The best books to rock your world and make you fall in love with stones

Why am I passionate about this?

In my day job I write about art for British newspapers and magazines. I’m lucky enough to spend a lot of time talking to artists. As a group they’re always one step ahead in identifying important issues and ideas. So Lapidarium has been fuelled by years of conversations with artists exploring geology as a way to think about things like migration, ecology, diaspora, empire, and the human body. The book is also embedded in personal experience. stone artefacts from cities I’ve lived in, from Washington D.C. to Istanbul. I’m never happier than when walking with my dog, so many of the stories in Lapidarium are also rooted in the British landscape.


I wrote...

Lapidarium: The Secret Lives of Stones

By Hettie Judah,

Book cover of Lapidarium: The Secret Lives of Stones

What is my book about?

Inspired by the lapidaries of the ancient world, Lapidarium is a beautifully designed collection of true stories about sixty different stones that have influenced our shared history

Through the realms of art, myth, geology, philosophy, and power, the story of humanity can be told through the minerals and materials that have allowed us to evolve and create. From the Taiwanese national treasure known as the Meat-Shaped Stone to Malta’s prehistoric “fat lady” temples carved in globigerina limestone to the amethyst crystals still believed to have healing powers, Lapidarium is a jewel box of sixty far-flung stones and the stories that accompany them. Together, they explore how human culture has formed stone, and the roles stone has played in forming human culture.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Periodic Table

Hettie Judah Why did I love this book?

Rooted in autobiography, Levi’s exquisite collection of interlinked stories teases out the relationship between the human and mineral worlds.

Our idioms habitually position stone as the antithesis to life – we might describe a corpse as ‘stone dead’ or a machinelike bureaucrat as ‘stone hearted’.

Levi instead looks to a symbiotic relationship, in which the raw crags of the Alps teach fortitude, access to rare minerals provide a military advantage, and the ability to read the secrets written in stone offers a route to riches.

In The Periodic Table, exploitation of the elements always comes at a cost – for everything the Earth yields, it takes something in return. 

By Primo Levi, Raymond Rosenthal (translator),

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

An extraordinary kind of autobiography in which each of the 21 chapters takes its title and its starting-point from one of the elements in the periodic table. Mingling fact and fiction, science and personal record, history and anecdote, Levi uses his training as an industrial chemist and the terrible years he spent as a prisoner in Auschwitz to illuminate the human condition. Yet this exquisitely lucid text is also humourous and even witty in a way possible only to one who has looked into the abyss.


Book cover of The Planet in a Pebble: A Journey Into Earth's Deep History

Hettie Judah Why did I love this book?

A whole book about a single stone? Whaaaaat?

Sure, The Planet in a Pebble is usually filed under ‘popular science’ but with a premise like that, we could also consider it a work of experimental literature.

Zalasiewicz picks up a pebble on a Welsh beach – humble, rounded grey slate intersected by a seam of white quartz – which starts him on a journey back over 4.5 billion years, looking at the minerals of early Earth.

We watch elements of our pebble progress through the rock cycle, eroding from igneous rock, slowly settling in a bacteria-rich bed of sediment within the early ocean before re-lithifying, metamorphosing under intense heat and pressure as mountains are formed by the movement of continental plates, to at last be exposed again and splintered from its mother rock by the force of wind and waves.

By Jan Zalasiewicz,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Planet in a Pebble as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This is the story of a single pebble. It is just a normal pebble, as you might pick up on holiday - on a beach in Wales, say. Its history, though, carries us into abyssal depths of time, and across the farthest reaches of space.

This is a narrative of the Earth's long and dramatic history, as gleaned from a single pebble. It begins as the pebble-particles form amid unimaginable violence in distal realms of the Universe, in the Big Bang and in supernova explosions and continues amid the construction of the Solar System. Jan Zalasiewicz shows the almost incredible…


Book cover of The Book of Unconformities: Speculations on Lost Time

Hettie Judah Why did I love this book?

Raffles explores geology through both a historic and an autobiographical lens.

We might understand the ‘unconformities’ of the title as both unconventional geological formations and members of Raffles’s own family (though I imagine he might question my urge to distinguish between the two.)

