The Hidden Landscape: A Journey into the Geological Past 2nd UK ed. Edition
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It was frustrating to have to look up so many plants and local terms, it really was hard to get through parts, although, since I had the internet at my fingertips, it was possible. I’m not sure what it would have been like to read it in the days before the pocket computer. The book needed illustrations. I would still recommend it for those who love the natural sciences.
For me this is a delicious book which I read with enjoyment.
This book, focusing on England, Scotland, and Wales with a bit of Ireland, is a little like a Historical Geology text, but it is different. First it is a personal text written almost like a memoir. Second, although it is organized stratigraphically, that is, beginning with the oldest rocks and finishing with the youngest, the information is tied to landscape rather than to modern stratigraphic nomenclature. And, landscape here means not just rocks but plants, architectural building materials, roads, water, walks, and more and more.
Attempting to think of an American equivalent to this book, and the nearest I can come is something like a mixture of C. B. Hunt's Physiography of the United States and something written by Ann Zwinger. It is possible that for students this might be better (more interesting) than a typical Historical Geology text.
Fortey states that: "Instead, what I want to explore are the connections between geology and landscape." (page 1). It seems to me that Fortey chose what to include in the text by choosing his favorite "connections" and then stringing the most interesting "connections" together into historical sequence. "This is a book about connections between geology, natural history and ourselves." (page 14). He has something here which may help us learn and enjoy the vast factual detail that goes with landscape and geology: "Somehow, the enjoyment of the trick is more satisfying than the the explanation." (page 1). His connections that have irony or represent a paradox seem to give him and the reader special delight. Part of his theme is: "Much of the character of our country is governed by its geology, and determined by the rocks." (page 13). For me his connections make everything more memorable.
Fortey is seeking something more general, and more holistic than just landscape in the usual sense: "But all these evidences of past activities sit on the bedrock of geology. Human endeavours do not succeed if they deny the geological realities. This hidden landscape is a part of all our lives." (page 27). For him landscape really includes "hidden landscape" or includes all of the underlying reasons or connections which give understanding to why the totality of landscape is the way it is. "For the way we understand landscape has to do as much with what is in our minds, as with what we think we see with our eyes."
There are seventeen chapters. Each chapter is more like an essay than a text chapter. Below is the table of Contents with my more prosaic geologic translation of the chapters in parentheses, where needed.
1)Journeys to the Past (Introduction) 2)Names, Origins, Maps and Time 3)The Oldest Rocks (Precambrian) 4)The Great Divide (Lower Phanerozoic and Moine Thrust) 5)'Here be dragons': Caledonia (Northwest Iapetus Coast) 6)The Southern Uplands (Southeast Iapetus Coast) 7)The Land of the Ordovices (Ordovician) 8)The Red and the Black (Devonian) 9)Fells and Dales (Lower Carboniferous - Mississippian) 10)Coal and Grit (Upper Carboniferous - Pennsylvanian) 11)Lost in the Sands (Permian and Triassic) 12)Vales and Scarps: the Jurassic 13)The Weald (lower Cretaceous) 14)The Chalklands: Downs and Flints (upper Cretaceous 1) 15)The Chalklands: Beechwoods and Trout Streams (upper Cretaceous 2) 16)Tertiary Times (Tertiary and Volcanism) 17)East Anglia: Sky and Ice.
As an American you have to put up with: downs and dales, fells and vales, but that is not a bad thing. Still the constant assault of geographic names can wear one down.
Fortey loves words and names, and in Chapter 2 makes a forceful and eloquent argument for appropriate taxonomy and words. I understand that the numerous new words adds to the poetry of this book, and I appreciate them as a source of new "stumpers" for my friends; but there were times for someone like myself who does not know cnocs from cromlech when looking things up became a bit tiresome. My plea, mostly, would be directed toward a second edition with the addition of two or perhaps three helpful index maps designed to help the reader.
The book serves as a travel guide: "It was in Dulverton that I ate the perfect cream tea. There is no greater sensual indulgence: cream so thick it is reluctant to leave the spoon, strawberry jam heavy with fruit, and crumbly scones with a hint of astringency to balance the sugar in the jam, and all piled up as high as they will go. Although it is possible that the cream originated on the New Red Sandstone in Mid-Devon, I prefer to believe that it was produced by cows grazing water meadow flanking the lower reaches of the nearby River Barl or the River Exe" (page 125). You also get advise on the best Ale, best Stilton, and how to find Amber.
There is humor: "Between the Lower Greensand, which may not be green, and as we have seen is often rusty with iron, and the Chalk, which is definitively white, there is the dark Gault Clay and the Upper Greensand, which , surprisingly, actually is green" (page 209).
And there is wise advice: "Nothing in geology is more certain than change: even the cliffs on which you stand are doomed."
In conclusion this is great book. My hope is that book will engender more like it.
is no exception. I recommend it highly.
Top international reviews
There are also mind-blowing revelations such as the sea which used to separate approx. England from Scotland down the fault line of Loch Ness - as far away as the UK & Canada today. And only discovered in the 60's.
A scholarly work, this is an ideal holiday book but I've enjoyed it times over since 1996.
Also personal snippets of the authors interest in geology add some light heartedness to quite a big subject. Over all a very good read.