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Stories in Stone: Travels Through Urban Geology

3.71  ·  Rating Details ·  75 Ratings  ·  29 Reviews
Most people do not think to look for geology from the sidewalks of a major city, but for David B. Williams any rock used as building material can tell a fascinating story. All he has to do is look at building stone in any urban center to find a range of rocks equal to any assembled by plate tectonics. In Stories in Stone, he takes you on his explorations to find 3.5-billio ...more
Hardcover, 272 pages
Published June 30th 2009 by Walker Books (first published June 23rd 2009)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 328)
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Richard Derus
Nov 14, 2011 Richard Derus rated it liked it
I like pop science books a lot. I enjoy learning about things I've either avoided in the past or simply never thought thing one about. This subject is one of the latter.

Williams has an extra-interesting (to me) chapter on brownstone(s) I'm a few miles from Brooklyn, and a former resident of a brownstone-clad building in Manhattan, I've seen a lot of stuff about them. I've noticed, for example, a fact that Williams explores at some length...the rotten condition of a lot of brownstone facades
Jul 05, 2009 Maureen rated it it was amazing
Beginning with the Brooklyn brownstone and ending with the travertine on the walls of the Getty Museum in Los Angeles, Williams traverses the country on a geologic expedition to explain the origins of the urban American landscape. A few of the outstanding moments along the way include poet Robinson Jeffers granite masterpieces, Tor House and Hawk Tower, in Carmel, California; a gas station fashioned out of petrified wood in Lamar, Colorado; an art deco telephone building with the ground floor fa ...more
Ken Stewart
Feb 10, 2010 Ken Stewart rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Williams, David B. STORIES IN STONE: Travels Through Urban Geology. New York: Walker & Company, 2009.

For anyone interested in deepening their experience of cities, seeing beneath the skins of urban architecture, or learning more about the how these skins were formed and came to be used in cities, I recommend the book, STORIES IN STONE: Travels Through Urban Geology. The ten chapters on Brownstone, Granite, Carmel Granite, Minnesota Gneiss, Florida Coquina, Indiana Limestone, Colorado Petrif
This turned out better than I expected.

First off, there is no way I would have ever picked this up had it not been for QuestScouts. This month's theme is "Rockin'" and the reading challenge was this book.

I am no geology nut. The intensive geological discussions were not the highlights for me. What I enjoyed was how the rocks were woven into the story of whatever place was being described. The epitome of this was the discussion of the Florida Coquina. But also enjoyable were the discussions of Br
Jul 06, 2015 Rab9975 rated it really liked it
A pleasant surprise. I listened to this book on my Audible account. I found myself listening to chapters more than once as I found the information interesting. The author's dry wit was an added bonus to this book.

I have recently visited the Castillo de San Marcos which is profiled in this book due to its unique construction and utilization of coquina stone. The information I gleaned from this book as a perfect primer for the visit. I would like to visit many of the other buildings profiled. As
Aug 13, 2013 Sarah rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2013book, nf
I really liked this. It was a neat way to look at different types of rocks and I'll be looking at old buildings in a different way now (not that I'll be able to identify anything but it will be fun to pretend that I can).
A very enjoyable journey. "Slow down and look more carefully..." says Mr. Williams and that's what he does as he visits and examines several classic stone building materials. You know these materials (brownstone, slate, etc.) because we have all seen them. But you may not have really experienced them until you have looked deeper. This is what this fine book provides. I enjoyed the wonderful connections that Mr. Williams orchestrates with these stone building materials. For each type stone he wea ...more
Frank Stein
Sep 09, 2010 Frank Stein rated it liked it
An interesting though rambling look at the geology and history of ten major building stones. Some stones discussed, such as Carmel Granite and Florida Coquina, seem only to provide segues to the author's favorite poets or historical anecdotes, but most have surprisingly interesting back-stories.

Boston Granite (actually quarried in Quincy, Massachusetts) led to both the first commercial railroad in the US (in 1826) and the modern rediscovery of the "plug and feather" method of breaking apart hard
Sep 07, 2009 Kate rated it really liked it
As a geologist I was very interested to read this book. As I study marine sediments, I spend most of my time locked in a cave like office staring at a microscope and not interacting with geology in the field. I loved the concept of this book of being able to reconnect with the earth through observing the buildings around us. I also really enjoyed reading interviews with people I know! It definitely made the book feel more legit to have expert opinions.

Now for the review: This book focuses on te
Jul 01, 2009 Carrie rated it really liked it
Shelves: first-read
I would actually go with 4.5 for this book, which I wish had been around when I had Geology 101 class in college. In Geology 101, the stone we studied seemed dead, whereas Williams brings stone to life and gives life to stone.

Williams does a terrific job of tying stone to people and injecting social history into Geology. And for this I thank him, because I can't really connect to a subject without this relationship. This book isn't just about geologic forces that happened millions of years ago,
Jan 12, 2010 Maura rated it really liked it
I had expected this book to be more about the use of stone in design and construction; although it IS about that, it delves much more into the geology of stone used in buildings. The author uses a particular building or type of building (the Getty Art Museum or brownstone row houses, for example) to discuss the building material of choice and how it came to be. So in the first chapter you learn all about the sandstone known as brownstone and how it came to be, as well as how it became the stone ...more
Jun 14, 2009 Michelle rated it it was amazing
I'm a First Reads winner! Happy June to me! I'm so excited about this book!!!

