Books Related to Earth Science


I highly recommend each of these books; they all are tremendously informative and enjoyable reading.  All are non-fiction except three of Edward Abbey’s books.


Black Sun by Edward Abbey (fiction)

A story of love found and lost by a forest fire lookout on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.


Desert Solitaire by Edward Abbey

Abbey’s wonderful tale of his summer in Arches N.P. as a youthful park ranger.  Great stuff!


Monkey Wrench Gang by Edward Abbey (fiction)

What more can be said about this book?  If you a drawn to mischief, you’ve got to read it.  It’s the account of Doc, Bonnie and Hayduke protecting the land they love in their own creative way.  One of the real joys of this book is it takes the reader on a wonderful tour of the Colorado Plateau including many gorgeous, remote areas of Utah.


Hayduke Lives! by Edward Abbey (fiction)

The long-awaited sequel to the Monkey Wrench Gang; published post-humously in 1990.  Honestly, its not as good ad Monkey Wrench Gang, but its worth reading if you liked Monkey Wrench Gang.  


The Dinosaur Heresies by Robert T. Bakker

Bakker is a world-reknowned expert on dinosaurs.  His entertaining book describes many modern discoveries on the biology, behavior and demise of dinosaurs, including many of his somewhat controversial ideas.


The Sea Around Us by Rachel Carson

Carson’s book is a classic on the oceans – their origin, development, biology and pollution.  Carson eloquently conveys the wonder and mystique of the oceans, and in so doing passes along some of her love for them.  The book was first published in 1950, before the advent of plate tectonics and many other scientific discoveries, yet her analysis and descriptions remain fresh and moving.  Most newer editions contain forwards that update the few outdated scientific aspects of the book.  Rachel Carson is also the author of Silent Spring, the book that brought the tragic consequences of the now – banned pesticide DDT to national attention.


Guns, Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond

This book is an amazing look into why it came to pass that Western European society came to dominate, subjugate and exterminate much of the rest of the world. Diamond, a research biologist by training, combines enthralling anthropology with natural science to shed light on this fascinating question.  


Collapse by Jared Diamond

As a follow-up to Guns, Germs and Steel, Diamond looks at the factors, including the natural environment and decision-making, that have contributed to the success and failure of societies throughout human history.  Like Guns, Germs and Steel, the book not only is a very useful look at how societies succeed, but it takes the reader on such a fascinating tour of ancient societies that its hard to put down.


Barren Lands: An Epic Search for Diamonds in the North American Arctic by Kevin Krajick

This incredible book chronicles Charles Fipke’s obsessive search for diamonds in the Canadian Barren Lands.  The existence of a source of diamonds in the north was long suspected because diamonds have been found in glacial till transported from the north.  Fipke tracked down the source of the diamonds.  The story mixes Fipke’s use of crude geologic science, deceit and intrigue in his search, and the global diamond industry into a well-researched, informative, entertaining and true story.  The book also contains a couple of great chapters that outline early explorations - which often came to painfully tragic conclusions - into the Canadian Arctic.


Endurance: Shackleton's Incredible Voyage by Albert Lansing

Shackleton and his crew set out from England in 1914 in the Endurance with the goal of being the first humans to reach the south pole.  They never even reached Antarctic.  Instead, their ship was crushed and they survived floating on ice and on a desolate island for many months.  This is probably the greatest survival story ever lived and chronicled. 


Born to Run by Christopher McDougall

McDougall sets out to be an ultra-distance runner.  Instead, he finds himself on a quest to find the Caballo Blanco in the Sierra Madre Occidental and learn the secrets of the Tarahumaran Indians and what it is to be human.  Somehow this book manages to seamlessly intertwine the Leadville 100, a hermit from Oregon, paleo-anthropology and binge drinking.  I’d rather ride a bicycle or ski than run any day, but I couldn’t put this book down.


Annals of the Former World by John McPhee

John McPhee is a 1999 Pulitzer Prize winner and one of America’s great natural history writers.  Over a period of many years, he traveled extensively across the U.S. and overseas with several well known geologists.  Annals of the Former World is a compilation of books (Basin and Range, In Suspect Terrane, Rising from the Planes and Assembling California), in which he describes the geologic evolution of the U.S., especially along Interstate 80, plate tectonics and its development, and digs into the make-up of the geologists with whom he traveled.  His books are anything but dry encyclopedic descriptions of rocks; his perspective and ability to beautifully and succinctly convey complex ideas of geology are unmatched.


Basin and Range by John McPhee

This first book in McPhee’s series focuses on the region known as the Basin and Range, which extends from the Wasatch Mountains west to the Sierra Nevada, but includes much of geologic history of the entire U.S. as well.


