Roberta J.M. Olson
|Enable Book ZoomAdd to Wish List|
In the vast scale of geological time, the whole history of man is no more than the blink of an eye. The discovery of that fact – uncomfortable as it may have made humans feel – was key to much of modern science from Darwin’s theory of evolution to predicting volcanic eruptions or the age of the earth. As the pioneers of geology in the 18th and 19th centuries refined their understanding, suddenly the landscape appeared in a new light. Whole continents had changed shape and rearranged themselves; the hills of Scotland were the eroded remains of mountains; the Himalayas revealed themselves as youthful, growing ranges; cliffs, ridges and even islands had been formed from the calcified remains of dead sea creatures; the sea-floor itself was constantly being recreated as lava welled up and cooled.
In his ‘intimate history’, Richard Fortey unlocks the geological secrets of the earth – its origin and the constant processes that destroy and create it. His aim is to unite the natural and human history of particular places with the geological realities that underlie them. He chooses key locations that reveal the deep workings of our planet, and explores how these places have formed history itself. Visiting each one, Fortey is a unique guide, sharing his learned, but delightfully individual response to geology, culture and landscape, from Newfoundland to Hawai‘i.
Along the San Andreas fault lines, where North American and Pacific plates meet, the effects of geology are seen in the splendid landscape of Death Valley, in Joshua trees growing at angles in the desert and even in the human ingenuity that constructs high-rise buildings on giant rubber shock absorbers. In the abandoned mines of the former Czechoslovakia, Fortey digs deep into the formation of minerals in the earth’s crust, to explore our relationship with silver, cobalt, arsenic and even radium and polonium discovered by the Curies. One of the most fascinating and unexpected journeys takes Fortey to the University of Bristol. There, in a specialised laboratory, scientists attempt to reproduce what happens deep inside the mantle of the earth – it is the only ‘journey to the centre of the earth’ that humans can make.
Described by the Economist as ‘the Raymond Chandler of science writing’, Fortey unites clarity with a wonderful expressiveness. He explains plate tectonics and how their ‘stately dance of splitting apart and reassembling’ gave our planet its form, and shows ‘how the lie of the land responds to a deeper beat’. He constantly unites past and present in fascinating examples. The ancient mountain range of the supercontinent Pangaea, eroded through millions of years, provides a solid rock foundation for New York’s skyscrapers. A granite counter in Paddington station, Fortey reveals, was once part of a huge unnamed continent over 1,500 million years old – a timescale that gives a certain perspective to a missed train.
For this Folio Presentation Volume, Richard Fortey has written a new introduction in which he describes his book as a ‘kind of pilgrimage: journeys into the geological past’. He considers many of the human tragedies of the last few years: earthquakes in Haiti, China and Pakistan; the Boxing Day tsunami of 2004, and even the volcanic eruption in Iceland that paralysed air traffic in 2010: ‘The earth shrugged, and we tiny creatures hanging delicately on to its surface were overwhelmed’. And yet, for Fortey, geology is not an alien and frightening force, but a process of abiding beauty and excitement: ‘the key to respecting the earth is through understanding it, and that understanding should bring pleasure as much as it raises concerns’.
Wonderful images bring Fortey’s far-flung locations to glittering life, whether the Atacama desert, the sulphur fields of Java or Alpine mountains. Each section opens with a spectacular image from geologist and photographer Bernhard Edmaier, and we have used his extraordinary photograph of the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, Oregon, USA, for the binding. Just as Fortey’s story examines the impact geology has had on human culture, many of the most striking images include man-made as well as natural formations: a motorway twisted through 90 degrees in the aftermath of the 1995 Kobe earthquake, the honeycreeper bird feather cape made for a Hawaiian Chief, and the Easter Island statues.
Review by edhech on 28th Jan 2013
"If you are curious about how the Earth works, about the mechanisms at play deep inside this planet of ours that have governed its evolution, and what have been the key steps in the history of the scie..." [read more]