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The Earth: An Intimate History

3.89  ·  Rating details ·  1,183 ratings  ·  83 reviews
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 For
Paperback, 501 pages
Published March 7th 2005 by HarperPerennial (first published 2004)
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Sep 26, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science
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.

Sep 03, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Who'd have thought that a book about rocks would be so compelling. I quite literally sat up at night reading this till 2 am over various nights. Richard Fortey explains why the continents have their shape and form. In doing so, he describes how paleogeologists worked out the system of tectonic plates that undergird this world.

I've known about tectonic plates, and supercontinents and that stuff from school textbooks but Fortey makes it fascinating and compelling because he structures each chapte
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
Dec 11, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Apr 05, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Cassandra Kay Silva
Aug 04, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science
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. ...more
Mar 15, 2020 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This book is as informative as boring as glimpsing through an encylopedia. I struggled so much to end it, and towards the last bits, I was worried I didn't enjoy reading ANYTHING at all (to test that, I started the first chapter of In Europe by Geert Mak and immediatly relieved)!

A few complaints: If only the book included some more graphics and maps, it would have been much more easy, absorbing to read. With the plain text, you just could not imagine the field.

The writing is not academic (lack o
Dec 26, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  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
Dec 26, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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 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
David Evans
Feb 12, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science-medicine
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. ...more
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.
Aug 09, 2018 rated it really liked it
This book is an informative but rather rambling mix of geology and travel writing. The book revolves around the various facets of plate tectonics, how each piece of the theory was puzzled out and how those pieces fit together to give us the Earth we have today. Fortey uses examples from all over the world to illustrate the various geological processes. Everything from fault lines, development of mountain ranges and oceans, subduction zones, volcanoes, earthquakessupercontinents, the Earth's inte ...more
Oct 03, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 year ...more
Mar 16, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Essentially a quick history of 20th century geology through visits to important field sites; Hawai'i, Gulf of Naples, etc--this is a basic, good pop-sci book about geology!

i also appreciate the author's tone. He doesn't waste much time on uninteresting things like many 'pop-sci' authors think is necessary (it's not!)--it's a book about rocks, and how we understand them, and he talks about rocks, and how we understand them (or don't, yet, as the case may be!).
Nov 28, 2019 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science
A tough read. The title contains the words "Intimate History." Therefore, I was expecting something akin to a story. In fairness, there were some narrative elements to the book, but about 80% of the book's content was just a literal description of the look of various geological features and the processes by which those features were made. This subject matter would be an excellent topic for a documentary film, but as a book, it was incredibly tedious. ...more
Ian Banks
Nov 20, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Mostly entertaining but sometimes a little dry. The author definitely knows his stuff but he doesn’t feel like the best tour guide for his subject. I was dazzled by the breadth of content as well as the myriad windows into the history of geology as well as the earth. I just found it very easy to put down, unfortunately, which led me to look on it as more of a coffee-table book than a serious historical effort, which it really is.
Apr 03, 2020 rated it really liked it
Great overview of the geology of the earth and the processes that drive it. And this geology drives history and human settlement and shapes our world. the book also covers the battles over the theories including plate tectonics which I have always found fascinating. If this makes it sound dry it really isn't - it is highly recommended! ...more
Violeta Vornicu
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. ...more
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.
Rachel A.
I'm not a geologist which may have been part of the problem. I spent much of the book a bit lost in the titanic description. There was just so much of it, that I lost the thread. I made it through to the end, but I didn't absorb as much as I'd have liked. ...more
May 26, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
A beautifully written book. A treasure if you like geology.
Jun 27, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I am not so into geology (it was always the most boring part of geography lessons), but I love Richard Fortey writing style. It is like listening to one of those beloved, witty, enthusiastic university professors, who could change every lecture into a fascinating adventure, no matter the topic.
Sarah Jowett
One of my dads books i found in his stuff after he died and decided to read.... i couldnt get into it
Jay Nana
Jan 05, 2021 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Gave up after 20% of the book
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 yo
Andrew Dombrowski
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 dis ...more
Pam Lindholm-levy
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
"[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
Martin Adams
Feb 20, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
the best book I have ever read.
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Science and Inquiry: December 2011 - Earth: An Intimate History 41 65 Dec 27, 2011 04:54PM  

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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

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