Read The Earth: An Intimate History by Richard Fortey Online


From the acclaimed author of Life and Trilobite!, a fascinating geological exploration of the earth’s distant history as revealed by its natural wonders.The face of the earth, crisscrossed by chains of mountains like the scars of old wounds, has changed and changed again over billions of years, and the testament of the remote past is all around us. In this book Richard ForFrom the acclaimed author of Life and Trilobite!, a fascinating geological exploration of the earth’s distant history as revealed by its natural wonders.The face of the earth, crisscrossed by chains of mountains like the scars of old wounds, has changed and changed again over billions of years, and the testament of the remote past is all around us. In this book Richard Fortey teaches us how to read its character, laying out the dominions of the world before us. He shows how human culture and natural history–even the shape of cities–are rooted in this deep geological past. In search of this past, Fortey takes us through the Alps, into Icelandic hot springs, down to the ocean floor, over the barren rocks of Newfoundland, into the lush ecosystems of Hawai’i, across the salt flats of Oman, and along the San Andreas Fault. On the slopes of Vesuvius, he tracks the history of the region down through the centuries?to volcanic eruptions seen by fifteenth-century Italians, the Romans, and, from striking geological evidence, even Neolithic man. As story adds to story, the recent past connects with forgotten ages long ago, then much longer ago, as he describes the movement of plates and the development of ancient continents and seas. Nothing in this book is at rest. The surface of the earth dilates and collapses; seas and mountains rise and fall; continents move.Fortey again proves himself the ideal guide, with his superb descriptions of natural beauty, his gripping narratives, and his crystal-clear, always fascinating scientific explanations.Here is a book to change the way we see the world....

Title : The Earth: An Intimate History
Author :
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ISBN : 9780006551379
Format Type : Paperback
Number of Pages : 501 Pages
Status : Available For Download
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The Earth: An Intimate History Reviews

