100 books like Assembling California

By John McPhee,

Here are 100 books that Assembling California fans have personally recommended if you like Assembling California. Shepherd is a community of 10,000+ authors and super readers sharing their favorite books with the world.

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Book cover of Underland: A Deep Time Journey

Arefa Tehsin Author Of Iora and the Quest of Five

From my list on nature and forests that leave you bewitched.

Who am I?

I come from a family of some of the earliest big-game hunters turned conservationists of India and grew up treading jungles with my naturalist father. As a child, I was often found trying to catch a snake or spin a yarn or reading from the collection of wildlife and natural history books at home. Jungles were as much a part of growing up as was going to school, and I learnt precious life lessons from them. To pursue the cause of conservation, I’ve written several fiction and non-fiction books, as well as articles in national dailies/magazines on wildlife and nature, and I was appointed the Honorary Wildlife Warden of Udaipur, India.

Arefa's book list on nature and forests that leave you bewitched

Arefa Tehsin Why did Arefa love this book?

When we talk about nature, we think of trees, lakes, rivers, oceans, mountains. But there is a parallel world that exists right beneath our feet! 

MacFarlane’s narration flows in a dreamlike prose and moves in gentle and deep shifts. The book that describes itself as “A book about burial and unburial and deep time” is one of the most mesmerising books on natural history that I have read. The prose is as transcendental as the subject matter. Formidably and masterfully told.

By Robert Macfarlane,

Why should I read it?

6 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…


Book cover of The Fifth Season

Diana Fedorak Author Of Children of Alpheios

From my list on sci-fi and fantasy featuring incredible mothers.

Who am I?

I’m a mother of two children and was raised in a noisy family of four. It was my kids who reawakened my instinct to write again and follow through on my projects. Motherhood is such a fundamental part of my life and for most women I know. It’s mundane yet transformative in the sense it brings out your inner lioness in a way you don’t anticipate. When I think about some of my favorite literary characters, they would be unrecognizable if they weren’t mothers. With that in mind, I hope readers find a lovely story for their moms on Mother’s Day.

Diana's book list on sci-fi and fantasy featuring incredible mothers

Diana Fedorak Why did Diana love this book?

This Hugo Award-winning novel has one of the most original stories I’ve read that revolves around a remarkable mother, Essun.

While Essun pretends to be ordinary, she is an orogene, a race of humans with the ability to significantly alter her environment. As a result, the orogenes are wretched exiles, feared by society and trapped in a governing system that seeks to control them.

I was immediately taken with Essun’s emotional journey as the story opens with the loss of her child. She wants to live a quiet life with her family but is pursued by officials who cannot allow her to go free.

The story really tapped into the most primal aspects of motherhood. Ultimately, it’s motherhood that strengthens Essun’s power as she unleashes it with devastating effectiveness. 

By N. K. Jemisin,

Why should I read it?

24 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…


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

Laurie Marr Wasmund Author Of My Heart Lies Here

From my list on why the American West always will be the "Wild West”.

Who am I?

Raised in the American West, I have watched the explosive growth in Colorado with dismay. In my lifetime, metro Denver has grown from a population of about 500,000 people to more than 5.5 million. The Colorado of large ranches and wide, open spaces is disappearing. I have named my publishing company “lost ranch books,” in honor of the ranch where I grew up, which was sold and developed with cookie-cutter houses. I’ve now set out to recapture historic Colorado by writing about it. My award-winning books center on Colorado’s and the American West’s history, for not only is it fascinating and, often, troubling, but it still resonates today.

Laurie's book list on why the American West always will be the "Wild West”

Laurie Marr Wasmund Why did Laurie love this book?

Water, water everywhere—but not in the American West. I first read Reisner’s book soon after its publication in 1986, when it presented a haunting, frightening future for the western United States that is being realized today. The book reveals the inadequacy of the management of water in the western states that began as soon as there was settlement, and it takes an especially hard look at the treaties surrounding the Colorado River, which has all but disappeared in the past few years, causing panic at the Hoover Dam and in Las Vegas, Arizona, and Mexico. Reisner amply demonstrates why major cities should not be built in semi-arid and arid climes—and still, the western states’ populations continue to explode. 

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…


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

Becky Lomax Author Of Moon USA National Parks: The Complete Guide to All 63 Parks

From my list on US national parks from science to thrillers.

Who am I?

I grew up hiking and camping with my family in the national parks of Washington. Isn’t that what everyone did in summer? Later, I learned how wrong I was. That most people had never seen a glacier, stood on a mountaintop, walked through a rainforest, gazed at the size of a grizzly, skied past erupting geysers, or rafted a rushing river. These experiences have shaped who I am. I return to the haunts of national parks, from deserts to mountains and remote islands, because they wow me and feed my soul. 

Becky's book list on US national parks from science to thrillers

Becky Lomax Why did Becky love this book?

