Reviews

Annals of the Former World, by John McPhee

tbauman's review

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4.0

I had mixed feelings about this book. I'm really glad I read it, but it was a slow read that took some effort. I really enjoyed the science and the storytelling, but the book often spent too much time using words it hadn't defined and too little time telling stories about processes. My favorite parts were the vignettes connecting geology to history - the gold miners in the Sierra Nevadas, the cowboys in Wyoming, even the vacationers in the Delaware Water Gap. (I was disappointed that this vignette was missing from the final "book," Crossing the Craton.) Each book also introduced a new geological phenomenon, which were the parts I suspect I'll remember best. Other parts were tougher to finish. I often struggled to follow the long passages describing how specific geographical places came to be - describing rocks being shoved up, eroding, being covered, flipping, and deformed by other rocks. I get that this is how geology works, but it doesn't always translate to the written page. Also, as I said in my review for "Assembling California," I'd love to see more pictures and maps.

However, for all my complaints, I am now a geology fan and have a much deeper appreciation for the earth around me. I'd guess that's what John McPhee would have wanted me to get out of it.

sarahfish_30's review

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5.0

Sometimes you wonder: if you‘d read a certain book earlier/at a certain point in your life, would it have sent you on an entirely different path (career, relationship, country of residence)? If I‘d read this book in college, I‘d have switched majors and become a geologist. Its an astounding five-volume exploration, along US I-80, of the geological forces that have formed (and are forming) our planet. The best natural science book I‘ve come across.

natemanfrenjensen's review

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5.0

My favorite McPhee book. This is a synoptic volume on the history, development, and current state of the core geologic studies. McPhee is a good writer and maintains a coherent narrative through the book, which is a compendium of four previous books.

martha_w's review

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5.0

Since I was just in Nevada, I thought I would re-read Basin & Range. Driving Highway 50 (what Nevada calls the "Loneliest Road") definitely gives you a great sense of the geology. McPhee, of course, travels I-80, but US 50 crosses similar territory.

Update: It was extremely helpful to have a picture of Nevada's landscape in my head while reading the book. Of course, in a lot of ways Basin & Range is an introduction to the field of geology. So, there ended up being a lot less about Nevada in the book than I had recalled. But, it was still very engaging.

wesley070's review

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slow-paced

4.0

VERY DENSE!! It was alright — VERY technical at times for a layperson to have written it for other Average Joes — but it was good. If you were looking for a shorter read, I would just recommend book four on its own (Assembling California). It was, in my opinion, the best portion.

upward_not_northward's review

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5.0

This book combines two things that I love: geology and fantastically sculpted prose. I read my fair share of dense, wordy academic articles and texts as an undergrad, and thankfully those days are behind me. This collection of 5 separate books by John McPhee reads as smooth as butter.

msgtdameron's review

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5.0

Annals is one of the finest geological books out there. John McPhees poetic look at such a complicated topic makes for a great read. The best part is, even though this tome is thick, it's an easy read. The style is more poetic than scientific.
This poetic or literary style is much easier to read than most science texts. Because of this the learning is more fun. Also, since the Annals was written as a series of Times Sunday Supplement pieces the actual sections are relatively short. This give the reader time to digest each section. This allows the reader to think about what the story is saying about our country and, by extension, our planet. I am sure that after finishing Annals you will not look at the globe or a map of the U.S. the same.

shulgi's review

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5.0

Never've thought geology could be presented in such exciting manner; I'm quite a nerd, but usually this subject of science has me bluntly dubious.

Though, now I consider myself somewhat intellectually moved by the author's abillity to convey information with... actually a decent attempt at storytelling.

benedorm's review

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5.0

Absolutely, bar none, the finest work of American natural science that I've ever read. McPhee has the eye of a scientist and the soul of a poet, and it makes for truly astonishing writing. I don't like to pile on the superlatives, but this is probably one of my ten favorite books of all time.

snapjack's review against another edition

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I like this book very much to pick up and read a few pages in as a meditative exercise in winding down for bed, but it's not at all a "must-finish", as there's no plot--it's more of a ramble through time on a geologic scale.