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Good Books About Geologic Fieldwork


Fieldwork has a special place in geology; it's where physical and mental skills, knowledge and flexibility interact as the scientist wrests new knowledge from the Earth. Here's a set of books that provide a taste of geologic fieldwork.

Annals of the Former World

A monumental classic by today's best writer on geology, this book combines Basin and Range, In Suspect Terrain, Rising from the Plains, and Assembling California. McPhee accompanies Kenneth Deffeyes, Eldredge Moores, David Love and other top-notch geologists around the rocks of the United States. This book is for long-term ownership, and the price is right even if you already have one or two of the constituent volumes.
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Noah's Flood: New Scientific Discoveries About the Event that Changed History

A first-person account of how geologists tracked down the real Great Flood—when the Mediterranean Sea flooded a great freshwater lake and its human inhabitants to form today's Black Sea, some 7,000 years ago. You'll learn how genuine science is done today, plus how ancient history is deciphered and revised. The theory has not been fully accepted, but the story of its making is authentic and well told. An inspiring blockbuster for adults and intelligent young readers.

Fieldwork: A Geologist's Memoir of the Kalahari

A prominent seismologist tells a tale of science in the field as he really did it, in the back country of Botswana in the 1970s—dealing with elephants, equipment, locals, and diplomats. Old field geologists and student dreamers alike will find rewards in these pages. A captivating example of a rare literary species.

King of the 40th Parallel: Discovery in the American West

Starting in 1867, Clarence King's Geological Exploration of the 40th Parallel mapped a hundred-mile-wide ribbon of land from California to Wyoming, starting on foot and on horseback. King was 25. In 1879, the 37-year-old King was made the founding director of the U.S. Geological Survey. Beyond the great fieldwork stories in this book, Clarence King's life during the rise of American science provides food for thought.

Time Traveler: In Search of Dinosaurs & Ancient Mammals from Montana to Mongolia

A lively, colorful, honest account of a hard and lucky life in paleontology by a man at the top of his field. We all know scientists can't really explain what it is they do, except to fellow PhD's. In "Time Traveler," Michael Novacek wisely tells not just what he does, but what it's like to be him. He shares with us his growth from bass-playing youth to leading professional, complete with scorpions, heatstroke, accidents, stupidities and frustrations—and landscapes, world cultures, spectacular fossils, and people in all their variety. It's an unforgettable look at the outer and inner life of a contented scientist, plus a cogent introduction to Earth science.

Gorgon: Paleontology, Obsession, and the Greatest Catastrophe in Earth's History

The "greatest catastrophe" of the book's title is the mass extinction that closed the Permian Period wiping out more than 90 percent of all species, including the emblematic gorgonopsids. A grand event that has inspired grand hypotheses and grandiose claims, the end-Permian problem is a classic scientific conflict that is at its peak today. Peter Ward, a prime figure in this conflict, presents a visceral, brooding memoir of his pathbreaking work on end-Permian rocks in South Africa's desolate Karoo country. Ward creates a gothic fusion of landscape, geography, paleontologic holocaust and the experience of fieldwork that does not spare his inner joys and anguish.
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Wildest Alaska: Journeys of Great Peril in Lituya Bay

This dark, impressionistic exploration of landscape and culture in America's most dangerous place is the heart of Philip Fradkin's "earthquake trilogy." In Lituya Bay, nature is stark and the human presence always precarious. In this book is no comforting gloss of scientific detachment. Even the book's geologists feel the chill along the spine, and the ghosts of the bay, witnesses to repeated catastrophe, reach surprisingly far into our world. Combines the field experience with the campfire ghost story—and reminds us all that the field demands awareness of safety.

Planning for Field Safety

This book, published by the American Geologic Institute in 1992, is one of several good books for field geology. From tips for approaching a helicopter to advice on fording streams, the book's guidance is focused on getting the maximum return from the field with the minimum of misadventure.
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