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Reading the Rocks: The Autobiography of the Earth

3.89  ·  Rating details ·  336 ratings  ·  43 reviews
To many of us, the Earth's crust is a relic of ancient, unknowable history. But to a geologist, stones are richly illustrated narratives, telling gothic tales of cataclysm and reincarnation. For more than four billion years, in beach sand, granite, and garnet schists, the planet has kept a rich and idiosyncratic journal of its past. Fulbright Scholar Marcia Bjornerud takes ...more
Paperback, 256 pages
Published October 31st 2006 by Basic Books (first published 2005)
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3.89  · 
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 ·  336 ratings  ·  43 reviews

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Bob Nichols
Apr 13, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The title and subtitle of this book should be reversed. The book is about the earth in a cosmic context. What we take for granted – the Earth, our home as we know it now – has a history of fragility (e.g., in just the last ice age, there have been at least 20 ice cycles). As serious as these disruptions have been, Gaia-like feedback mechanisms, for the most part, pull the Earth back into balance. But at least on two occasions (“late Precambrian Snowball Earth…an ultra-ice age when the oceans may ...more
Aug 08, 2007 rated it really liked it
A good intro to earth sciences. Despite the title, this book is only partly about rocks. The reason I got it was to get an introduction to geology, and it gave me a little of that, but not as much as I was looking for.

But it does an admirable job of overview not only geology, but also covers the evolution of life, the origins of the solar system, and other far-flung subjects--all in 200 pages.

The sections on subjects I already knew well were still interesting, but I'm not sure how well the geol
When the author focuses on geology, I liked it very much. Good attempt to find homely metaphors for geological processes. When she start on how we're running everything into the ground, I got bored
Becky Loader
Mar 06, 2018 rated it really liked it
Ah, Mother Earth, you have such a history! Why do we humans treat you so cruelly?
Apr 02, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Fulbright scholar Bjornerud simply cannot write poorly. Her books are exquisite mouthfuls of geoscience in delicious bite-size chunks. Her modern analogies of geologic processes make the subject irresistibly accessible. And she's funny.

I never knew that reading a comprehensive geological history could be so satisfying and one comes away from the book with a bigger awareness and a smaller sense of self (both good things). She cautions us about looking at the world through our filters vs. what the
Bill Mutch
Apr 26, 2015 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: the geologically ignorant but curious
Recommended to Bill by: random pick on library shelves
This gal can really write. Among books in the genre "Science Not For Dummies." it's a standout. I had no background in geological earth science to speak of so I found the material rather dense (sorry, we're talking rocks here) but Prof. Bjornerud explains her terms and uses parallels from common experience to help the reader relate. There's a glossary worth using. I've started reading this again. It's worth it, and I expect by the second time through I'll have learned enough to take on other wor ...more
Nicholas A Fry
While this book is sold as some sort of geology book, the heart of the work reaches for a sort of ecological teleology. It's a love your mother book, heavy on metaphor and analogies. Reaching back to the employment of metaphors, this was an awful use of them. Nonfiction is something I'm plainly used to reading. This was often intangible, difficult to follow, and unnecessarily convoluted by analogies with little cohesion. Throughout the read, the often lengthy metaphors or analogies in passing wo ...more
Aug 22, 2018 rated it really liked it
Though this book seems a bit like a textbook, the author, a structural geologist, narrates a story here with even a bit of humor interspersed with facts. I learned a lot about the way people interpret information from rocks, the atmosphere, ice cores, the deep ocean. Earth is very much an active, changing system. For the most part the systems function well by correcting themselves when necessary. The regeneration of the earth's crust through volcanism and subduction is continuous. The huge ocean ...more
Apr 24, 2013 rated it liked it
Having taken Geology in college as my chosen science, I was naturally drawn to this book and also glad for that background knowledge. Reading the Rocks goes deep (for a non-scientist) in a number of areas, which I enjoyed, but it was not wise to delve in just before bed as I often did. The author's writing style is cleverly floral, and I found myself looking up words every so often. One thing I didn't expect but gained from this book was a renewed appreciation for the incredibly small odds that ...more
Oct 11, 2013 rated it it was ok
First of all, it's not really an AUTObiography, is it? Also, lots of mixed metaphors. Other than that, a little too preachy. Finally, a few good passages about geology.
Mary Brown
Oct 12, 2017 rated it it was amazing
What an amazing book for the person who wants to go deeper into geology...why rocks look like they continents formed and are still concepts of evolution and cycles of geologic phases relate to all of life. Enjoyed author's pithy writing style and basic analogies to explain scientific concepts. Be a dream to take a class from Marcia B. This book should be in every high school and college library.
Alyssa W
Jun 23, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Interesting, but not my cup of tea. While the subject is interesting - what we can infer about the history of the earth from its geology - the writing is dry and seems to suffer from an overactive thesaurus. I hate when large, esoteric words are used when they can be easily substituted with "normal" ones. Witnessing this pontification moves my review from a 3 to a 2. It really put a damper on the book.
Jan 11, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A geology book that reads like a good novel.
The story of Earth keeps you entertained until the last page.
Recommended as an introduction to geology, or to show anybody that geology needn't be a dull long word salad to laymen.
(I read a Dutch translation myself.)
Jul 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing
fascinating, and very readable
Oct 15, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I enjoyed her mix of scientific and narrative writing; this is often a difficult combination for writers/scientists. She does it very well!
Peter Tillman
Jul 11, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: sci-tech
3.5 stars.
Apr 09, 2019 rated it it was ok
This book started out well. Lots of great information presented with great analogies and a bit of humor. Unfortunately it devolved into academic pomposity and merely citing other publications.
Jan 15, 2010 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: People interested in pop geology
Recommended to Adam by: Freshman Studies
Reading the Rocks is a perfect book for me, since its two themes, geology and humanity's atrocities against the planet, are both things that fascinate me more than most things. And as a pop geology book, Bjornerud makes a contribution worth reading alongside books that are perhaps better written or give more information, like Richard Fortey's Earth, or Bill Bryson's A Short History of Nearly Everything. She does give information that is still new and fascinating after reading those two books.