  • Chris
    2019-05-31 01:56

    Is it possible for a book to be utterly fascinating and yet, at the same time, a perfect cure for insomnia? I never would have thought so, until I read this one.That does sound horribly contradictory, and yet it is true. Reading this book, I found myself drawn in by the power of Fortey's words and this obvious enthusiasm for the subject. He's a paleontologist by trade, but his era of expertise goes so far back that it's practically geology anyway. And geology is what this book is all about.There are those who believe that there are forces beyond our ken that shape our lives. Some believe that the universe itself is alive, filled to the brim with some kind of formless substance that wants us to have what we want. Others attribute great influence to the motion of non-terrestrial planets - just recently I saw a warning the Mercury was in retrograde, and that such apparent motion would spell disaster in communications-related endeavors. Other people believe there are gods, or ghosts, or fairies whose wishes and whims have decided who we are and who we will be. But Fortey knows what's really going on.Fortey knows it's the rocks.Not just the garden-variety ones you pick up in your garden, no - the real rocks. The gneiss and the schist and the granite, the great, lumbering tectonic plates, relentless in their motion across the face of the Earth, carrying the continents on their backs. The churning, unknowable mantle that holds it all up, revealing only the tiniest glimpses of itself through the effluvium of volcanoes. The Earth tells us who we are and who we will be, for it is the motions of the Earth that made our world what it is. It gave shape to the continents, it has raised and lowered mountains, created and unmade deserts a hundred times over. The rich and fertile fields in which we grow our crops, the barren wastelands that we avoid because we know that they are places where we do not belong - all of those were created by the engine of plate tectonics. Billions of years of relentless motion, of continents smashing into each other, coming apart and then colliding again, have conspired to create the thin, almost evanescent period of time in which we live. And it will continue, long after we are gone, without ever having bothered to notice that we are here.This book is humbling, to say the least. When you think that the Appalachians used to be mountains that rivaled the Alps and the Himalayas, that they were the product of not the most recent supercontinent, Gondwana, nor the one before that, Laurasia. The gentle, rolling hills of the Appalachians, along which thousands of summer and weekend hikers travel, were born three hundred million years ago in the creation of Pangaea. Time, wind and rain wore them down to what they are today, but they stand as evidence of Earth's deep history. Though not quite as old as the Grenville rocks of Central Park, remnants of mountains formed a billion years ago, before life was more than a thin film of algae on a hypoxic sea.Fortey writes well. It's hard to overstate how important that is when considering a book meant for the general audience. Not only can you tell that he obviously loves his subject, but you can see that he is a good and devoted writer, who spent a great deal of time thinking of ways to communicate the literally unthinkable amount of time necessary for the motions of the Earth to have put things where they are today. Geologic events are slow and hard to picture in our minds eyes, but he tries. He tries to get into your head the vast temperatures and pressures that operate just a few miles below where we sit right now, and the utterly alien environment they create. He brings to life the arguments and battles that went on between geologists who tried their best over centuries to untangle the folded and twisted stories of the rocks and figure out how they came to be the way they were. The story that Fortey is telling is four and a half billion years in the making, a timespan that we simple humans cannot truly grasp.And he does have an excellent way of phrasing his points. In talking about the hot springs of Italy in which the ancient Romans lounged, he says, "These springs were the exhalations of the magmatic unconscious." In reminding us that the movements of the Earth determine where we can live, what animals we can raise and what crops we can grow, he says, "The geological Unconscious cannot be denied, for it still guides the way we use the land, and rules the plough. We are all in thrall to the underworld." Finally, in a phrase that evoked Sagan in my mind's ear, he says, "In this way, the depths intercede in our superficial lives: there are unseen and unbidden forces, as indifferent to the fate of the sentient organisms living above them as the distant stars." The man has a way with words, that much is for sure.For all that this is the story of our world and, therefore, ourselves, it is a hard book to keep up with. Indeed, I found myself nodding off more than once, no matter that I wanted to keep reading about the manner in which the Colorado River cut through the ever-rising plateau through which it coursed. The book, I believe, skirts the edge of Popular Science and Specialist Science. Fortey doesn't skimp on the technical language, and seems to be talking to an audience that already has a pretty good grasp on the terminology and concepts of geology. The readers that he's after in this book are the ones who used to be called "rock hounds" when they were kids, and who know a gneiss from a granite. Which I, technically speaking, do not.While I do love science, and find the whole history of plate tectonics fascinating, I never got into geology as deeply as I did other sciences. And that's not to say that I never will - if anything, this book made me look more closely at the rocks I see around me and wonder at their provenance. The granite facing of buildings all the way to the simple sand of a baseball field - they're all ancient in different ways and have fascinating stories. When I read the book, though, I was lacking in a certain entry-level understanding of the science, and that was probably what made it such a tough book to get through.So if you're a rock hound, or know someone who is, pick up a copy of this book. If you like to break your brain thinking about the vast expanses of time required to make a planet on which Homo sapiens can be the species it always wanted to be, this is the book for you. If you are having trouble getting to sleep and you aren't fond of using medication to send you off to slumberland, well... This book probably wouldn't hurt.