My Review:
This book reminded me of all the reasons I love Geology. David Williams did a great job of mixing the modern world with the mysteries and wonder of the natural Earth. All said and done, I spent a lot of time thinking about how geology integrated into everyday life and everyday life being connected more to nature and history.

The writing style was light and engaging while still being educational and descriptive
Jun 27, 2009 Holly added it
Recommends it for: Highschool,college students, general public
Recommended to Holly by: I won this from Goodreads
Historical use of stone in architecture,the geological terms of the types of stone. More importantly I learned stories behind the stone. This book helped me to realize there is more to the stones surrounding a building, on the street, at a graveyard,and fossilized of things that has happened centuries ago locked forevermore inside the stone. The book helped me to think of the people behind the laying of these stones, the hours they put in building these archtecture wonders of the world. Also hel ...more
I haven't been able to make it through this book, so I'm putting it down for a bit to try again later. It's an interesting approach to the geology all around us in buildings, and I will definitely give it another go in the future. I have an advance review copy, so perhaps this issue is resolved in the production copy, but I really wanted many more color photographs to go along with the text, and perhaps some additional figures - in many instances a single good figure or photo would have done won ...more
Mar 09, 2012 Heather rated it really liked it
Recommended to Heather by: First Reads
Williams' style is very human and even funny in parts. I loved my Geology 101 class in college, and this book is aimed pretty much at people like me, non-geologists who still are interested in the underlying structure & story of the rock we see all around us.

The book could benefit from some figures to illustrate some of the geological processes described (I kind of remember them from 101, but other readers might not), and from better-quality photographs (and possibly color photos). (I have a
Jun 24, 2014 Kris rated it really liked it
Shelves: the-library
Tons of information you never knew you were curious about. I meant to skim this book, just picking it up at the library on a whim, but it was too fascinating to give it up so lightly. It only loses one star for not having any good pictures or maps - too much visual information to rely on my imagination.
Nov 28, 2013 Ash rated it really liked it
Focuses on ten different stones used in contemporary and ancient buildings and then follows their geological and human-use history. Everything was interesting: how the stones form, how they're quarried, how they are (and were) transported, why they were chosen for the various architectural projects (their strengths/weaknesses and/or human's preferences) and even the back stories of the people and places he researched. It's not uber technical so even if you're not a geology geek, it's still a fun ...more
Oct 20, 2009 Amy rated it liked it
I've never given much thought to the stone used in buildings, and I am enjoying reading about the different types of stone and the differences in various geographic regions. The structure of the book makes it very easy to pick it up and read any particular chapter of interest. For example, I'm familiar with the term "brownstones" in New York, but I had no idea what that was based on. I started with that chapter and it was a great introduction to the book.
Feb 18, 2010 Laurie rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
This unusual book is an interesting mix - a bit of geology, a bit of architecture, a bit of history, a bit of cultural anthropology. The author takes a look at the use of various types of stones used as building materials and considers the circumstances and people that made different types of stones popular as building materials in several different places. No particular knowledge of geology is necessary in order to enjoy this book.
Aug 18, 2010 Jennifer rated it liked it
This is a great book - makes walking down a city street that much more interesting when you know a bit about the building materials! I got lost a few times in the descriptions of quarrying, but that is more how my mind works than with how the author described the process. Very good and makes me wish I could take one of his urban naturalist walks in Seattle!
Mar 30, 2010 Converse rated it really liked it
New York brownstone (turns out to be sandstone), Boston granite, Caramel granite, Morton gneiss from Minnesota, St. Augustine coquina (clams just barely on their way to limestone), Indiana limestone, fossilized wood, Carrara marble (a terrible building stone), slate, and Roman travertine - the geology and examples of building use of them all
Sep 02, 2009 Camilla rated it it was ok
Shelves: giveaway-wins
The first couple of chapters were really interesting - when the author was talking directly about the origins of the building stones. However, when he started getting bogged down in the poet's story...I lost interest. I may try to pick it up again and just skip that chapter.
Apr 19, 2015 Eric rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
This is a nice blend of history, geology, and architecture. And, as a result, I've been paying more attention to buildings. I also stopped in an old quarry on our vacation in Florida. Probably never would have done that if it hadn't been for this book.
My favorite chapter was on coquina, in which the series of predecessors to the fort of San Marco at St. Augustine Florida read just like the Herbert's father's castle in Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
Mar 02, 2010 Christopher rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Well researched and in some spaces shining writing. The chapter on brownstones was very interesting. The connections the author makes from Rome to the Getty to Mars were also quite nice.
Sep 08, 2013 John rated it it was amazing
Yet another book demonstrating how much fun one can have in ordinary settings. Look at what things are made of, and enjoy. Any masonry building is a novel in itself.
Snail in Danger (Sid) Nicolaides
Jan 03, 2012 Snail in Danger (Sid) Nicolaides rated it liked it
Recommends it for: rock hounds, paleontology and geology geeks, urban archaeology buffs
Recommended to Snail in Danger (Sid) by:
Shelves: history, geology
This was not quite as general as I would have liked, but I did pick up some interesting and generally applicable bits.
Lissi Lu
Jun 01, 2009 Lissi Lu marked it as to-read
Shelves: giveaway-wins
I won another book... and Ashlie wanted to read this one too... so, double YAY!!
Feb 12, 2012 Heidi rated it really liked it
A great read for anyone in a city of brownstones - Chicago, Boston, New York.
Katherine Haas
Katherine Haas is currently reading it
Sep 25, 2016
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