The most recommended geology books

Who picked these books? Meet our 42 experts.

42 authors created a book list connected to geology, and here are their favorite geology books.
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Book cover of Volcanic Worlds: Exploring The Solar System's Volcanoes

James R. Zimbelman Author Of The Volcanoes of Mars

From my list on amazing volcanoes.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am a senior geologist emeritus (retired in 2020) whose research focused on volcanic features on Mars, Venus, and the Moon, particularly very long lava flows. I enjoy studying features on Earth in order to improve our understanding of similar features on other planets (also including the study of sand dunes). I worked for more than 32 years at the National Air and Space Museum of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., which allowed me to do scientific research while also presenting the wonder of planetary geology to public audiences throughout the U.S. and in several countries across the world.

James' book list on amazing volcanoes

James R. Zimbelman Why did James love this book?

I recommend this book to anyone who asks me about volcanoes. It is a concise, easy-to-read account of the major volcanic revelations that have resulted from the robotic spacecraft exploration throughout the solar system.

The book is filled with exquisite photographs and logically organized chapters. Eleven chapters describe volcanic features both on Earth as well as many other worlds in our solar system. Each chapter is written well by an expert on each particular subject (and interestingly, all of the authors are women).

By Rosaly M.C. Lopes, Tracy K. P. Gregg,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Written by active research scientists who study the volcanism of Earth and of other planets, the contributions provide the first general review of volcanic activity throughout the Solar System. Successive chapters describe past and present volcanic activity as it is observed throughout the Solar System. These chapters relate to readers not only our present knowledge of volcanism throughout the Solar System but also how frontline scientists working in this field conduct their research.


Book cover of In the Distance

Alyson Hagy Author Of Boleto

From my list on the West that twist the myth.

Why am I passionate about this?

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 Everybody Needs a Rock

Leslie Barnard Booth Author Of A Stone Is a Story

From my list on rocks and geology for children.

Why am I passionate about this?

As a child growing up in the Pacific Northwest, my pockets were often full of rocks. Rocks are beautiful and soothing to hold. They are ubiquitous treasures, available to all. But even more than this, rocks are portals to the past—to a time before humans, before animals, before plants, before microbes. I am endlessly fascinated by the stories rocks tell and by the secrets they share with us through their form and structure. I still collect rocks, and now I also write picture books about science and nature for children. The books on this list are all wonder-filled. I hope you enjoy them!

Leslie's book list on rocks and geology for children

Leslie Barnard Booth Why did Leslie love this book?

If you haven’t already shared this classic with a child, you must!

Everybody Needs a Rock sets out to explain the ten rules of finding a special, just-right rock. Deeply in tune with kids’ relationships to the stones they collect, this delightful picture book insists that you must “look a rock right in the eye” and that a rock “has to feel easy in your hand.”

This book’s gentle humor makes me grin every time, and its overarching message, that a rock is a treasure more compelling than any toy, empowers children to connect with nature and revel in their own imaginations. 

By Byrd Baylor, Peter Parnall (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Everybody Needs a Rock as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Everybody needs a rock -- at least that's the way this particular rock hound feels about it in presenting her own highly individualistic rules for finding just the right rock for you.


Book cover of A Most Improbable Journey: A Big History of Our Planet and Ourselves

Lewis Dartnell Author Of Origins: How Earth's History Shaped Human History

From my list on big history.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m a science researcher and writer living in London. My research field is astrobiology and the possibility of life on other planets – it brings together lots of different areas of science with engineering and space exploration and so is deeply ‘interdisciplinary’. And as a science writer, I try to bring this same broad perspective and unifying approach to other profound questions. My fascination with understanding our own origins was sparked by my childhood growing up in East Africa, the cradle of humanity. In Origins I explored different ways that planet Earth has influenced our human story across the millennia - it’s an example of ‘Big History’.

Lewis' book list on big history

Lewis Dartnell Why did Lewis love this book?

This is a much lesser-known book than the others I’ve picked, and I feel it deserves a load more attention. Walter Alvarez was instrumental to the development of the theory that the dinosaurs were wiped-out by an asteroid impact. Here, he casts his professor-of-geology eye across the whole of Earth’s history to show us the astonishing ways that our world – and the cosmos around us – have nurtured life on the planet and influenced the human story.

By Walter Alvarez,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A Most Improbable Journey as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Big History, the field that integrates traditional historical scholarship with scientific insights to study the full sweep of our universe, has so far been the domain of historians. Famed geologist Walter Alvarez-best known for the "Impact Theory" explaining dinosaur extinction-has instead championed a science-first approach to Big History. Here he wields his unique expertise to give us a new appreciation for the incredible occurrences-from the Big Bang to the formation of supercontinents, the dawn of the Bronze Age, and beyond-that have led to our improbable place in the universe.


Book cover of A Short History of Nearly Everything

John S. Croucher Author Of A Concise History of New South Wales

From my list on history books for those who like quirky statistics and facts.

Why am I passionate about this?

