A Few Geological Information Resources


This is a list of some of my favorite books, and monthlies (magazines/journals) that are great sources of geological information.  They are great potential sources of information for extra credit papers. 


For web links, please visit my links page


I have highlighted in bold font some of the books that I think are particularly likely to appeal to non-geologists (non-scientists, for that matter). 

Magazines and Scientific Journals


Discover.  This magazine emphasizes life science, but occasionally has earth science articles.  Similar level to Scientific American.


National Geographic.  N.G. often emphasizes photography over substance, but is always entertaining and informative and occasionally contains a feature article on earth science that will suffice as a source of information for an extra credit report.


Scientific American.  This magazine frequently carries articles on earth science topics that are written at a perfect level to take you just a step past the introductory class. 


The true scientific journals will make for difficult reading, but if you are curious look up Geological Society of America Bulletin or Geology in the UVSC library.



Non-fiction, narrative books, listed alphabetically by author.  I highly recommend each of these books.  They all are tremendously informative and enjoyable reading.  You can easily write two extra credit summaries based on a single book.


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 Dinosaur Heresies by Robert T. Bakker

Bakker is an 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.


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.


Cadillac Desert by Marc Reisner

The basis for a PBS TV series, (http://www.pbs.org/kteh/cadillacdesert/home.html), 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.


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. 


Windows into the Earth: The Geologic Story of Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks by

Robert B. Smith and Lee J. Siegel

Written by a Professor of Geophysics at the University of Utah and a long – time Science editor of the Salt Lake Tribune, Windows into the Earth gives an overview of active geology in the Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks.  The book focuses on geophysical evidence and manifestations of volcanism and earthquake activity, and is designed to enlighten and entertain both people new to geology and experienced geologists alike.


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.


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.


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. 


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.