Darryl Brashier's Reviews > Annals of the Former World

Annals of the Former World by John McPhee
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it was amazing
bookshelves: science, history, geology

This is a book of books. The book is an anthology of four previous books and a fifth published for the first time with this book. It covers geology, history, politics and more. It's a travel book and a fascinating look at geologists and their evolving views of the world as plate tectonics rewrote their science.

The broad sweep of the book is the geology of the American continent: how it came to be, how it changed through the ages. The anchor for this look is Interstate 80, running from New York City to San Francisco. Along the way, the reader will find the vast plains, the mountains coming up and wearing away, the sea flooding in and retreating, the ice sheets planing away the soil and rocks to pile them again in new geologic features.

Amidst all of this, John McPhee keeps us reminded that there are two time scales - the slow progressions of geology and the very recent and oh-so-brief lives that we live. He writes of the Donner Party, the exploration of the West, the Gold Rush, the oil boom, the mapping of the Appalachians and so much more and always the lives of the geologists with whom McPhee himself explores the country.

It's not always an easy book, with all the talk of rocks that are hard to conjure, like the basalts, granites, serpentine, gabbro and such, but McPhee writes with such magic that they roll through the sentences without bringing you down to textbook plodding. He also brings the long ages of the geology to human scale with stories of times where the two time scales intersect in earthquakes and avalanches.

It's magnificent.
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Reading Progress

December 5, 2012 – Started Reading
December 5, 2012 – Shelved
December 5, 2012 –
page 520
72.22% "This is about my 5th time through this book and it continues to awe me"
December 15, 2012 – Finished Reading
March 24, 2013 – Shelved as: history
March 24, 2013 – Shelved as: science
March 24, 2013 – Shelved as: geology

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