After I backpacked the Inner Canyon and Tonto Trail for 10 days in Grand Canyon, I longed for a book like this: one that would wrap the massive creation of the Grand Canyon into a compelling story and explore the depth of human connection. Fedarko adeptly weaves in history, geology, environmental concerns, wildlife, flora, Indigenous culture, and climate around a thrilling dory adventure on the Colorado River—so much so that you feel you really know the park. To pair reading it with hiking or boating into the inner canyon yields an immersive experience where you can see, touch, and breathe much of what he describes. This book is always my first recommendation for anyone headed to Grand Canyon, and I’ll re-read it again during my next Grand Canyon visit.

By Kevin Fedarko,

Why should I read it?

7 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…


Book cover of Geology Underfoot in Yosemite National Park

Elizabeth Wenk Author Of John Muir Trail: The Essential Guide to Hiking America's Most Famous Trail

From my list on the High Sierra.

Who am I?

Hiking in the Sierra has been equal parts recreation and profession since I’ve been an adult. I’ve worked for the concessionaire in Yosemite Valley, surveyed lakes for rare amphibians, completed a PhD on alpine plants, and, over the past 15 years, written nine books on the Sierra Nevada. I continue to spend every summer obsessively exploring its trails, peaks, and remote lake basins, always excited to see a new view, find a rare flower, or simply see a favorite place in a new light. The rest of the year is spent writing—and reading what others have written, broadening my knowledge about my favorite place on Earth before I set out on the next summer’s adventures.

Elizabeth's book list on the High Sierra

Elizabeth Wenk Why did Elizabeth love this book?

Every step in the Sierra leads you across landscapes shaped by a succession of geologic eventsoverwhelming to comprehend at times. I’ve read and reread this book because it describes not just what you see, but explains, in approachable language, the processes that led to the rocks you see. The book is comprised of as series of vignettes, each focused on a different rock outcrop, formed through a unique process at a particular moment in the Sierra’s geologic history. 

By Allen F. Glazner, Greg M. Stock,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Geology Underfoot in Yosemite National Park as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Few places in the nation rival Yosemite National Park for vertigo-inducing cliffs, plunging waterfalls, and stunning panoramic views of granite peaks. Many of the features that visitors find most tantalizing about Yosemite have unique and compelling geologic stories�tales that continue to unfold today in vivid, often destructive ways. While visiting more than twenty-seven amazing sites, you�ll discover why many of Yosemite�s domes shed rock shells like onion layers, what happens when a volcano erupts under a glacial lake, and why rocks seem to be almost continually tumbling from the region�s cliffs. With a multitude of colorful photos and illustrations, and…


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

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

From my list on earth history.

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. 

Sam's book list on earth history

Sam L. Pfiester Why did Sam love 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).

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…


Book cover of In the Distance

Alyson Hagy Author Of Boleto

From my list on the West that twist the myth.

Who am I?

I’m a writer fascinated by landscape and history—and the American West is my magnet. I’ve set three books in the West. I can’t get enough of the place. An entire national myth is enshrined “where the deer and the antelope play.” Independence. Freedom from the past. Land we can supposedly call our own. The West is so beautiful and also so scarred. I love to read books that deepen my experience of the deserts, mountains, and rivers. I also love to learn about the people who were here before me, those who have hung on, and those who hope to heal the scars. These books are great stories about a bewitching place.

Alyson's book list on the West that twist the myth

Alyson Hagy Why did Alyson love this book?

Hernán Díaz’s first novel, In the Distance, was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. The book is gorgeously written and meticulously researched. The West’s huge, startling landscapes loom on every page. But the real genius here is the novel’s “reverse epic” structure—how Díaz takes a young Swedish immigrant who gets off his ship at the wrong port (San Francisco) and sends him traveling east, against the migrant tides, in search of his brother. The journey doesn’t go as planned. Håkan makes friends and stymies enemies. Stereotypes warp and tumble as Håkan (and the reader) are forever transformed. The descriptions of California gold fields, science expeditions, questing Mormons, and other frontier communities delight and confound. You’ll never cross a Western desert the same way again.

By Hernan Diaz,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked In the Distance as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A young Swedish immigrant finds himself penniless and alone in California. The boy travels East in search of his brother, moving on foot against the great current of emigrants pushing West. Driven back again and again, he meets naturalists, criminals, religious fanatics, swindlers, Indians, and lawmen, and his exploits turn him into a legend. Diaz defies the conventions of historical fiction and genre, offering a probing look at the stereotypes that populate our past and a portrait of radical foreignness.

Hernan Diaz is the author of Borges, Between History and Eternity (Bloomsbury 2012), managing editor of RHM, and associate director…


Book cover of The Mediterranean was a Desert: A Voyage of the Glomar Challenger

Graham Shields Author Of Born of Ice and Fire: How Glaciers and Volcanoes (with a Pinch of Salt) Drove Animal Evolution

From my list on science in action written by scientists.

Who am I?

I am a scientist who has worked at the coal face of the debate around the origin of animals and ‘Snowball Earth’ his entire career, using a combination of experimental and descriptive science. Over three decades, I have witnessed first-hand how careful attention to detail in study after study has removed doubt from once provocative, even crazy, ideas that are now widely accepted. I love reading popular science from the perspective of the hands-on scientist who has witnessed the debate first-hand and contributed to received knowledge by conceiving new experiments, amassing data, and, more than often, in entirely unexpected ways through sheer curiosity.

