The best badass geology books

The Books I Picked & Why

Assembling California

By John McPhee

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.


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Underland: A Deep Time Journey

By Robert MacFarlane

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.


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The Fifth Season: The Broken Earth, Book 1

By N.K. Jemisin

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.


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Cadillac Desert: The American West and Its Disappearing Water

By Marc Reisner

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


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

By Kevin Fedarko

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.)


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