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Annals of the Former World Paperback – June 15, 2000
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Scientific Teaching Series
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McPhee's great virtue as a journalist covering the sciences--and any other of the countless subjects he has taken on, for that matter--is his ability to distill and explain complex matters: here, for example, the processes of mineral deposition or of plate tectonics. He does so by allowing geologists to speak for themselves and an entertaining lot they are, those sometimes odd men and women who puzzle out the landscape for clues to its most ancient past. Annals of the Former World is a magisterial work of popular science for which geologists--and devotees of good writing--will be grateful. --Gregory McNamee --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top Customer Reviews
As is well known, ANNALS collects four earlier books -- Basin and Range, In Suspect Terrain, Rising From the Plains, and Assembling California -- and adds a fifth section, "Crossing the Craton." All the books show McPhee crossing America along and near Interstate 80 on various trips with geologists. Each book focuses on a different section of I-80 and a different geologist. Together, they are supposed to constitute a more or less complete picture of contemporary geology.
Among current science writers, McPhee has no peer as a stylist. Geology is an incredibly difficult subject to convey in popular terms, and McPhee is often masterful. Numerous passages -- especially in Rising from the Plains and Assembling California --are remarkable. Academic geologists are thankful to him for popularizing their subject, and they should be.
But as a total picture of a science (or of the Earth), I'm not sure ANNALS completely works. Here are my objections.
1. In Suspect Terrain is the weak book of the four. By focusing on a geologist (Anita Harris) whose idiosyncratic views are made overly significant, McPhee confuses the total picture. In the book, Harris questions plate tectonics and repeatedly refers to the "plate-tectonics boys." McPhee subtly allows the fact that Harris is a woman to add legitimacy to her complaint, when that has nothing to do with the objection and in fact some early (and late) plate tectonics contributions were made by women, and not by "boys."
2. The road-trip conceit that shapes the book also limits it. It limits the book to land (generally) and the continental United States (specifically).Read more ›
Throughout, McPhee focuses on two geological theories: plate tectonics and continental glaciation, with an emphasis on the former. The four books cover various areas of the United States, out of order: Nevada, New York City, Pennsylvania and the Appalachians, Wyoming and the Rocky Mountains, and California's Central Valley and its flanking mountain ranges. To complete his tour across the continent, he has added a new, relatively short essay, ''Crossing the Craton,'' which encompasses the Great Plains and Great Lakes region.
Along the way, McPhee intersperses what he calls "set pieces" and "time lines," which place geological research in currently held theoretical and chronological contexts: the origins of coal and petroleum, the differences between field geologists and "black box" geologists, a reconstructed view of what Kansas may have looked like during the Middle Proterozoic era. He also interrupts his travels with riveting accounts of notable historical events, from the California Gold Rush to the 1989 earthquake in San Francisco.
Most of the book is endlessly fascinating largely because McPhee is an accomplished prose stylist who can describe just about anything and also because he can be very, very funny.Read more ›
If you have not read McPhee before, this is the place to start. McPhee is an English major, who has written for decades about geology and the people who study it. His books are written by a layman, for the layman, and are a joy to read. He has roamed the country, following several famous geologists as they study their portion of the country. The book itself is arranged as to discuss the the topics in an east-to-west fashion, roughly following the route of I-80 across the country.
McPhee is a master, and brings geology to life in his works. My only complaint about "Annals of the Former World" is that as a compilation of several books, it at times seem repetitive, as the same points were discussed in multiple works. Unlike other reviewers, I found no problem with the maps or the layout. This book is an excellent example of how to write non-fiction, and deserves the Pulitzer that it won. A must-read for anyone studying geology, and recommended for anyone who enjoys non-fiction.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
I first read John McPhee thirty years ago. I come back to him older and, I hope, wiser to find in his prose the finely crafted language of a humane and confidently authoritative... Read morePublished 1 month ago by Sybll
I enjoyed Annals of the Former World and I think many other readers will also. it is an excellent "read' for those interested and somewhat versed in geology and plate... Read morePublished 1 month ago by R. F. Garland
This is one of the most accessible and informative books on geology I have ever read, and I have read many. I have given out copies of the book to several friends. Read morePublished 1 month ago by Scribbler
Page-turning suspense, profound human interest, a remarkable narrative arc, and shocking violence. Subject: geology. I'm not kidding.
I am a complete newbie to geology. Read more
A fascinating explanation of the evolving understanding of the geology of our planet, with analysis of different theories and biographies of field geologists involved in the... Read morePublished 1 month ago by le renard
Very disappointed. Thought this was a new work. Nope!!! It is a collection of his earlier books - which we already have on the shelf. Wish the blurb had defined this. Read morePublished 2 months ago by Bardfard
More technical than a breezy read, and yet fascinatingly informative. It changes your perspective on the world we live in, and the features of the landscape that we take for... Read morePublished 2 months ago by Kurt R Hutton
This book is totally out of the realm of my expertise or interest. To make it even worse for me, its a very LONG book. Read morePublished 2 months ago by Amazon Customer