I have always been fascinated by statistics (I’m a statistician by profession), and anything that tells a story of actual people and events has always captured my imagination. I have a particular affection for the quirky and offbeat, something that illustrates catastrophic failure, lack of common sense, a misplaced sense of entitlement and people who repeatedly tried but always fell short. I have a passion for black humour as it helps me to realise that, no matter how dark things look in my own life, there are others who have it much worse.

John's book list on history books for those who like quirky statistics and facts

John S. Croucher Why did John love this book?

I was amazed at the breadth of topics covered by this popular book. I found it truly impressive and I learned a great deal from the engaging style of the author who is very well informed.

The work itself is wonderfully succinct but provided me with an in-depth look at the formation of the universe and how everything came to be as it is.

By Bill Bryson,

Why should I read it?

8 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…


Book cover of Vast Expanses: A History of the Oceans

Thomas Blake Earle Author Of The Liberty to Take Fish: Atlantic Fisheries and Federal Power in Nineteenth-Century America

From my list on why the history of the ocean matters.

Why am I passionate about this?

I think about the ocean a lot. Teaching in Galveston, Texas, at a university less than a mile from the ocean means it's on my mind most of the time. And it's not just the fish! I’m fascinated by all things ocean and have spent my career trying to understand the place of the watery world in the history of the United States. From fishing in the North Atlantic, to the history of the U.S. Navy, and even surfing on the Gulf Coast my writing, not to mention reading, usually points to the coast and beyond.

Thomas' book list on why the history of the ocean matters

Thomas Blake Earle Why did Thomas love this book?

Helen Rozwadowski draws attention to what should be obvious, the ocean matters not just because of what happens on it, but what happens in it.

In Vast Expanses, Rozwadowski plumbs the depths of the ocean’s history from the geological past to visions for its future to make the point that through trade and fishing, exploration and entertainment the accumulation of knowledge about the seas has defined and redefined the relationship between humans and the ocean.

From reaping natural resources, to expanding state power, and even to rest, respite, and leisure, the connection between society and sea has been a complex one.  

By Helen M. Rozwadowski,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Vast Expanses is a cultural, environmental and geopolitical history that examines the relationship between humans and oceans, reaching back across geological and evolutionary time and exploring different cultures around the globe.

Our ancient connections with the sea have developed and multiplied with industrialization and globalization, a trajectory that runs counter to Western depictions of the ocean as a place remote from and immune to human influence. This book argues that knowledge about the ocean - discovered through work and play, scientific investigation, and also through the ambitions people have harboured for the sea - has played a central role in…


Book cover of Geology of the American Southwest: A Journey Through Two Billion Years of Plate-Tectonic History

Why am I passionate about this?

Since my earliest memories, I have been fascinated with rocks, landscapes, and the movement of time. It was perhaps only fitting then, that I should have landed in the bottom of the Grand Canyon in the 1970s working as a backcountry ranger where I discovered GEOLOGY! Since then, my world view has been shaped by the record of earth history that is held in sedimentary rocks, mountain belts, and the colorful and varied landscapes of the Desert Southwest and Colorado Plateau. I am in love with these landscapes and know them well. This love affair causes me to visit other landscapes around the world and ponder their development. 


Wayne's book list on the geology and magic of the landscapes of the American Southwest and Colorado Plateau

Wayne Ranney Why did Wayne love this book?

Of all the books I am recommending, this might the one that may be a bit more technical for the average reader. But after reading the other four, I think you will be ready for this comprehensive look at the evolution and development of the Southwestern landscape. Baldridge has written the complete reference to how the very ancient rocks play a role in how the modern landscape looks. Most folks I talk to who have read this were very happy they did so.

By W. Scott Baldridge,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Two billion years of Earth history are represented in the rocks and landscape of the Southwest USA, creating natural wonders such as the Grand Canyon, Monument Valley, and Death Valley. This region is considered a geologist's 'dream', since its rocks provide a slice through a huge range of Earth history, and provide examples of many of the geologic processes shaping the Earth. For this reason, the region attracts a large number of undergraduate field classes, and amateur geologists. Geology of the American Southwest, first published in 2004, provides a concise and accessible account of the geology of the region, and…


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.

Why am I passionate about this?

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.


Book cover of Oil Notes

David B. Williams Author Of Stories in Stone: Travels Through Urban Geology

From my list on geology that aren’t really about rocks.

Why am I passionate about this?

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.

David's book list on geology that aren’t really about rocks

David B. Williams Why did David love 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.

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.


Book cover of Rocks and Minerals - Reader's Digest Pathfinders

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

From my list on our planet’s geological wonders.

Why am I passionate about this?

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?

I just love the type of book that gets kids started in the sciences—bold, showy, and full of inspiring colour pictures, maps, and diagrams, and that’s just how the Rocks and Minerals Pathfinder has been designed—even the photos shot specifically by Weldon Owen for this book feature kids—kids collecting rocks, kids holding massive gold nuggets and kids sitting next to gemstone crystals as big as themselves. I’ve inspired my own kids by taking them around the world with me on geology field trips but these big, bright pathfinders books are the next best thing.

By Tracy Staeder,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Rocks and Minerals - Reader's Digest Pathfinders as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 8, 9, 10, and 11.

What is this book about?

Examines the nature, formation, and different kinds of rocks and minerals and explains how to collect them