Rossdavidh's Reviews > The Story of the Earth in 25 Rocks: Tales of Important Geological Puzzles and the People Who Solved Them

The Story of the Earth in 25 Rocks by Donald R. Prothero
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For whatever reason, geology in modern times has not received the attention of, say, astronomy, particle physics, or biology. This is not only because those fields have blockbuster breakthroughs like the Big Bang and exoplanets, quantum physics and relativity, or evolution and DNA to grab people's attention. The story of how plate tectonics came to be understood (and believed) is easily as interesting. In the middle of the 20th century, most geologists still did not accept that something as apparently immovable as the rocks beneath our feet, could float about like icebergs on the sea, but by the mid 1960's they did. This is actually more recent than several of those other scientific revolutions, and considerably easier to comprehend than most 20th century physics. Moreover, the discovery of the asteroidal impact that led to the extinction of dinosaurs, was really more about geology than biology, as it was rocks (and the elements found in them) that solved the mystery.

For whatever reason, though, there are probably 10 or 20 popular science books on astronomy, or physics, or biology, for every one on geology. Donald Prothero proves here that this need not be for reasons of a lack of interesting topics to discuss. Prothero is a researcher in both geology and biology; he has written a book on extinct North American rhinoceroses, and is listed as one of the earliest developers of the technique of paleomagnetism, wherein one can determine which way the earth's magnetic field was pointing at the time when a rock cooled from liquid lava to stone. He is clearly both knowledgeable about a wide range of subjects, and also practiced at how to explain them to an audience of interested but inexpert listeners. He must be a great lecturer.

In this book, in each chapter Prothero tells us the story of a rock. A few of them, such as the "moon rocks" or coal, we have heard of before. Others, such as cassiterites or messinian evaporites, I cannot claim to have heard of before. Yet, in every case, with a minimum of jargon and a healthy dose of discussion of the humans involved, we find out what the rocks in question are, how they are formed, how where and when they were discovered, and what it added to the sum of human knowledge. Like, the discovery that parts of Scotland and Canada were once touching. Or, the fact that our planet was once a "Snowball Earth", covered almost entirely with ice and snow.

Prothero uses a goodly number of pictures and maps, to good effect. The best, though, is the cartoonish picture at the front of the book, by someone named Ray Troll, showing all of the ages of the earth in the first format in which I have ever been able to easily comprehend them.

Prothero's book reminds me that we are living, right now, in the Golden Age of Popular Science Writing. It has never been easier to find a readable, entertaining, accurate guide to a field of science (in this case, geology), and Prothero has packed 25 good stories (each worthy of a book of their own) into one reasonably-sized volume. Check it out.
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Reading Progress

Finished Reading
October 14, 2019 – Shelved
October 14, 2019 – Shelved as: blue

Comments Showing 1-4 of 4 (4 new)

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message 1: by Greta (new) - added it

Greta This sounds incredibly interesting, Rossdavidh. I immediately downloaded a sample of the book. Thanks for the review.

message 2: by Rossdavidh (new) - added it

Rossdavidh Glad it piqued your interest!

message 3: by Sense (new)

Sense of  History Great review and clearly an enticing read!

message 4: by Rossdavidh (new) - added it

Rossdavidh Thanks, it was!

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