The best badass geology books

Who am I?

I’m a mystery-writing geology buff who came across a textbook on forensic geology, and was hooked. Here was the perfect fit for my stories--using earth evidence to solve crimes. My characters go from the lab to the field, reading the rock to track the evidence to its source. Along the way, they’ve developed a passion for protecting the environment. I’ve hiked the same trails, skied the same mountains, run the same river, and kayaked the same sea as my characters--although I don’t get into the trouble that they do. My books have hit a number of bestseller lists, including USA Today.


I wrote...

Quicksilver

By Toni Dwiggins,

Book cover of Quicksilver

What is my book about?

Quicksilver is an environmental thriller that sends a forensic geology team on a harrowing hunt in the California wilderness. The team is hired by a man to find his missing brother, who has disappeared in the mountainous gold country. He left behind a gold-flecked rock and a vial of toxic mercury.

Following the mineral clues, the geologists find their way to one of the ‘lost rivers’ of the Mother Lode, plunging into the dark history of the legendary lands, into the dark past of the brothers, into a poisonous sibling feud that threatens both lives and the land. And the geologists are not the only ones on the hunt.

The books I picked & why

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Assembling California

By John McPhee,

Book cover of Assembling California

Why this book?

This book is an enthralling field trip through my home state. McPhee--in company with a larger-than-life California geologist--takes apart and puts together the wildly varying regions of the state. He roams the coast, the mountains, the valleys, the rivers, the cities, and even puts the reader into the cataclysm of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. What more could a reader want? Well, staggeringly good writing and lively wit. Done.

“It is said that if a cow lies down in California, a seismologist will know it.” John McPhee.

Assembling California

By John McPhee,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Assembling California as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

At various times in a span of fifteen years, John McPhee made geological field surveys in the company of Eldridge Moores, a tectonicist at the University of California at Davis. The result of these trips is Assembling California, a cross-section in human and geologic time, from Donner Pass in the Sierra Nevada through the golden foothills of the Mother Lode and across the Great Central Valley to the wine country of the Coast Ranges, the rock of San Francisco, and the San Andreas family of faults. The two disparate time scales occasionally intersect―in the gold disruptions of the nineteenth century…


Underland: A Deep Time Journey

By Robert MacFarlane,

Book cover of Underland: A Deep Time Journey

Why this book?

The title does not understate. There are underworlds in the form of caverns and crevasses and mines and underground rivers, and Macfarlane seems to have explored every one of them. And survived; survival, in some of these explorations, was in question. He brings the subterranean into the light for those of us who’ve never ventured into the dark, confined, and bizarre spaces beneath the earth’s surface--and never will. He explores and illuminates the geography and the geology. He writes so vividly you’ll think you are there.

Underland: A Deep Time Journey

By Robert MacFarlane,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked Underland as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In Underland, Robert Macfarlane delivers an epic exploration of the Earth's underworlds as they exist in myth, literature, memory, and the land itself. Traveling through the dizzying expanse of geologic time-from prehistoric art in Norwegian sea caves, to the blue depths of the Greenland ice cap, to a deep-sunk "hiding place" where nuclear waste will be stored for 100,000 years to come-Underland takes us on an extraordinary journey into our relationship with darkness, burial, and what lies beneath the surface of both place and mind.

Global in its geography and written with great lyricism, Underland speaks powerfully to our present…


The Fifth Season: The Broken Earth, Book 1

By N.K. Jemisin,

Book cover of The Fifth Season: The Broken Earth, Book 1

Why this book?

The Fifth Season begins a science fiction trilogy in which the earth’s geology has run amok. Jemisin has created a shocking world that is coming apart, and the characters who try to survive it--and to save the tattered earth--are heartbreakingly and sometimes infuriatingly real. Characters have names such as Onyx and Syenite and Alabaster, named after rocks and minerals--because this world is defined by its alarming geology. And, wonderfully, some denizens are known as ‘orogenes’ because they can partially control the seismicity that is rending their land.

Never again will I read about mountain-building orogeny without a shiver.

The Fifth Season: The Broken Earth, Book 1

By N.K. Jemisin,

Why should I read it?

19 authors picked The Fifth Season as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

At the end of the world, a woman must hide her secret power and find her kidnapped daughter in this "intricate and extraordinary" Hugo Award winning novel of power, oppression, and revolution. (The New York Times)

This is the way the world ends. . .for the last time.

It starts with the great red rift across the heart of the world's sole continent, spewing ash that blots out the sun. It starts with death, with a murdered son and a missing daughter. It starts with betrayal, and long dormant wounds rising up to fester.

This is the Stillness, a land…


Cadillac Desert: The American West and Its Disappearing Water

By Marc Reisner,

Book cover of Cadillac Desert: The American West and Its Disappearing Water

Why this book?

If there is a book more timely, I cannot think of it. This was published in 1986, and the story of the American West and its water crisis had grown ever more urgent. This book is insistent, astonishing, and should scare the shit out of modern readers--and infuriate them. The business of water is not a pretty one. The tension between development (cadillac) and nature (desert) is on full display in this farsighted book.

“In the west, it is said, water flows uphill toward power and money.” Marc Reisner

Cadillac Desert: The American West and Its Disappearing Water

By Marc Reisner,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked Cadillac Desert as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"The definitive work on the West's water crisis." --Newsweek

The story of the American West is the story of a relentless quest for a precious resource: water. It is a tale of rivers diverted and dammed, of political corruption and intrigue, of billion-dollar battles over water rights, of ecological and economic disaster. In his landmark book, Cadillac Desert, Marc Reisner writes of the earliest settlers, lured by the promise of paradise, and of the ruthless tactics employed by Los Angeles politicians and business interests to ensure the city's growth. He documents the bitter rivalry between two government giants, the Bureau…


The Emerald Mile: The Epic Story of the Fastest Ride in History Through the Heart of the Grand Canyon

By Kevin Fedarko,

Book cover of The Emerald Mile: The Epic Story of the Fastest Ride in History Through the Heart of the Grand Canyon

Why this book?

The author romps through the greatest geology laboratory in the world: the Grand Canyon. The story is propelled by three breakneck rafters who, in 1983, aimed to set a speed record running the Colorado River through the Canyon. Along the way, the author navigates the history of the river and the Canyon--and gives downright thrilling descriptions of geology and fluvial behavior. He uses the most fearsome rapid on the Colorado, Lava Falls, to teach a gnarly lesson on hydrodynamics. Spoiler alert: the rafters rowed the 277 miles through the Canyon in 36 hours, 38 minutes, and 29 seconds.

(I read this book while researching River Run, book #5 in my series, which takes place in the Grand Canyon.)

The Emerald Mile: The Epic Story of the Fastest Ride in History Through the Heart of the Grand Canyon

By Kevin Fedarko,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked The Emerald Mile as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From one of Outside magazine’s “Literary All-Stars” comes the thrilling true tale of the fastest boat ride ever, down the entire length of the Colorado River and through the Grand Canyon, during the legendary flood of 1983.

In the spring of 1983, massive flooding along the length of the Colorado River confronted a team of engineers at the Glen Canyon Dam with an unprecedented emergency that may have resulted in the most catastrophic dam failure in history. In the midst of this crisis, the decision to launch a small wooden dory named “The Emerald Mile” at the head of the…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in geology, political corruption, and the underworld?

7,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about geology, political corruption, and the underworld.

Geology Explore 38 books about geology
Political Corruption Explore 28 books about political corruption
The Underworld Explore 7 books about the underworld

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like The Plague, Desert Solitaire, and Pachinko if you like this list.