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Earth: An Intimate History

4.1 out of 5 stars 52 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0375706202
ISBN-10: 0375706208
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Though few of the leaf peepers driving through the Smokies this fall will know it, the Appalachians used to extend all the way to Scotland. In this sprawling geological survey, British paleontologist Fortey (Trilobite! Eyewitness to Evolution) tells readers that millions of years ago, before the land masses broke apart, the Caledonide Mountains formed the northernmost end of an enormous mountain range. Starting in the shadow of Vesuvius, Fortey's global tour moves to the Hawaiian islands, which, he explains, are falling back into the sea from northwest to southeast. Readers trek with him through the Alps and learn how rock folds and stretches. Fortey doesn't restrict himself to current geological time: he says the continents have broken apart and reformed more than once and will likely crunch together again in a few million years; the Pacific Ocean is gradually closing up because the lighter-weight continents are slowly drifting over the underlying basalt. Some readers may wish for more discussion of desert areas, though there is a beautiful account of a descent through Earth's history via burro into the Grand Canyon. Fortey's writing is wonderfully descriptive, but once in a while one wishes he'd kept to his main path and not wandered off into tangential topics. Geology and earth sciences buffs will eat this up. 32 pages of color illus. not seen by PW; 58 b&w illus.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Scientific American

"Geology underlies everything: it founds the landscape, dictates the agriculture, determines the character of villages." Fortey, senior paleontologist at the Natural History Museum in London, set out to explore those connections. "My solution has been to visit particular places, to explore their natural and human history in an intimate way, thence to move to the deeper motor of the earth--to show how the lie of the land responds to a deeper beat, a slow and fundamental pulse." His stops as he takes the reader on a journey around the world include Mount Vesuvius, the Alps, Newfoundland, Los Angeles and the Deccan Traps in India. He is an eloquent guide

Editors of Scientific American --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage (November 8, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375706208
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375706202
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (52 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #707,651 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Rob Hardy HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWER on November 3, 2004
Format: Hardcover
"This is where things get really interesting." This sentiment, from a chapter on the Alps in _Earth: An Intimate History_ (Knopf) by Richard Fortey, describes how geological layers, normally oldest at the bottom and newest at the top, can get flipped by one mass of rock being thrust upon another. It might just as well apply to hundreds of ideas in these pages. The book is a fascinating summary of where geology stands now, as a relatively new science which has been completely remade on the foundation of plate tectonics, just as biology has only recently been founded on evolution. "It is not faith that moves mountains; it is tectonics," Fortey insists. He does not directly confront those who would misuse science to "prove" an Earth less than 10,000 years old; the real science from real geologists, of course, overwhelmingly indicates an age of billions, not thousands, of years. But he understands the impulse: "Let the time go into the millions, and beyond, and the insignificance of our own sector becomes patent." Somehow, this is an insignificant insignificance. Billions of years of continental plates shoving each other around on our planet did eventually bring forth a creature that could understand that process. The history of how that understanding came about, as told here, is a proud one, full of human errors and pride, but powered by that admirable human trait of curiosity. "Rocks do not lie," Fortey tells us. "They do, however, dissemble as to their true meaning." Demonstrating the meaning, and clearing away the dissembling, is what this book expertly accomplishes.

One of the sacred locales of the science of geology mentioned here is the Temple of Serapis near Naples. It now consists of three huge columns, each composed of one single piece of marble.
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Format: Hardcover
Studying geology can be fun. Trips across the world, meeting new people, sharing insights and resolving mysteries of Earth's processes. There is, of course, the downside. Lava flows that shred boots, impossibly complex rock formations and bays that simply disappear during a seven-year interval between visits. If you have a writing gift, as Richard Fortey does, you can impart all these aspects of the science to a wide audience. This book does that admirably - and Fortey's not even a geologist!
Fortey's study of fossil trilobites has led him far afield. Since those bizarre creatures persisted for over three hundred million years, their remains are well distributed in both time and space. In studying them, Fortey has made the entire planet his backyard. That intimacy and his wide vision combine to produce this matchless work. From the opening pages he combines human history and the Earth's antics in an evocative theme. Vesuvius, that town killer, becomes a symbol of the dynamics of the world beneath our feet. Volcanoes also produce rich soils, luring humans up their slopes to plant crops. That juxtaposition typifies how geology has driven human society.
Geology, Fortey reminds us, is a young science, as active as the world it studies. He traces the thoughts of investigators over the past centuries. Through that time, two aspects of the Earth's dynamics eluded them. How fast was the planet cooling and what caused the bizarre formations they studied? It took physics, not geology, to solve the first - radioactive elements kept the interior hot. The second, plate tectonics, resolved most of the second. The notion that the crust "floats" on a sea of magma led to better understanding of deep processes.
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Format: Paperback
In answer to a time-related statement from another, such as "I turn 57 next month", have you ever answered, "Rocks don't live that long"? In EARTH, British paleontologist-author Richard Fortey reminds the reader that the globe is theorized to be 4.5 billion years young, and the oldest rock datable by current technology, a zircon crystal from Australia, registers at 4.4 billion years. Is your mother-in-law that old?

I've always been fascinated, when flying over or driving through the deserts of the western U.S., by the myriad of different rock formations unclothed by vegetation and naked for all to see. I've wished that I had a geologist by my side to explain how they came to be. Fortey may be the next best thing. In EARTH, the theme is "plate tectonics", and it's a tribute to the author's writing talent that he can make so esoteric a subject supremely interesting. The book is, at times, hard to put down.

To illustrate the observable effects of past movements of the Earth's crust - movement that will continue long past the habitation of the Earth by the human species, Fortey has selected several spots on our world as exhibits: Pompei, Hawaii, the Swiss Alps, Newfoundland, Scotland, India, Kenya, California, and the Grand Canyon. The narrative is, of course, about the evolution of tectonic plate theory, but also about proto-continents, lost oceans, volcanoes, mountain ranges, upthrusts, downthrusts, subduction zones, deep ocean trenches, mid-ocean ranges, lava, basalt, granite, gneisses, fossils, fault lines, schists, nappes, magnetic fields, limestone, ice sheets, diamonds, gold, coral reefs, green sand, "hot spots", tin mines, magma, marble, polar wandering, rubies, tors, and a mule named "Buttercup".
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