Summary and book reviews of Earth by Richard Fortey

Earth

An Intimate History

By Richard Fortey

Earth
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  • Hardcover: Nov 2004,
    448 pages.
    Paperback: Nov 2005,
    448 pages.

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About this Book

Book Summary

From the acclaimed author of Life and Trilobite!, a fascinating geological exploration of the earth's distant history as revealed by its natural wonders.

The face of the earth, crisscrossed by chains of mountains like the scars of old wounds, has changed and changed again over billions of years, and the testament of the remote past is all around us. In this book Richard Fortey teaches us how to read its character, laying out the dominions of the world before us. He shows how human culture and natural history–even the shape of cities–are rooted in this deep geological past.

In search of this past, Fortey takes us through the Alps, into Icelandic hot springs, down to the ocean floor, over the barren rocks of Newfoundland, into the lush ecosystems of Hawai'i, across the salt flats of Oman, and along the San Andreas Fault. On the slopes of Vesuvius, he tracks the history of the region down through the centuries to volcanic eruptions seen by fifteenth-century Italians, the Romans, and, from striking geological evidence, even Neolithic man. As story adds to story, the recent past connects with forgotten ages long ago, then much longer ago, as he describes the movement of plates and the development of ancient continents and seas. Nothing in this book is at rest. The surface of the earth dilates and collapses; seas and mountains rise and fall; continents move.

Fortey again proves himself the ideal guide, with his superb descriptions of natural beauty, his gripping narratives, and his crystal-clear, always fascinating scientific explanations.
Here is a book to change the way we see the world.

Chapter 1
Up and Down

It should be difficult to lose a mountain, but it happens all the time around the Bay of Naples. Mount Vesuvius slips in and out of view, sometimes looming, at other times barely visible above the lemon groves. In parts of Naples, all you see are lines of washing draped from the balconies of peeling tenements or hastily constructed apartment blocks: the mountain has apparently vanished. You can understand how it might be possible to live life in that city only half aware of the volcano on whose slopes your home is constructed, and whose whim might control your continued existence.

As you drive eastwards from the centre of the city, the packed streets give way to a chaotic patchwork of anonymous buildings, small factories, and ugly housing on three or four floors. The road traffic is relentless. Yet ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse

"It should be difficult to lose a mountain, but it happens all the time around the Bay of Naples." Thus Fortey begins Earth: An Intimate History, described by reviewers as 'a tale of high drama', 'a treasure-house of mind-expanding lore', 'enthralling', 'a dazzling voyage of discovery' - and that's just a small taste of the glowing praise for Fortey, whom the Economist describes as 'the Raymond Chandler of science writing' and then goes on to say, 'his prose is angelic, his phrases well-turned. . . . And though Earth is no murder story, it is a mystery book and, in its own way, a thriller.'   (Reviewed by BookBrowse Review Team).

Full Review Members Only (286 words).

Media Reviews
Chicago Tribune

Riveting. . . . Wonderfully engaging . . . tackles the biggest rock of all and how its geology has affected the lives of those who inhabit it. . . . In Fortey's hands, geology is a tale of high drama and action.

Scientific American

His stops as he takes the reader on a journey around the world include Mount Vesuvius, the Alps, Newfoundland, Los Angeles and the Deccan Traps in India. He is an eloquent guide.

The New York Times - Simon Lamb

Fortey has written the ultimate travel book, a guidebook that should be read by every person who wants to really know and understand the place we live on.

Publishers Weekly

Fortey's writing is wonderfully descriptive, but once in a while one wishes he'd kept to his main path and not wandered off into tangential topics. Geology and earth sciences buffs will eat this up.

Kirkus Reviews

Fortey shows the evidence, summarizes the arguments, and does everything he can to put a human face on a science that builds whole worlds over a span of billions of years. A virtuoso performance.

Booklist - Gilbert Taylor

This is a marvelously inviting presentation, cut from the same literary cloth as the popular geology epics of John McPhee.

Library Journal - Amy Brunvand

A brilliant tour guide, Fortey offers a lively mix of science, human history, and personal experience that makes imperceptibly slow geologic change equally as compelling as volcanic catastrophe.

The Sunday Times

A dazzling voyage of discovery showing how our ancient, battered planet endlessly recycles itself.

Financial Times

Fortey illuminates the world we know, and enriches our understanding of its past and future. Enjoy this remarkable book.

The Economist

Richard Fortey is the Raymond Chandler of science writing. His prose is angelic, his phrases well-turned. . . . And though Earth is no murder story, it is a mystery book and, in its own way, a thriller.

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Beyond the Book

Richard Fortey is a senior paleontologist at the Natural History Museum in London. Life was short-listed for the Rhône-Poulenc Prize in 1998, Trilobite! was short-listed for the Samuel Johnson Prize in 2001, and The Hidden Landscape was awarded the Natural World Book of the Year in 1993. He was Collier Professor for the Public Understanding of Science and Technology at the Institute of Advanced Studies in 2002 and is now a Fellow of the Royal Society.

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