The book is episodic, and follows Raffles on his travels to sites of geological and personal significance.

Throughout he also draws out the long history of exploitation bound up in our relationship to the mineral realm, including the removal of iron-rich meteorites from indigenous communities in the arctic circle, and the forced labour of the Glimmerwerke – mica splitting workshops – at Theresienstadt ghetto during the Second World War.

In my book I describe geology as a storytelling science – Raffles is something closer to a poet.

By Hugh Raffles,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Book of Unconformities as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From the author of the acclaimed Insectopedia, a powerful exploration of loss, endurance, and the absences that permeate the present
 
When Hugh Raffles’s two sisters died suddenly within a few weeks of each other, he reached for rocks, stones, and other seemingly solid objects as anchors in a world unmoored, as ways to make sense of these events through stories far larger than his own.
 
A moving, profound, and affirming meditation, The Book of Unconformities is grounded in stories of stones: Neolithic stone circles, Icelandic lava, mica from a Nazi concentration camp, petrified whale blubber in Svalbard, the marble prized…


Book cover of The Volcano Lover: A Romance

Hettie Judah Why did I love this book?

Sontag’s historic novel focusses on two great romances: the one between Vice-Admiral Horatio Nelson and Lady Emma Hamilton, and the other between her husband Sir William Hamilton and the volcano Vesuvius.

Hamilton is the titular ‘volcano lover’ (he also dallied with Etna) who documented the fluctuating moods of the crater with attentive devotion.

He is a fascinating figure – an eighteenth-century diplomat, collector, and connoisseur, he worked at a time when the foundations of modern science were being laid down.

Hamilton’s observations of Vesuvius and the flaming sulphur fields around Naples were recorded in the beautiful Campi Phlegraei.

European men of his time were driven to document, catalogue, name, and impose order on the world, often in a deliberate effort to distance themselves from natural religions and animistic beliefs that prevailed in territories exploited in the colonial era.

Sontag describes Hamilton caught in the balance between the worlds of science he aspires to and the suggestions of diabolical magic wafting from the volcano.

By Susan Sontag,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Volcano Lover as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A historical romance, Sontag's book is based on the lives of Sir William Hamilton, his wife, Emma, and Lord Nelson in the final decades of the eighteenth century. Passionately examining the shape of Western civilization since the Age of Enlightenment, Sontag's novel is an exquisitely detailed picture of revolution, the fate of nature, art and love.


Book cover of The Hidden Landscape: A Journey into the Geological Past

Hettie Judah Why did I love this book?

Fortey is a literary, opinionated, and very engaging science writer.

One of the foundational books for my book was a geological walk across the Great Britain called The Hidden Landscape which was a revelation when I first read it (I can’t believe it’s now 30 years old!).

I’m a keen walker and know many of the landscapes he described in the book – learning about the rocks far beneath my feet, the forces that had formed them and the impact they had on the history of each region really transformed my relationship to the landscape.

For anyone looking for a global perspective, his more recent book Earth: An Intimate History is also an excellent and illuminating read.

By Richard Fortey,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Hidden Landscape as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'A very well written book about geology and geological history' Sir David Attenborough, The Times

'I travelled to Haverfordwest to get to the past. From Paddington Station a Great Western locomotive took me on a journey westwards from London further and further back into geological time, from the age of mammals to the age of trilobites...'

So begins this enthralling exploration of time and place in which Richard Fortey peels away the top layer of the land to reveal the hidden landscape - the rocks which contain the story of distant events, which dictate not only the personality of the…


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By Lisa Darcy,

Book cover of The Pact

Lisa Darcy Author Of The Pact

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Why am I passionate about this?

Author Cat lover Traveler Reader Amateur tennis player Foodie

Lisa's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

The Pact is a contemporary fiction novel about Australian sisters, Samantha and Annie, who are doubles tennis champions. This story amplifies the usual sibling issues and explores their professional partnership and personal relationships – similarities, differences, motivation, competition, abandonment, and grief – and how they each respond to the stress of constantly being under the media spotlight.

What happens when, at the pinnacle of fame, it all falls apart?

With dreams shattered and egos destroyed, how do they cope?

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