10 books like Assembling California

By John McPhee,

Here are 10 books that authors have personally recommended if you like Assembling California. Shepherd is a community of 7,000+ authors sharing their favorite books with the world.

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Underland

By Robert MacFarlane,

Book cover of Underland: A Deep Time Journey

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.

Underland

By Robert MacFarlane,

Why should I read it?

4 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…


The Fifth Season

By N.K. Jemisin,

Book cover of The Fifth Season: The Broken Earth, Book 1

N.K. Jemisin has created a classic in the making with The Fifth Season. We enter a world quite similar to ours today in terms of injustice, prejudice, stereotypes, and the foundations of hatred that have seeded their way into systemic power structures of society when it comes to race. The elements of high fantasy accompanied with Jemisin’s expressive writing are a guaranteed page-turner and will have you connected to characters like Damaya, Syenite, and Essun as they navigate, grow, and rise above the various obstacles in this story. It is dark, it is real, and it is phenomenal. 

The Fifth Season

By N.K. Jemisin,

Why should I read it?

19 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…


Cadillac Desert

By Marc Reisner,

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

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. 

Cadillac Desert

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…


The Emerald Mile

By Kevin Fedarko,

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

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.

The Emerald Mile

By Kevin Fedarko,

Why should I read it?

6 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…


Geology Underfoot in Yosemite National Park

By Allen F. Glazner, Greg M. Stock,

Book cover of Geology Underfoot in Yosemite National Park

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. 

Geology Underfoot in Yosemite National Park

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…


Rough-Hewn Land

By Keith Heyer Meldahl,

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

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

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…


In the Distance

By Hernan Diaz,

Book cover of In the Distance

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.

In the Distance

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…


Understanding Earth

By Tom Jordan, Frank Press, Raymond Siever, John Grotzinger

Book cover of Understanding Earth

At their very best, textbooks synthesize knowledge in new, informative ways. Understanding Earth is a classic, covering the basics of geology, geophysics, and environmental science with stylish prose, classy illustrations, and the insights of two great scientist educators (earlier editions were championed by Frank Press and Ray Siever, who began the franchise). It’s a whirlwind tour of modern science, from the microscopic view of rocks and minerals to the global sweep of plate tectonics.

Understanding Earth

By Tom Jordan, Frank Press, Raymond Siever, John Grotzinger

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The field of physical geology continues to evolve with new tools, new ideas new approaches. Working closely with Frank Press and Ray Siever, the new co-authors of the fourth edition, John Grotzinger and Tom Jordan, have introduced a wealth of more recent data and applications to keep the science in the text on the cutting edge. This introductory physical geology textbook aims to help students understand what physical geology teaches us about the world and what it brings to our lives. It is designed to bring the worldview of the working geologist to an audience not only new to this…


Earthquakes and Volcanoes

By Frederick Lin Sutherland,

Book cover of Earthquakes and Volcanoes

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.

Earthquakes and Volcanoes

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.

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.


A Race to Splendor

By Ciji Ware,

Book cover of A Race to Splendor

After the earthquake, people had to rebuild. This one features a female architect who trained under Julia Morgan, rebuilding a luxury hotel that once belonged to her family. The tension rises she competes with a male architect to have the first finished hotel. This book is filled with great descriptions of the setting and events surrounding the quake. It is filled with people reimagining themselves and their city after tragedy and loss.

A Race to Splendor

By Ciji Ware,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A Race to Splendor as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"Vividly evocative of the time and place...[Ware] deftly blends history and romance in a page-turning story."―Library Journal

Early in 1906, the ground in San Francisco shook buildings and lives from their comfortable foundations.

Amidst rubble, corruption, and deceit, two women―young architects in a city and field ruled by men―find themselves racing the clock and each other during the rebuilding of competing hotels in the City by the Bay.

Based on meticulous research, A Race to Splendor tells the story of the audacious people of one of the world's great cities rebuilding and reinventing themselves after immense human tragedy. Filled with…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in geology, California, and plate tectonics?

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

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