  • Adam
    2019-06-21 23:43

    About a month ago, I was looking through the courses I had to choose from as an Environmental Science major, making up a short list for class sign-up in September. The options were evenly divided between Biology and Geology classes, and I was leaning heavily toward the former; geology seemed quite drab. Having picked up Earth at a used book store near the end of July, under the impression or at least with the hopes that it would be a more general, chronological overview of the formation of the Earth, the changes it has experienced and their causes, etc. However, Fortey has completely changed my perception of geology and redeemed my mal-expectations. Fortey's erudition and admirable life of scientific fieldwork fills in the cracks between bundles of crunchy geology basics. Through dozens of real-world examples, he illustrates the fascinating fundamentals of plate tectonics, often also tying in not only the exceedingly clever techniques geologists have used to move ever closer to the truth of the matter, but even peaks at the personalities of the geologists behind the discoveries. If you don't know how fascinating geology is, or if you are interested but haven't looked into the subject much, I would offer my recommendation for Earth. Without being repetitive or overbearing, he illustrates how incomprehensibly slow and massive geological processes are and how they have shaped so much of our world. An excellent concentration of knowledge on a subject essential to a rational understanding of the Universe.There are a couple of issues on which I would have liked further clarification, but with Wikipedia handy for further investigation and more recent data, I can't imagine a much better Geology 101 book. We'll see, however, as we're reading Marcia Bjornerud's Reading the Rocks The Autobiography of the Earth winter term in Freshman Studies, which seems to be the same book minus 150 pages or so.

  • David
    2019-06-01 22:57

    I am not very fond of geology, but the beautiful poetic style of Richard Fortey's prose makes this book a joy to read. For example, he writes,"The cycles of the earth--the generation and destruction of plates--probably happened andante cantabile rather than largo."Fortey interleaves poetry among his prose, and thereby shows his overwhelming enthusiasm for geology--though I could have done with a bit less of the poetry. He shows his enthusiasms in other ways, too, by announcing where his personal interests lie:"There are no rocks of Ordovician or Silurian age in the canyon, and I have always been an Ordovician man."The main theme of this book, is how the theory of plate tectonics has become the central paradigm of geology. Some people have dismissed this book because of the interleaving of Fortey's personal travels with the geological discussions. But this is really missing the point; Fortey shows how ethnic cultures have been guided by the local geological structures. By making personal observations from his travels, he shows the extent to which geology has shaped human experience.

  • Tony
    2019-06-23 05:38

    THE EARTH: An Intimate History. (this ed. 2011; orig. ed. 2004). Richard Fortey. ***. This is a publication from The Folio Society, a reprint of the original 2004 edition. The author’s sole purpose was to travel the world picking examples of various geological formations that illustrated the effects of tectonic plate theory. I’m not sure who the author’s audience was intended to be, but it would have had to be a science-educated reader who had some prior knowedge of geology. Most of the material is fairly straight forward, but whole chapters sometimes tax the brain while trying to understand what the author is trying to get at. There are lots of illustrations of the various sites examined, which is helpful, but sometimes it seems that they were more vacation pictures that illustrative of the text. The author has written other “popular” science books, including “Life: An Unauthorized Biography,” and is well known in the science field for his original research work with trilobites. What he does in this book, however, is to try to explain all the events of the shaping of the world in terms of those moving plates. There are several chapters that don’t seem to fit in with his overall purpose. One is a chapter on “The Dollar.” Another chapter that seems more of a vacatiion journal was about his trip down the Grand Canyon on a donkey during the winter months. (One thing I learned here was that mules had their eyes positioned such that they could see all four of their legs at the same time. Probably that’s what makes them so sure-footed.) He talks about the role of volcanos in the beginning, and that’s when he starts with activity around the Bay of Naples and then moves on to other sites – spending the bulk of his time on the islands of Hawaii. Mountain ranges are one of his big interests. These include his studies on the Himalayas to the Alps to the Appalachians. A full chapter is devoted to the Alps. As a kid, I was into collecting rocks for a while, so lots of this stuff struck old chords. If the reader didn’t indulge in this hobby, there would be some difficulty in keeping all of the types straight. There is the obligatory chapter on fault lines, with concentration on the famous one in California – San Andreas. Finally, we learn about the new techniques being employed by scientists that will lead to a greater understanding about the complex behavior of the inner earth. This is all fascinating stuff, but probably about a third of it could have been edited out.