In Suspect Terrane by John McPhee.

This is the second book in McPhee’s series.


Rising from the Plains by John McPhee

This is the 3rd book in McPhee’s series.  It focuses on the Rocky Mountains.


Assembling California by John McPhee

Assembling California is the last book of the Annals of a Former World series.  It describes the plate tectonic history of California, and how geologists’ discovered the tectonic history of west coast of the U.S.


The Control of Nature by John McPhee

The Control of Nature comprises three vignettes that illustrate humans’ difficulties controlling geologic processes.  The problems described are the collapse of the Grand Teton Dam, landslides in southern California, and the Army Corps of Engineers attempts to prevent the Mississippi River from inundating Baton Rouge.  This book is a geologic classic.


Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin

Everyone should read this book.  If you haven’t heard of it already, it’s the story of Greg Mortenson and his quest to bring schooling to children, especially girls, in remote parts of Pakistan and Afghanistan.  But it is not some stoic tale of a humanitarian effort in the name of peace; it is an amazing adventure story about a true hero that begins with climbing K2, includes near-death experiences travelling through some of the most remote, rugged areas on the planet, through facing down AK47 – wielding, hash – smoking Taliban.  


Mutiny on the Bounty by Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall

A famous book that should need no introduction - but here goes.  A carefully researched  historical novel that covers one of the greatest stories ever to unfold on the high-seas: the mutiny against Captain Bligh and the piracy of his ship, the HMS Bounty.  This story has it all - adventure, love, utopian south sea islands, deceit, tragedy and triumph.  I cannot recommend this book too highly.


Cadillac Desert by Marc Reisner

The basis for a PBS TV series, (, this book chronicles the exploitation of water resources in the arid western U.S.  The first part of the book is an enthralling, dramatic history of  the acquisition of water by Southern California.  The second part focuses on the dam – building craze of the 30’s through 60’s, including the impact of hydroelectric power on the outcome of World War II and dams that continue to cost more money to operate than they produce to this day.  Must reading for anyone concerned with water resources in the West.


Water: The Epic Struggle for Wealth, Power and Civilization by Steven Solomon

This is an ambitious book: it covers 5000 years of human history and technology from canals and canoes through the steam engine and electric pump to reverse-osmosis desalinization.  The theme is humans’ quest to capture, control and use water, and how people’s ability to do so has shaped human history.


Beyond the Hundredth Meridian: John Wesley Powell and the Second Opening of the West by Wallace Stegner

The classic biography of John Wesley Powell, who explored the Grand Canyon and was one of the founders of the U.S. Geological Survey.  The book focuses on Powell’s exploration of the Colorado River and his fight to use the limited water resources in the west for the social good.  Wallace Stegner is perhaps the best known and accomplished writer of non-fiction and fiction set in the western U.S., and a winner of the Pulitzer Prize, three O. Henry prizes, a Commonwealth Gold Medal, and the Western History Association Prize.


The Map That Changed the World: William Smith and the Birth of Modern Geology by Simon Winchester

A biography of William ‘Strata’ Smith, who made the first known geologic maps, and thus arguably founded the modern science of geology in the early 1800’s.  Smith led a dramatic life, beginning a poor orphan, rising to relative wealth and social standing then falling to disgrace and debtors prison when his work was plagiarized.  The book is a fascinating story of human resilience and accomplishment, as well as a great discourse on geology and scientific discovery. 


The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money and Power by Daniel Yergin

This is an amazing (and lengthy) book that chronicles the international oil industry from its roots in the 1800’s through Rockefeller’s Standard Oil, to the Gulf War.  The Prize reached #1 on the national best seller list, was made into an 8 hour PBS series and has been translated into 12 languages.  History, political science, global economics as well as geology buffs will be captivated by this book. 


Two Great Science – But Not Earth Science – Books

The Double Helix by James Watson

This is the gripping tale of Crick and Watson’s discovery of DNA, told from Watson’s point of view.  The book is a quick read that provides wonderful insight into the genius and serendipity that led to one of the great scientific discoveries of the 20th Century, and one that has hugely impacted modern society.


The Making of the Atomic Bomb by Richard Rhodes

Richard Rhodes received the Pulitzer Prize for this monumental work on the personalities, science and politics that led to the creation of the atomic bomb in World War II.  It’s a long and rewarding book that starts with the discovery of the atom by Ernest Rutherford and ends with the bombing of Japan at the end of WWII and the intriguing tale of espionage that jump started the Soviet Union’s bomb program.  At every step of the way, Rhodes pays careful attention to the lives and personalities of the people involved, since it is, after all, a human story.