreciate first hand. Scientists have gradually come to understand how old the Earth is, and how active the continents are, once you take a view of hundreds of millions of years. In fact, instead of the continents we now know, 250 million years ago there was but one continent, a supercontinent called Pangaea. _Supercontinent: Ten Billion Years in the Life of Our Planet_ (Harvard University Press) is not, however, just about Pangaea. Author Ted Nield, the editor of _Geoscientist_, shows that although all of us may now be sitting upon "no more than Pangaea's smashed remains, the fragments of the dinner plate that dropped on the floor," Pangaea was only one in a series of supercontinents, as the land masses careened around the globe, coalesced, and split up again. They are doing the same thing now. Come back in another 250 million years, and there will again be a supercontinent (named by some "Novopangaea"). It's all dizzying, taking in this long view of things; the world is a particularly strange place in the billion year scale. Nield, however, skillfully describes the changes and relates them to our own world, and takes a good deal of the confusion out of a huge mass of data and extrapolations from it.

One of the greatest problems of understanding how the continents shifted was the problem of coming to an understanding of how old the Earth is.
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