Graham's book list on science in action written by scientists

Graham Shields Why did Graham love this book?

This book inspired my love of science.

I think that more than any other book I have read on geology, this one expresses best the excitement one feels when a group of scientists work together on one puzzle only to discover something entirely unexpected and even more astounding.

It is a racy account, littered with personal anecdotes of the major players, but it also describes the heady days when plate tectonics was developing from outrageous hypothesis to acknowledged fact. 

By Kenneth Jinghwa Hsu,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Mediterranean was a Desert as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The famous geological research ship Glomar Challenger was a radically new instrument that revolutionized earth science in the same sense that the cyclotron revolutionized nuclear physics, and its deep-sea drilling voyages, conducted from 1968 through 1983, were some of the great scientific adventures of our time. Beginning with the vessel's first cruises, which lent support to the idea of continental drift, the Challenger played a key part in the widely publicized plate-tectonics revolution and its challenge to more conventional theories. Here the leading oceanographer and earth scientist Kenneth Hs offers an intensely personal account of the experiences of the ship's…


Book cover of Roadside Geology of Oregon

Emily Hoff and Maygen Keller Author Of Scenic Science of the National Parks: An Explorer's Guide to Wildlife, Geology, and Botany

From my list on exploring the National Parks without Roosevelt, Mather, and Muir.

Who are we?

Nature enthusiasts, David Attenborough superfans, and the best campsite hot toddy makers you’ll ever encounter… We’re best friends who have been traveling through national parks together for millenia. During our travels, we’ve developed our own style of tourism based on science and following our curiosity. We’ve hiked with paleontologists, asked renowned scientists ridiculous questions about which prehistoric creature they’d want for a pet, and introduced a parks astronomer/pilot/ER doctor to bourbon. In 2023, we released National Parks Trivia: A Card Game so that when you’re done hiking around with our first book, you have something to keep you entertained at the campsite all evening long. 

Emily's book list on exploring the National Parks without Roosevelt, Mather, and Muir

Emily Hoff and Maygen Keller Why did Emily love this book?

If you’re taking a road trip through any of the fifty states, you’ll want to grab the relevant copies of the Roadside Geology series. It’s especially fun to read aloud in the car as the geology flies by your window.

We’re highlighting Oregon here because it’s by badass author, geologist, and photographer Marli Miller, but the whole series is gold. One favorite memory from our 2018 book-writing research trip: this guide helped us spot the very impressive band of ash from the Crater Lake (Mount Mazama) Eruption in a road cut on the highway south of the park. 

By Marli B Miller,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Roadside Geology of Oregon as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

When the first edition of Roadside Geology of Oregon was published in 1978, it was revolutionary�the first book in a series designed to educate, inspire, and wow nongeologists. Back then, the implications of plate tectonic theory were only beginning to shape geologic research and discussion. Geologists hadn�t yet learned that Oregon�s Klamath and Blue Mountains were pieces of far-traveled island arcs and ocean basins that had been piled against the growing North American continent. Steaming volcanoes, ghost forests, recent landslides, and towns heated with geothermal energy attest to Oregon�s still-prominent position at the edge of an active tectonic plate.
Author,…


Book cover of Earthquakes and Volcanoes

Robert R. Coenraads Author Of Rocks and Fossils: A Visual Guide

From my list on our planet’s geological wonders.

Who am I?

I‘m a Sydney-based exploration geologist and science writer, travelling the world in search of gold, exotic metals, gemstones, and the stories they have to tell — writing is my tool to bring alive ideas and concepts important to me, and my popular books include Rocks, Fossils and Dinosaurs; Natural Disasters; and Geologica. Working in the world's poorest regions has also sparked a strong humanitarian interest. I'm the founding president of FreeSchools World Literacy – Australia, a charity dedicated to education of underprivileged children, and towards which earnings from my writing go. It is my belief that education for all, not just a privileged few, is key to solving the world's problems. 

Robert's book list on our planet’s geological wonders

Robert R. Coenraads Why did Robert love this book?

Earthquakes and Volcanoes is another one of the fabulous Reader’s Digest Pathfinders series specifically for kids. It features scientists at work measuring the temperature of red-hot lava, destructive earthquakes, and monstrous tsunamis bearing down on coastal ports. The cause of all of these is simply explained in the context of our planet’s shifting plate tectonic motor. The book’s author, Dr. Lin Sutherland, gave me a great helping hand during my Ph.D. degree at Macquarie University by organizing access to state-of-the-art uranium-lead age dating equipment for my sapphire samples. We became firm friends and colleagues after that, going on together to publish numerous research articles on sapphires and rubies.

By Frederick Lin Sutherland,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Earthquakes and Volcanoes as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 10, 11, 12, and 13.

What is this book about?

Stimulating text, multi-layered illustrations, and hands-on activities present information about earthquakes and volcanoes, including notable examples in history, in the latest addition to a nonfiction science series. Teacher's Guide available.


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in geology, California, and plate tectonics?

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