Oct 25, 2014 rated it really liked it
My dear most brilliant man,
I can see why you are using this book with your students. It reminds me very much of your own teaching style. I love her use of analogy to common, well-known, everyday situations, events and things to explain these concepts of science. That is so you. I particularly liked the analogy she used when explaining radioactivity. That was helpful. And I loved how detailed she got in explaining the problems and difficulties of the process. It was all most interesting.

Once I hi
Sep 18, 2008 rated it really liked it
The title, Reading the Rocks, made me think this would have more to do with actual rocks than it did. There was some bits about rocks but more of it was on a much bigger scale. Thus the sub-title. Definitely a book chock full of information without getting overly technical. It was very consistent throughout making it relatively easy to follow. I say relatively, because it will definitely make you pause and think. At least it did for me, because the information was so far beyond what I previously ...more
Sep 21, 2012 rated it liked it
This book is a good overview/intro about how geologists use rocks to make educated guesses about the earth's climatological and biological history - a very difficult topic to explain to an average citizen with a vague recollection of high school science class. Because the subject is so huge (history of the planet Earth) and the science so technical (chemistry of how rocks change over time), it felt at times that the author had to simplify many concepts and that I was not fully understanding what ...more
Jan 24, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: science
I love the concept of learning anything through stories. Maybe it shows my lack of creativity, but I'd never considered the idea that rocks have a story to tell. I'm so glad to learn they do!

I don't speak the language of rocks, however, so I really appreciate Bjornerud's ability to translate their stories for me. An excellent tool she used to accomplish this was through metaphors. This helped me "get it" (oh, the joy of the ah-ha moments).

Entertaining read. I love it when you can say that abou
Devynne Hadley
Dec 01, 2016 rated it liked it
For my Earth Science class, we were all assigned to read this very interesting looking book that tied in with the lessons we were learning. While most things in this book deemed as a great learning experience, I really couldn't read it again due to it being so in depth and well... long and blunt. The section titles were very funny to read and definitely original, but for someone like me who is used to exciting and page turning stories, this, did not grab my attention like I hoped it would.
If yo
Mar 04, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: owned, science
This book was really about a 3.5. Generally a good semi-basic book about Earth's biogeochemical history. The author did a good job explaining concepts in biology, geology and in environmental science in clear and concise ways. Generally, her explanations were entertaining and enjoyable. There were some times, however, when (even knowing a fair amount of geology) I had to reread to ensure I was understanding where she was going with her explanation.
Jan 21, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
I liked Reading the Rocks. It has lots of little (often amusing) comments in parentheses, which is a lot like the way I think (and it comes out in my writing). I liked reading about geology and prehistory, and it was interesting to see all of the writing techniques I've been learning in Language Arts and English finally pop up in my reading. I would recommend this book to anyone who is curios about geology.
Jan 27, 2017 rated it it was ok
I was required to read this book for a course on teaching geology.

While I often appreciated the metaphors the author used, and the book often felt like poetry, this book was so poorly organized that it was difficult to follow and not useful. The author was able to talk about rocks from a philosophical perspective, which I appreciated. But it seemed like it was almost written in stream of consciousness.
Jan 10, 2014 rated it really liked it
Bjornerud loves her metaphors and analogies! This book all in all, was a great piece of work. Since I'm a geology major, some of the ideas presented (mainly in the first few chapters) were all review, but she talked about rock types in a clear, interesting manor - enough so that I believe anyone with a small background of rocks would really learn from and enjoy this book. My only frustration with it is that it's more of an intro to geology, which I wasn't really looking for.
Lina Baker
Sep 27, 2014 rated it liked it
This was a very accessible and enjoyable read about the major geologic events shaping Earth's history. I definitely learned some new things (a time before plate tectonics???) and was thoroughly engrossed in discovering exactly how delicate the balance truly has to be in order for our planet to sustain life.
Oct 18, 2016 rated it it was ok
I have to admit, I liked this a lot more then "Bang!" (another book I read for school.) "Bang!" was interesting, but very confusing (And plus, the picture on the back. *Shivers*). This one was more interesting even, and also easier to understand. It was a little long, and still a bit confusing (I'm not good at Science-y stuff), but overall an enjoyable read.
Dec 30, 2010 rated it liked it
I liked the first part of the book a great deal but the last 30 pages or so, I could have done without. I don't feel like the added content to the book at all. While the prose was interesting and the topics with interesting for the first part, the last didn't interest me and I felt like it was even written differently.
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