The best books about earth history

Sam L. Pfiester Author Of Solomon's Temple: Musjid-i-Suleiman
By Sam L. Pfiester

Who am I?

For most of my career as an oil explorationist I have worked with geologists, an exceptional group of men and women who, from observing earth’s surface as it is configured today, can decipher earth’s history. By understanding how rocks were originally formed and how in subsequent millennia rocks have been buried, transported warped, eroded, re-deposited, and altered by high pressures, high temperatures, hot water, and all the tectonic forces of nature that have formed the surface as we see it today, they believe, really believe, that they can visualize the subsurface.  It’s a fascinating four-dimensional detective story. 


I wrote...

Solomon's Temple: Musjid-i-Suleiman

By Sam L. Pfiester,

Book cover of Solomon's Temple: Musjid-i-Suleiman

What is my book about?

Solomon’s Temple is a historical novel about the first discovery of oil in the Mideast. All the characters are real. All the dates are accurate. All the incidents actually happened. Solomon’s Temple tells the story of the first oil explorationists in Persia whose discovery in 1908 changed the world, and of the visionaries – including Winston Churchill – who understood its impact.

The books I picked & why

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A Short History of Nearly Everything

By Bill Bryson,

Book cover of A Short History of Nearly Everything

Why this book?

Bill Bryson, best known as a humorist, describes earth’s history from the beginning of the universe. It’s a hefty 500-pages but can be swallowed in small, entertaining doses. For instance, he notes that “human beings would split the atom and invent television, nylon, and instant coffee before they could figure out the age of their own planet.”

A Short History of Nearly Everything

By Bill Bryson,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked A Short History of Nearly Everything as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The ultimate eye-opening journey through time and space, A Short History of Nearly Everything is the biggest-selling popular science book of the 21st century and has sold over 2 million copies.

'Possibly the best scientific primer ever published.' Economist
'Truly impressive...It's hard to imagine a better rough guide to science.' Guardian
'A travelogue of science, with a witty, engaging, and well-informed guide' The Times

Bill Bryson describes himself as a reluctant traveller, but even when he stays safely at home he can't contain his curiosity about the world around him. A Short History of Nearly Everything is his quest to…


The Map That Changed the World: William Smith and the Birth of Modern Geology

By Simon Winchester,

Book cover of The Map That Changed the World: William Smith and the Birth of Modern Geology

Why this book?

Winchester’s book is a biography of William Smith, the orphaned son of a village blacksmith. It is the story of one man’s passion, triumph, and tragedy. In his youth Smith was engaged in digging canals in England. Through careful observation of the fossils, he was the first to document the sequential layers of earth’s history. His geologic map, completed in 1815, heralded the beginning of a new science, the science of geology. 

The Map That Changed the World: William Smith and the Birth of Modern Geology

By Simon Winchester,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Map That Changed the World as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

THE EXTRAORDINARY TALE OF THE FATHER OF MODERN GEOLOGY

Hidden behind velvet curtains above a stairway in a house in London's Piccadilly is an enormous and beautiful hand-coloured map - the first geological map of anywhere in the world. Its maker was a farmer's son named William Smith. Born in 1769 his life was troubled: he was imprisoned for debt, turned out of his home, his work was plagiarised, his wife went insane and the scientific establishment shunned him.

It was not until 1829, when a Yorkshire aristocrat recognised his genius, that he was returned to London in triumph: The…


Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History

By Stephen Jay Gould,

Book cover of Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History

Why this book?

Stephen Jay Gould’s book frames the history of life within the context of earth’s history. It focuses on the fauna of the Burgess Shale that Charles Doolittle Walcott discovered in 1909 at a small quarry on a steep mountainside in the Canadian Rockies. Gould’s book brings to life the Cambrian Explosion, when multicellular life suddenly, in geologic time, introduced all the phyla that exist today, including chordata, our own phyla and demonstrates to readers that “the beauty of nature lies in its details.”

Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History

By Stephen Jay Gould,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Wonderful Life as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

High in the Canadian Rockies is a small limestone quarry formed 530 million years ago called the Burgess Shale. It hold the remains of an ancient sea where dozens of strange creatures lived-a forgotten corner of evolution preserved in awesome detail. In this book Stephen Jay Gould explores what the Burgess Shale tells us about evolution and the nature of history.


Rising from the Plains

By John McPhee,

Book cover of Rising from the Plains

Why this book?

Rising from the Plains is one of three geological and historical expeditions by John McPhee which together won the Pulitzer Prize as Annals of the Former World. The book intertwines a narrative of how the Rocky Mountains were formed with the story of its narrator, David Love, a Wyoming geologist who deciphered the geology and whose own family’s history is a fascinating snapshot of early-pioneering days in the West.

Rising from the Plains

By John McPhee,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Rising from the Plains as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Pulitzer Prize-winning author John McPhee continues his Annals of the Former World series about the geology of North America along the fortieth parallel with Rising from the Plains.

This third volume presents another exciting geological excursion with an engaging account of life—past and present—in the high plains of Wyoming.

Sometimes it is said of geologists that they reflect in their professional styles the sort of country in which they grew up. Nowhere could that be more true than in the life of a geologist born in the center of Wyoming and raised on an isolated ranch. This is the story…


Rough-Hewn Land: A Geologic Journey from California to the Rocky Mountains

By Keith Heyer Meldahl,

Book cover of Rough-Hewn Land: A Geologic Journey from California to the Rocky Mountains

Why this book?

Meldahl’s book describes more than 100 million years of North America’s history. For laymen, it is the best geologic field guide to understanding the tectonic forces and subsequent erosion which formed the western United States. The photos, maps, and illustrations depict how the rivers, mountains, and plains are where they are and why. Anyone who drives from California to the Great Plains, or in reverse, should carry this book in your car. Even though millions of people love history, few understand earth’s history, which stares in the face of all of us and, for those who are curious, reveals “the hidden poetry of our mutable earth” (Richard Fortey).

Rough-Hewn Land: A Geologic Journey from California to the Rocky Mountains

By Keith Heyer Meldahl,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Rough-Hewn Land as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"Unfold a map of North America," Keith Heyer Meldahl writes, "and the first thing to grab your eye is the bold shift between the Great Plains and the Rocky Mountains." In this absorbing book, Meldahl takes readers on a 1000-mile-long field trip back through more than 100 million years of deep time to explore America's most spectacular and scientifically intriguing landscapes. He places us on the outcrops, rock hammer in hand, to examine the evidence for how these rough-hewn lands came to be. We see California and its gold assembled from pieces of old ocean floor and the relentless movements…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in geology, British Columbia, and science?

7,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about geology, British Columbia, and science.

Geology Explore 38 books about geology
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