  • Nikki
    2019-06-18 02:52

    As with Fortey's other books, I really enjoyed this -- and that seems more important with this one since it's about geology, which is not something that's ever been a particular interest of mine. Fortey has a discursive, conversational style, while still getting in a lot of information and technical language. And in all of his books, it's a sort of travelogue, too, which is quite interesting.It's hardly a completely exhaustive history of Earth, but it takes exemplars from various geographies and shows how they apply to the whole of the planet. It works quite well, though it is still a pretty dense book.

  • Cassandra Kay Silva
    2019-06-07 04:42

    Fortey's love of geology really comes through in this work. It was both fascinating and insightful. The pictures were great, the timeline was not linear so it really kept a good pacing. It kind of meandered around topics and points of interest on the earths crust similar to how your mind would analyze a problem. A wonderful edition truly.

  • Kirsten
    2019-06-10 05:44

    I really liked the subject material in this book, and I liked the fact he used a lot of easy to understand examples, but I think he talked a little too long about some of them. I would have loved this book if it had been about 1/4-1/3 shorter. I'm not sure if this is because I have a strong background in geology and didn't need to have such an in depth example to understand or what, but parts of the book were seriously difficult to slog through.That being said, when he was on top of his game, this book was great. Parts of it flew by and were really riveting. I partially attribute this to the fact he covered such a wide range of subject matter in his book, not all of it is interesting to everyone. (I for one am tired of faults and basalts, too much geology on the west coast)Overall a great book for people who want to know more about geology but don't want a super technical explanation and want a lot of examples they can see or visualize. And don't mind the the verbosity of British Academics. A great book for people with a lot of background in geology too, as long as skipping chapters that don't interest them as much doesn't bother them (I know that I have a really hard time skipping parts of books, I feel like I have to read the whole thing).

  • Jeremy
    2019-06-26 05:57

    A fascinating book, although as someone with no background in geology I sometimes found it a struggle. I suspect there is an editing problem - although often well calibrated for a lay reader, in several chapters I found myself wondering how many lay reader would really be interested or engaged in that section. Generally though it was tremendously engaging and informative. It gave me a much deeper appreciation for the tremendous dynamism and powerful processes shaping the earth, and often did it quite poetically.

  • Durdles
    2019-05-28 00:38

    A fascinating introduction to geology. Geology books didn't attract me as potential for a great read until I read an early review of this one. A vast area of knowledge which was vague to me turns out to be endlessly fascinating. Highly recommended, as are Professor Fortey's other books: especially fond of the trilobite he is.

  • Gregor Samsa
    2019-06-14 23:03

    This book is beautiful. The Earth deserves this book. It is more than geography and geology (which are more than sufficient), but it is these too; it is a love story about our planet.

  • Sheila
    2019-06-10 05:55

    This is a well written, panoramic portrait of earth marred only by the occasional Eurocentric pimple. For example: the author-scientist rides Buttermilk the Donkey down into the Grand Canyon, carefully explaining the millions of years of earth's history hidden in plain sight, when, oops, out pops a racist cliche - that a white European was the first to "explore" this natural wonder in the mid 19th century. Huh? This, while also describing how Native peoples have lived there for thousands of years! Fortey also dates himself when he uses the term "oriental." Still, this, and his other book about Life are well worth the read.

  • Bradford
    2019-06-12 02:59

    More than a casual read, though worthwhile for someone who desires a crash course in geological history. The author is at his best when he gets caught up in social/historical context and remembers that we are not fellow geologists.

  • Violeta Vornicu
    2019-06-01 05:01

    A bit too much poetry for my taste as far as science books are concerned, otherwise I would have given it 5 stars. I especially enjoyed 'Oceans and continents', 'Fault lines', and 'Deep things' chapters which are more informative and more descriptive than the rest. A good read if you are into earth sciences.

  • Jamie
    2019-06-02 04:41

    A beautifully written book. A treasure if you like geology.

