The best books about geology that aren’t really about rocks

Who am I?

For the past two decades, I have written about the intersection of people and place, particularly as viewed through the lens of geology and how it influences our lives. My nine books include Too High and Too Steep: Reshaping Seattle’s Topography, Cairns: Messengers in Stone, and Homewaters: A Human and Natural History of Puget Sound. All of them have a goal of helping people develop a better connection with the natural world around them.


I wrote...

Stories in Stone: Travels Through Urban Geology

By David B. Williams,

Book cover of Stories in Stone: Travels Through Urban Geology

What is my book about?

Most people do not think of looking for geology from the sidewalks of a major city, but for the intrepid geologist any good rock can tell a fascinating story. All one has to do is look at building stone to find a range of rocks equal to any assembled by plate tectonics. Furthermore, building stones provide the foundation for constructing stories about cultural as well as natural history.

In my journeys around the United States and Italy recounted in Stories in Stone, I braid together natural and cultural history to reveal the untold life of building stone. Stories range from explorations of rock used by the Romans to build the Colosseum to a gas station made of petrified wood to a granite quarry that led to the first commercial railroad in the United States. By discussing history, transportation, and architecture, I hope to give readers a new way to appreciate urban geology.

The books I picked & why

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One Day the Ice Will Reveal All Its Dead

By Claire Dudman,

Book cover of One Day the Ice Will Reveal All Its Dead

Why this book?

In this brilliant, evocative, and imaginative novel, Claire Dudman has written a fictionalized autobiography of Alfred Wegener. Best known for his 1912 proposal about continental drift, Wegener was a first-rate meteorologist, polar researcher, and balloonist (he held the record for longest continuous flight). Dudman’s insights into Wegener’s personality, the challenges he faced with his proposal, and his love of science shine through and create a unique and memorable portrait of a brilliant and fascinating life.

One Day the Ice Will Reveal All Its Dead

By Claire Dudman,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked One Day the Ice Will Reveal All Its Dead as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A fictional biography of German meteorologist Alfred Wegener follows the groundbreaking scientist from his 1880 birth to his final Arctic exploration in 1930, discussing the offbeat scientific adventures and exploits that marked his life--from a record-breaking long-distance balloon flight in 1906, to his horrific experiences during World War I, to his struggle to defend his controversial theories. A first novel. Reprint.


Home Ground: A Guide to the American Landscape

By Barry Lopez (editor), Debra Gwartney (editor),

Book cover of Home Ground: A Guide to the American Landscape

Why this book?

Barry Lopez and his 40 plus contributors dive deep into the language of the land, providing colorful, literary, and sometimes opinionated definitions for more than 850 landscape terms, many of which owe their existence to geology, such as ‘a’a, erg, slickrock, and yardang. The book is an essential and timely contribution to the myriad ways that geology affects not only place but language as well. This is a book for anyone who wants to learn more about America, the nature of its landscape, and its history, and to develop a better connection to place. Or for anyone who wants to use correctly such fine terms as chickenhead, nubble, boondocks, and thank-you ma’am.

Home Ground: A Guide to the American Landscape

By Barry Lopez (editor), Debra Gwartney (editor),

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Hailed by book reviewers as a "masterpiece," "gorgeous and fascinating," and "sheer pleasure," Home Ground: Language for an American Landscape was published in fall 2006 in hardcover. It was met with outstanding reviews and strong sales, going into three printings. A language-lover's dream, this visionary reference revitalized a descriptive language for the American landscape by combining geography, literature, and folklore in one volume. This is a totally redesigned, near-pocket-sized field guide edition of the best-selling hardcover. Home Ground brings together 45 poets and writers to create more than 850 original definitions for words that describe our lands and waters. The…


In Limestone Country

By Scott Russell Sanders,

Book cover of In Limestone Country

Why this book?

Not only does geology shape the land, it can also shape the lives of those who quarry the stone. Rarely is this relationship between human and rock better portrayed than in Scott Russell Sanders’ thoughtful essays about the limestone country around Bedford, Indiana. With graceful and respectful prose, he tells the stories of a “piece of earth where the accidents of geology have yielded a special kind of stone, and where landscapes, towns, and the people themselves bear the mark of that stone.” And, if you seek to see this story on film, I can also recommend one of my favorite movies, Breaking Away, a humorous and passionate portrayal of life and biking in limestone country.

In Limestone Country

By Scott Russell Sanders,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked In Limestone Country as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From a patch of land in southern Indiana has come the stone for many of the country's most famous buildings, including the Washington Cathedral, the Pentagon, the Empire State Building, and Chicago's Tribune Tower. If you live anywhere within the lower forty-eight states you probably live within walking distance of library, bank, monument, church, house or skyscraper built with Indiana limestone. In Limestone Country is the story of the stone, from its geologic origins through its mining history to the present. Sanders records the folklore, the craft, the distinct culture that has grown up around Indiana limestone. Above all we…


Oil Notes

By Rick Bass,

Book cover of Oil Notes

Why this book?

A petroleum geologist working in the American South, Rick Bass writes poetically about the geology, personalities, and challenges of an industry that he clearly loves. I don’t agree with him about how great oil extraction is as an industry and feel that he omitted its downsides but I appreciate his insights, observations, and wonderful prose about the life of a geologist in the field. Plus, rarely will you meet someone so into Classic Coke.

Oil Notes

By Rick Bass,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The author of this book is a development geologist, advising oil companies where to drill and how to assess oil quantitities. The book describes his reflections on life, on nature and the excitement of discovering oil.


Hard Road West: History & Geology Along the Gold Rush Trail

By Keith Heyer Meldahl,

Book cover of Hard Road West: History & Geology Along the Gold Rush Trail

Why this book?

A simple, yet profound idea forms the basis for geologist Keith Meldah’s first book: how did geology influence the gold rush pioneers. Weaving pioneer accounts, modern science, and field exploration, he paints a unique and compelling picture of western migration and how the vagaries of the dramatic landscape played out in both small and large ways. Although gold was what drove many of the argonauts, they soon learned that the rocky world would affect them far before they reached their hoped-for destination.

Hard Road West: History & Geology Along the Gold Rush Trail

By Keith Heyer Meldahl,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Hard Road West as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In 1849, news of the discovery of gold in California triggered an enormous wave of emigration toward the Pacific. Lured by the promise of riches, thousands of settlers left behind the forests, rain, and fertile soil of the eastern United States in favor of the rough-hewn lands of the American West. The dramatic terrain they struggled to cross is so familiar to us now that it is hard to imagine how frightening - even godforsaken - its sheer rock faces and barren deserts seemed to our forebears."Hard Road West" brings their perspective vividly to life, weaving together the epic overland…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in geology, geography, and Indiana?

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

Geology Explore 37 books about geology
Geography Explore 20 books about geography
Indiana Explore 26 books about Indiana

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Principles of Geology, Annals of the Former World, and Rough-Hewn Land if you like this list.