Read: Basin and Range

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Here we are again. John McPhee. Sick of me yet? Sick of him? Hope not. Okay, in short, if you aren’t into geology and things like plate tectonics, continental drift and zeolites then don’t bother with this book. Or if you don’t find yourself wondering “What happened during the Silurian time?” then don’t bother with this one. Yes, this book, like all McPhee books, is well written, funny and filled with insanely cool shit IF you are interested in geology.

Truth be told, before I was derailed by photography I was intending to study geology as my college major. Our house in Wyoming was built on a copper mine, so as a kid I had my rock hammer, my goggles and my artifact bag. The entrance to the mine was covered only by a wagon wheel. Yes, an actual, real wagon wheel from some hapless traveler from the 1800’s who probably died in a stampede, plague, snakebite or by gunfire shortly after “securing” the mine with the wheel, which was the perfect size for a kid to fall right through. I never did but hoped my sister would.

The Earth is a fascinating rock. There is so much to know, to explore and to understand. If you are interested in the physical history of our planet then by all means pick up a copy of Basin and Range. Get it, read it.

Comments 4

  1. I read this when it first came out as a multi-part, multiple-week series in the New Yorker. I took it with me on a cross-country flight from SF, sat in a window seat, and read and looked out the window at, well, basin-and-range. Absolutely the best way to read the book. Two Japanese tourists who didn’t speak English sitting next to me were clearly mystified by what I was looking at. You don’t have to start out interested in geology. Like all his books, McPhee will show you why the topic is interesting. After this, I read everything he wrote. About anything at all.

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      I’ve been studying maps….and I do too had a flight a few weeks ago from Chicago to ABQ. Not quite the same as the Great Basin, but so much in the right direction. And your point about McPhee is dead on. He’s makes everything interesting and relevant. I have total man crush.

    2. Even better than maps: Google Earth! I read a bio of Catherine the Great that described her long boat trip from Moscow to the Black Sea, and followed along on Google Earth. Ditto a book by Robert MacFarlane, The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot, about walking in England, Scotland, and elsewhere. My McPhee story: in ~1980 I was asked by someone at NASA whether I wanted to write a history of the manned space program. (I didn’t.) He said they had asked John McPhee first, but he was busy.

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