  • Rossdavidh
    2019-06-25 04:41

    This was a long read. I have almost never spent so long reading one book. The topic is a history of the earth, though, so I suppose that is excusable.The history is told from a geologist's perspective, of course; everything from Sargon to now takes place in the blink of an eye, and much too recent to bother with, from that point of view.However, this book also tells the history of geology, starting from around the 1700's (with a few mentions of earlier points such as the writings of Pliny the younger about the eruption of Vesuvius, in which he did NOT attribute it to gods, demons, dragons, or the like). It is one of the intriguing points of the history of science, how the theory of plate tectonics (aka 'continental drift') was in its own field just as controversial, but attracted none of the popular attention which evolution did in biology, or the sun-based theories of Copernicus and the like did in astronomy.Within geology, though, it was a topic of fierce debate, that took generations to sort out, and Fortey does a good job of steering us through this. It helps if some of the scientists involved are raving eccentrics or vicious backbiters, and here geology may be missing the presence of a gold-nosed noble, or bongo-playing painter, or someone with a haircut like Andy Warhol after sticking his finger in an electrical outlet. Again, they suffer also in the drama of their story from being insufficiently persecuted by the church. I realized, at some point about a third of the way into Fortey's text, that this was what I was missing. There is no Galileo or Darwin to brave the censors and speak truth to power.What we have instead, however, is a first-class, stately tour of how the very human activity of science is done. Each generation of geologists takes what it is taught and pokes holes in it, finding fluidity and change where their fathers saw solid rock. The continents, we learn, have not only drifted and collided, they have done so numerous times. The Atlantic is not just a relatively new creation; it is not even the first ocean to occupy its spot on the globe. The earlier ocean of Iapetus was closed entirely by the drift of continents, forming the mountain range which includes both the highlands of Scotland and much of the Appalachians. Later, this mountain range was ripped apart by the formation of a rift in the crust, and new crust is still being made in the middle of that johnny-come-lately of oceans, the Atlantic.This kind of discovery was made by a process akin to an archaeologist piecing together numerous shards of a shattered ceramic pot. Before Fortey can show you how the pieces fit together, he has to explain what the pieces are, and this is an epic task. I eventually learned to take this book only a few pages at a time, on the bus in the morning perhaps, and appreciate the cool mental satisfaction of facts clicking together into theory, before new facts come along and break it apart again.Fortey has seen much of the relevant rock himself; when we learn first-hand how much of the Alps is really a part of Africa gone missing from its former continent, he can describe the evidence to us from personal experience. The last chapter is a minds-eye flight around the entire planet, but by that point we've seen much of it already. This is not a book to read in a hurry; it took about four billion years or more to happen, and centuries to put the story together in our own minds. No worries if it takes more than a few days to digest.

  • Andrew Dombrowski
    2019-06-27 04:42

    This singular and lovely book provides a journey through the history of the Earth that is centered on an exploration of specific places and themes rather than chronologies or classifications. It begins with an exegesis of Vesuvius, Hawaii, and the geology of the Alps that underscores a second major theme of the book: the history of geology itself, and the way that our knowledge about the world radically shapes our perceptions of even the most concrete aspects of reality. The book proceeds to discuss high places, deep places, old places, faults, and so forth, providing an extensive and comprehensive look at the the deep history of our world. One of the most beautiful and striking aspects of this book was its insistence that *everything* is linked -- that the hidden cycles of the mantle shape geology, which shapes climate and biology, which in turn shape human culture and society.On a personal level, I found this book especially valuable as a glimpse into how geologists think and where they find intellectual stimulation and beauty. As a non-geologist in a family with several geologists, I've often wondered about the field, but have found it difficult to find sources that are more complicated than middle school earth science but not so unrelentingly technical as to obscure the feel of the subject. This book hit that mark almost perfectly. Some sections delved into a level of technical detail that I had trouble understanding or processing, but I was happy enough to skim through those parts. I was also hugely impressed by the big-picture similarities between how geologists think about the world and how historical/areal linguists (my background) think about the world -- perhaps the apple didn't fall so far from the tree after all!A couple quotes from the end of the penultimate chapter (the last chapter being a virtuoso imaginary bird's-eye-view tour of the world): (1) "We may all be children of convection." (2) "There are two possible reactions to the tectonic history of the world. Either you might despair at the apparent randomness of it all, at our insignificance in the face of gigantic forces that are so indifferent to our species as is a torrent to the fate of a mayfly that rides upon it; or you might wonder at the extraordinary richness of history, and feel privileged to be able to understand some part of it. Were it not for a thousand connections made through the web of time, the outcome might have been different, and there may have been no observer to marvel and understand. We are all blessed with minds that can find beauty in explanation, yet revel in the richness of the irreducibly complex world, geology and all." Words to live by.

