The Earth – another good read

I caught bookblogger Graham Beattie reviewing some top reads for 2010 on Radio NZ National today, and wanted to share a quote from his blog. Beattie attributes it to author Margaret Coel:

I noticed during takeoffs and landings I don’t have to turn off my book!

So if you’re off somewhere and want to read a great book – and not be disturbed during takeoff or landing – I have another title to share with you…

The Earth – an intimate history by Richard Fortey (2004)

Cover of

Cover of Earth: An Intimate History

With sheer simplicity of explanation, constructing a cascade of facts and ideas into beautiful word pictures (somewhat erudite yes – but that’s part of the charm), paleontologist Richard Fortey describes the intimate details of our earth’s geology in 400 pages or so.

I’m working on a project that involves deepening my understanding of tectonic plates and the way they move – this book is magical in the way it  lights up the ‘netherworld’ for people like me – not scientists – but lovers of science.

This is a book to dip into. Chapter Five ‘Plates’ is one I go back to…here’s Fortey’s perspective on the place of the oceans:

Geology dictates the lie of the land, and climate controls how the design of the world accommodates life. But climate itself is in thrall to geology. A landmass over the poles permits ice sheets to grow, and this mediates the sea levels of the world. There have been warm times when much of the land mass has drowned, and such times will come again. Mountain ranges modify weather systems, specify where there shall be deserts, and steal rain. Then, too, oceans are great climatic modifiers. Think how the coast of Europe is so ice free while the icebergs drift off frozen Labrador, at the same latitude. The North Atlantic Drift (Gulf Stream) moves warmth northwards – but only for some…The shape of the ocean basins is the stuff of climate: deep gyres transfer cool water and nutrients around the world. Yet ocean and mountain are no more than a consequence of the geological foundation: the arrangement of plates in this mosaic of our earth. Change the plates and you will rearrange everything else. Mankind is no more than a parasitic tick gorging himself on temporary plenty while the seas are low and the climate comparatively clement. But the present arrangement of land and sea will change, and with it our brief supremacy.

A book to dip into, and one that may set some people’s teeth on edge – but for enriching our understanding of our world – definitely worth a trip to the library.

Porirua library has more than one copy – it must be popular…

Here’s the intro to Chapter 13 – World View. It’s the last chapter, another I have read, and read again:

The marvellous thing about the face of the earth is that it is such a mess. It is an impossibly complex jigsaw puzzle of different rocks. Like Gilbert and Sullivan‘s wandering minstrel, it is ‘a thing of shreds and patches.’ More than 3.5 billion years of history have stitched it together. It has been modelled and remodelled, split asunder and rejoined in tune with the waxing and waning of the oceans. Here, continents have been inundated by shallow seas which have then drained away, leaving a legacy of sandstones or limestones, shales or gravels…


Richard D'Oyly Carte, W. S. Gibert, and Arthur...

Image via Wikipedia

(Thanks wiki for this Gilbert and Sullivan image)

The Economist describes Fortey as a master of science writing – though I’m not qualified to comment about mastery – Earth is a book worth reading.

Fortey has recently updated his popular classic on the British landscape – another good read – 320 pages of engaging text and evocative images. The Financial Times (A. N. Wilson, 22 May 2010) writes: A superbly exciting work of popular scientific writing that reminds us that this planet has never been a tranquil place. Here are some other reviews for The hidden landscape: a journey into the geological past (2010)



About robynmmoore

Anything to do with people and the environment and I'm interested! I have been writing and commenting about education, the environment and other community-related matters since 2006. I'm a compulsive researcher. In 2009, I finished a thesis on Kapiti's water issues and am still researching outcomes there. This website and the work I do as a trustee for the Whitireia Foundation are part of my aspiration to contribute to 'shaping more sustainable communities'...also the title of my thesis. Look it up - it's free at
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