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Earth: An Intimate History
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Earth: An Intimate History

3.82 of 5 stars 3.82  ·  rating details  ·  530 ratings  ·  49 reviews
In Earth, the acclaimed author of Trilobite! and Life takes us on a grand tour of the earth’s physical past, showing how the history of plate tectonics is etched in the landscape around us.

Beginning with Mt. Vesuvius, whose eruption in Roman times helped spark the science of geology, and ending in a lab in the West of England where mathematical models and lab experiments r
ebook, 448 pages
Published November 4th 2009 by Vintage (first published 2004)
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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.

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
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 E ...more
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
Cassandra Kay Silva
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.
Mar 09, 2011 Kirsten rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: People who want an understanding of basic geologic principles
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, th
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
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
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.
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 an ...more
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 sur ...more
Arvind Balasundaram
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 c ...more
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 his ...more
Harry Rutherford
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 i
Ryan Mishap
"[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
Bookmarks Magazine

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-jargo

Eric Bingham
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 wa ...more
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
Essentially about plate tectonics, in this book we travel over and inside the earth and take a look at all the processes that shaped our planet. From Italy to Hawaii, from Newfoundland to Scotland, the Alps, volcanoes, fault lines, mountain ranges, subduction zones, different oceans and supercontinents, everything you want to know about how the earth came to be as it is now. Fortey did a lot of traveling himself, and his personal stories are interwoven in this beautifully written tale of our pla ...more
A well-written, engaging and enjoyable introduction plate tectonic theory. If you wish to understand geology, tectonic theory is the foundation upon which modern knowledge rests. It is as important and integral to understanding the science of geology as evolutionary theory is to the study of biology. Fortey also takes the time to illustrate how geology (and thus tectonic theory) truly impacts our world, by showing how cultures shape and are shaped by the land. This is an excellent introduction t ...more
Juliet Wilson
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 ...more
Jim Boyd
a fantastic read, covers most of the things you want to know about the history of the physical earth
Steven Williams
Not having really read much about geology, I thought the book was pretty good.
I consider myself pretty good at getting through popular science books, because the strangeness of the universe is usually interesting enough to outweigh the drudgery of mediocre prose, but as it turns out, the strangeness of plate tectonics is NOT interesting enough (especially when it's barely discussed, despite being the book's ostensible subject) to outweigh pages and pages of mediocre prose trying to be pretty while it describes rock formations. I got halfway through this book and hadn't le ...more
An explanation of geological processes & earth history, using specfic locations (Vesuvius, Alps, Newfoundland, etc) to illustrate the point & emphasizing the centrality of plate tectonics as a cause. One aspect I enjoyed about the book was that the observations, if not the explanations, of geologists before the plate tectonics revolution were often quite accurate. In this book, Fortey often uses an Austrian geologist, Seuss, who wrote a summing up of geology as it was in 1900 as a sort o ...more
Geology is a branch of science that I know very little about. I got this illustrated introduction from the Folio Society (possibly for free). This is the guy who wrote "Trilobites!", one of my favorite book titles. He uses various places around the world to exemplify a particular geological principle and includes a lot of the history of the development of the science. I especially enjoyed his trip into the grand canyon on a burro. There is an awful lot of squeezing and thrusting here, and I occa ...more
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 ...more
I would give this three and a half stars. It held my interest for the most part, even though sometimes it was difficult to for a layman to understand. I am greatly interested in our geological past but I am a layman! I do keep my computer handy when reading books of this type so that I can hopefully find more diagrams and pictures than the book shows to help me understand what the author is trying to explain. Our earth is an amazing piece of work!! This book is further proof.
With two-page long paragraphs and overly stylized 'flowery' language, this was tough to read. But, about a third of the way into the book, Fortey calmed down and started writing in a more matter-of-fact way - typical of science writing. Fortey recounts travels to Italy, the Alps, Hawaii, Newfoundland, among others, always relating his experiences back to geology. The book contains an great discussion on the change in thinking about continental drift in the 60’s.
one of the best reading books on earth sciences I have read - plan to reread this summer and then move on to his other books on fossils etc

update May 2010 - picked this up again and reads like a new book - so much to learn and well written - like John McPhee's writing -highly recommended. rick read and liked it too. I like the part on Newfoundland best and would love to explore that ancient record of Atlantic, Iapetus and Rheic oceans - fascinating
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Richard Fortey is a senior paleontologist at the Natural History Museum in London and a Fellow of the Royal Society. He was Collier Professor in the Public Understanding of Science and Technology at the Institute for Advanced Studies at the University of Bristol in 2002. His books have been widely acclaimed: Life: A Natural History of the First Four Billion Years of Life on Earth (Knopf) was short ...more
More about Richard Fortey...
Life: A Natural History of the First Four Billion Years of Life on Earth Trilobite: Eyewitness to Evolution Dry Store Room No. 1: The Secret Life Of The Natural History Museum Horseshoe Crabs and Velvet Worms: The Story of the Animals and Plants That Time Has Left Behind The Hidden Landscape: A Journey into the Geological Past

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