  • Pam Lindholm-levy
    2019-06-21 04:05

    It took me years to finish this book, but I loved it. Fortey writes like a writer and makes his subjects come alive. But, there's a lot of data to absorb. If I've remember .001% of it, great. The take away, for me, is the larger concepts, and that's important because I live on the brink of a 9.0 earthquake in the Pacific Northwest.The last chapter of this book gives a literal overview of the earth. We're flying above it with Fortey. This could be a stand-alone paper for high school.

  • Ryan Mishap
    2019-06-09 01:02

    "[Geologic time] should provoke a sense of our own insignificance, but it also stimulates a sense of wonder that we, alone among organisms, have been privileged to see these vanished worlds, and challenged to understand the immensity of time."An erudite, beautifully written tale of how the surface of the earth came to be as it is. A history of geology and plate tectonics shoots through the narrative like "dark Scourie Dyke cutting through pale gneiss." The thesis that geology sets the parameters for all life and shapes each culture is proven with evidence time and again. Fortey takes us from the Greek Archipelago to Hawaii and the Alps, to Newfoundland and Scotland (once joined together), and across the earth--and even deeper into the mantle and core. With deceptively simple comparisons, he explains complicated geological events. He digresses into cultural history, but never bores. His descriptions of each place visited could be considered among the best travel writing. In short, you get more than a geology book, you get to view the world through the passionate lens of a devotee. Not an easy slog, this book, but for those with the time to devote to it, well worth it."There are two possible reactions to the tectonic history of the world. Either you might despair at the apparent randomness of it all, at our insignificance in the face of gigantic forces that are as indifferent to our species as is a torrent to the fate of a mayfly that rides upon it; or you might wonder at the extraordinary richness of history, and feel privileged to be able to understand some part of it. Were it not for a thousand connections made through the web of time, the outcome might have been different, and there may have been no observer to marvel and understand. We are blessed with minds that can find beauty in explanation, yet revel in the richness of our irreducibly complex world, geology and all."

  • Martin Adams
    2019-06-12 01:02

    the best book I have ever read.

  • Kevin
    2019-06-23 05:43

    Earth: An Intimate History is at its heart a travelogue of some the most interesting geological sights from around the world. Fortey offers a wonderfully multi-layered narrative of local history, geology, and cultural perspectives into an interesting and often engaging exposition of what lies underfoot. In a lot of ways this is the perfect way for those unfamiliar with the science of geology, especially those that might find geology itself to be a dull or boring science. Introducing cultural history and how the local geology has shaped that cultural over time adds an element to help facilitate the learning of geology in a way that may go down easier than just the pure science route. It also helps that Fortey choose some of the most interesting geological landscapes in the world with some of the richest histories helps being informative while at the same time being entertaining. However, there is some problems that are hard to overlook. Richard Fortey has the ability to write some great and profound one-liners, I mean some real gems. Unfortunately Fortey can also, kill paragraphs like no other. One minute you read a great quote, line, or interesting tid-bit, and then the next it’s as dull as any textbook I’ve ever read. Also, paragraphs feel disjointed from one another with little or no transitions. Plus, there are some glaring factual errors like the confusion between Carson City, NV with Virginia City, NV, maybe not the biggest error in the world, but still large enough that it should have been corrected after such a long time. An editor is badly needed. One brave enough to nix sentences that just don’t work and one that can pull some kind of structure within the individual chapters would help this book immensely. Even with my obvious bias for pushing anything geology I would find it hard to recommend this book as it is written.

