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52 Things You Should Know About Geology

Book Review

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52 Things You Should Know About Geology, Matt Hall ed.

Agile Libre

After they've learned the basics from textbooks and teachers, after they've earned two or three degrees, geologists have just started practicing their profession. Doing geoscience involves absorbing a torrent of information from outcrops and cores, published papers, maps of all ages, well logs and other instrumental records, and half-formed (or overformed) ideas from peers. Given that, a key task is simply arranging for downtime to step back and ponder things, ruminate, turn things over in the mind.

As Matt Hall, editor of and contributor to 52 Things You Should Know About Geology, says, "Sometimes it's hard to slow down enough to find a mentor, ask someone's opinion, or share a story of our own. But it's crucial for our science, based as it is on creative insight and evidence-based storytelling." 52 Things is a set of essays for those essential moments of fertile leisure, like a menu of cocktails or a row of beerpulls—or a hoard of mineral specimens to contemplate. It is no ordinary book—in his introductory essay, Hall calls it "probably definitely the world's most readable book about petroleum geoscience. . . . It's for anyone who wants to think differently about the subsurface."

This collection of essays, none longer than a two-page spread, touches upon a variety of topics dear to the hearts of working geoscientists. The range of titles includes "Get a helicopter not a hammer," "Old wells are gold mines," "In praise of paper and pencil," "Get to know eigenvectors," "Study modern analogs," "Rocks don't lie," "Three kinds of uncertainty," "The trouble with seeing" and "Is working in oil and gas immoral?" There are stories, tips, homilies and provocations delivered by a total of 42 authors, from eminent pros to doctoral students.

Hall is a Canadian petroleum-industry consultant who blogs at agilegeoscience, and 52 Things, like him, is innovative in several ways. It's more like a deck of cards than a book. Consider that the 52 essays are presented in alphabetical order by title, from "Advice for a prospective geologist," by former U.S. Geological Survey chief Mark Myers, to "Why mountains matter," by Ph.D. student and geo-blogger Tannis McCartney. Starting at page 1 is "probably definitely" not the best way to read them. A second table of contents organizes the essays under nine themes, and you can browse there in a more organized way to pick out an essay. Finally, each essay is assigned three of 20 different tags, which are printed on the right-hand pages' outer edge, suitable for riffling through when your mind is at its lowest ebb. If "Sed-Strat" or "Fieldwork" or "Modelling" don't grab you on a particular day, there's always "Exploration" or "Ninja Skills"—it's your call, or rather it's whatever calls to you. The book is literally made for page-turning.

52 Things You Should Know About Geology is also unusual in being published under an open license: it's meant to be shared as long as the author is credited. Hall's vision for the book (and its sibling 52 Things You Should Know About Geophysics) is to "challenge the expert culture we have in petroleum geoscience, and arguably in all science and scientific publishing," and instead "promote a culture of expertise, which is an entirely different thing." Because it's "written for the community, by the community," a share of its purchase price goes to the AAPG Foundation. Keep it handy wherever it is you sit to unwind and refresh yourself.

Order from agilelibre.com (from Amazon's createspace)

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