The Pulitzer Prize-winning view of the continent, across the fortieth parallel and down through 4.6 billion years
Twenty years ago, when John McPhee began his journeys back and forth across the United States, he planned to describe a cross section of North America at about the fortieth parallel and, in the process, come to an understanding not only of the science but of the style of the geologists he traveled with. The structure of the book never changed, but its breadth caused him to complete it in stages, under the overall title Annals of the Former World.
Like the terrain it covers, Annals of the Former World tells a multilayered tale, and the reader may choose one of many paths through it. As clearly and succinctly written as it is profoundly informed, this is our finest popular survey of geology and a masterpiece of modern nonfiction.
Annals of the Former World is the winner of the 1999 Pulitzer Prize for Nonfiction.
A feast for all John McPhee fans, this major book incorporates some of the author's best work on geology into a comprehensive tour de force. Those familiar with McPhee's writing on the subject of geology will know that his narrative includes not only scientific theory but also portraitures of his geologic guides. While the majority of this material has appeared in the New Yorker and in books such as Basin and Range, In Suspect Terrain and Rising from the Plains, the collection, which includes 20,000 new words, is much more than a recycling of past writing. As McPhee says, "The text has been meshed, melded, revised, in some places cut, and everywhere studied for repetition." McPhee's many fans won't be disappointed with the high-quality descriptive portraits of geologists, their work and theories. Since the writing follows McPhee's previous works and not any set geography or geologic logic, the author has provided what he calls a "Narrative Table of Contents," which not only describes each section in turn but the theories discussed in it. In this near flawless compilation of ambitious and expansive scope, McPhee's personalized style remains consistent and triumphant: "Ebbets Field, where they buried the old Brooklyn Dodgers, was also on the terminal moraine. When a long-ball hitter hit a long ball, it would land on Bedford Avenue and bounce down the morainal front to roll toward Coney Island on the outwash plain. No one in Los Angeles would ever hit a homer like that." 25 maps, not seen by PW.
Annals of the Former World
Reigniting a Passion for Geology
I first encountered this book when my bestfriend's boyfriend carried it with him on a visit to Boulder, Colorado. I distinctly remembered the cover, and that it had to do with the geology of North America, but could not remember the title or author. Thankfully, this past Christmas I stumbled on the book and purchased it.
I loved geology as a child; the Deep History always fascinated me, but a number of science teachers I did not like sadly kept me away from studying geology further. This book reignited that passion.
One recommendation: buy this as an ebook, so that you have access to the Internet or Google Earth, so that you can get a better visual impression of what the author discusses. This is not a book for the faint of heart; it may require some outside learning to bolster one's understanding, and although beautifully and lovingly rendering impressions of how the Earth moves, this little bit of outside research only deepens the love and appreciation for this work.
I cannot praise it enough.