  • Marfita
    2019-05-31 03:05

    As much as I enjoyed his book on Trilobites and as interested as I am in geology, this meaty book was almost too much to handle (and I read John McPhee's Annals of the Former World. and ate it up - but, of course, that got a Pulitzer). The literary quotations included, whilst showcasing Fortey's well-rounded education, were merely annoying and the one by D. H. Lawrence about a tortoise seemed pointless. It took me months to read this because I had to mull over the material bit by bit to make sure I understood. [Also, by the end I was hearing in my head Pwof. Bwyan M. Fagan weading it.] I was also disappointed in the bit about glass being a solid and yet a very, very slow-moving liquid, which I believe has been debunked - but what do I know? [I only have a BA in Spanish. Carrumba.]However, Fortey gives us just a taste of orogeny around the world and the make-up of the earth and only makes you want to go see it for yourself. Of course, he also handily describes parts we will never see because they are too deep and, necessarily, hot. I know from McPhee that there are scientists who do not subscribe to the tectonics gavotte of the plates, but none of that was brought up here. Fortey does not eliminate controversy from the narrative. I suspect that his trilobite hunting all over the world and other travels just made him more secure in that particular theory.

  • Arvind Balasundaram
    2019-05-30 23:54

    This is a book that is mini-travelogue and mostly earth science written in language suitable mainly for the geologist. The work fails to evoke the voyage of discovery for the novice that its back-jacket reviews promise, and the non-technical reader is left to figure out the real differences between gneisses and granites, and navigate abstruse vocabulary like "ophiolites" and "geosynclines" without sufficient grounding. While the author presents many useful facts like the folding processes that created the Alps, or mentions unspoken scientists in earth science who locally distinguished themselves (like the Indian geologist Birbal Sahni), this work never escapes its multiple personalities as part travelogue, part 300-level geology textbook, and part geological lit review for pre-doctoral geology students readying themselves for their comprehensive examination. The haul until page 175 was difficult and slow, sometimes to a crawl, almost mimicking the excruciatingly slow pace of the plate tectonic movements that these pages themselves were attempting to highlight. The end, though within sight, was never attained.Non-technical readers would do well to reach for more basic geology narratives before embarking on this one...

  • Harry Rutherford
    2019-05-29 02:41

    The Earth is a big, fat (480 page) book about geology. Richard Fortey writes extremely well and it’s an impressive attempt to make a fairly dense subject exciting.I have to admit though I nearly didn’t finish it; by about halfway though I’d had about as much as I could take of schist, gneiss, nappes and the endless litany of different places, geological periods and minerals that every new page seemed to require. So I put it down for a few weeks.But eventually I built up the willpower to finish it off, and I’m glad I did; there’s plenty of interesting stuff in there, like the fact that the rocks of England and Scotland were formed on different sides of the Atlantic — or at least a previous ocean that lay between previous versions of Europe and America. Or the fact that in university laboratories, geologists have built vast machines that can squeeze minute samples of rock to the point where they mimic the temperatures and pressures found hundreds of kilometres below the earth’s surface.

  • Bookmarks Magazine
    2019-06-02 04:40

    Fortey, the leading scholar of trilobites (a giant marine wood louse that lived 450 million years ago), turns to geological history in Earth. He calls his work an "anti-textbook," and this moniker aptly describes the pros and cons of his book. In colorful and dramatic vignettes that delve deep inside Earth processes, from India's lava flows to the formation of the Alps, Fortey makes clear that Earth is a dynamic place beyond human control. But, if his descriptive travels generally lack geo-jargon, they sometimes center on digressive details more than organizing themes. More maps would also have helped. Despite these criticisms, Earth is the "ultimate travel book" for "every person who wants to really know and understand the place we live on" (New York Times Book Review). This is an excerpt from a review published in Bookmarks magazine.

  • Jake Leech
    2019-06-22 22:56

    Fortey's a great writer, and this book is on a pretty interesting topic (at least, to me). However, I have the same problem with Earth as I had with Trilobite!: Fortey is aiming slightly higher than the average person with an interest in science. In Trilobite! it was a problem, but not as large, and the topic was interesting enough to keep me involved. In Earth, however, the gneisses and cherts and granites and melanges came a little too thick and fast, and I found myself skimming the details and just looking at the big picture. I'd say that this would be a great book if you were interested in geology--not just "Hey, I think plate tectonics is cool", but more "Hey, I'm interested in the technical differences between granites and basalts". I have a pretty good foundation in basic geology, but at times, Fortey lost me.

  • Individualfrog
    2019-06-07 06:05

    This book reminded me of Henry James, only in the fact that Fortey has a different, slower kind of rhythm than I'm used to, and it took me awhile to get into the swing of it, to lope along with him instead of getting impatient to rush ahead. Perhaps appropriately for this book about the excruciatingly slow grind of plate tectonics, he takes his time, dwelling on the scene, taking it in unhurriedly, before getting down to the science and the point of each chapter. I find geology strangely fascinating, a secret pleasure if ever there was one, and there was much that kept me interested as I went through the book, but every time I picked it up I found I had to let myself settle down to that slower wave.

  • Eric Bingham
    2019-06-13 03:50

    This book is a double edged sword. First off, it is definitely not a history of the earth. I was quite disappointed to find out that this is actually the story of plate tectonics. The author just discusses how plate tectonics have shaped the world in various ways by recounting his travels to various locations around the globe. For the most part, the writing is very nice, even poetic. There are some very long boring paragraphs, but there are also some great inspiring quotes. (My favorite quote was, "understanding is always a journey, never a destination." Fortey did explain things in a clear, if extremely roundabout, way. I enjoyed the read, but felt like it didn't cover what the title said it would, and it could have been half as long and still have covered everything.

  • Betsy
    2019-05-31 06:03

    Part travelogue, part history of geological thought, part geology explanation. I wonder if he was trying to appeal to the non-geologist and demonstrate how the landscape forms a part of the work of the geologist. I think he was successful, but I often found the florid landscape descriptions distracting. I also didn't learn much that I hadn't learned already on the Discovery Channel, except for the detailed descriptions of different rocks and formations. And yet, somehow I felt by the end of the book that I had a different, maybe more comprehensive, maybe more intimate, portrait of the earth and the study of that fascinating, very complex body.[3/22/2012]

  • Kris
    2019-06-25 05:56

    I debated on what to give this book because, on the one hand, I enjoyed it enough to read almost all of it, but, on the other hand, I found it repetitive, overly dense, and the chapters were way too long and unfocused. It seemed like if there was a basic way of stating something verses a word that seemed like a good SAT prep word, the author always went with the uncommon word. The book felt like it needed a good editor and some structure, but despite all my complaints I did find myself reading more. I skipped the last 70 page chapter out of exhaustion with the book's style, but I did feel like I got something out of it.

  • Juliet Wilson
    2019-05-28 23:51

    This is a thick book about geology, focussing on plate tectonics and covering volcanoes, mountain formation and fault lines. There are some beautiful photos too and useful diagrams. I was also interested to read about the geology of many places I've visited and to read background information to the several recent tv shows on geology. The book is interesting, engaging and very informative, but I felt the author made too many digressions that didn't add to the reader's experience or knowledge. In A Short History of Nearly Everything, Bill Bryson made a lot of digressions, but I felt they always added to the book.