Reading the Rocks: The Autobiography of the Earth (Paperback)

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“Like the place names on the highway map, which are a palimpsest record of human interaction with the land, rocks and landscapes are Earth’s unsystematic chronicle of its past – unintentional autobiography.” 


I am not a geologist. I know very little about the immense geologic time scale, the devastating Snowball Earth theory, trilobites scurrying over the sea floor, or the roiling Solid Earth. I probably couldn’t even tell you the “difference between granite and feldspar.” So why was I thrilled to read Dr. Bjornerud’s Reading the Rocks: The Autobiography of the Earth? I heard Marcia Bjornerud’s writing was terrific (which turned out to be an understatement), I wished to communicate more clearly with my rock-loving friends, and I’m insatiably curious, but the real reason is because Earth is the story of us. 


In a world dominated by technology, exotic, far flung adventures, and anything new, it’s worthwhile to examine the past, both shallow millennia gone by and the deep reaches of geological time. How do I know where I am and where I’m going if I don’t know where I’ve been? 


Bjornerud’s superb, subtle story takes the reader through the Tao of Earth to our modern, climatic predicament. The Earth, unlike our rocky neighbors Mercury, Venus, Mars, and the Moon, is a complex system of checks and balances that has miraculously produced tectonics, a stable climate, and a biosphere. Or is it the other way around? The Gaia hypothesis states that biospheric regulation is a lynch pin in the destructive and constructive cycle that is our only home. In this way, Earth is not just another cooling rock in the vastness of space, but a living organism capable of living, adapting, thriving, and, if we’re not cognizant, dying. 


The Earth formed four and a half billion years ago out of coalescing star dust. In the interim it has undergone cataclysmic events such as an impact with a Mars-sized planetoid (which may explain how the Moon formed), boiling and filtering, chills and sweats, and five mass extinctions, if we’re not currently living through one at the moment. Like life itself, for all of the Earth’s strengths and resilience, it is possible for one of its negative feedback loops to turn positive and spin out of control. 


From fractal geometry to the heavens above, from No Place with No Past to the bounty of stories contained within pebbles strewn upon the beach, from mechanization to the sublime, Earth and its rocks tell the story of you, me, and everything we’ve ever known. Bjornerud writes: “To write an autobiography requires consciousness of self, and this by definition precludes the possibility of creating an objective and comprehensive chronicle. The one autobiography that has been recorded with no self-consciousness is Earth’s own life story, written, very literally, in stone.” 


— Chance


To many of us, the Earth's crust is a relic of ancient, unknowable history. But to a geologist, stones are richly illustrated narratives, telling gothic tales of cataclysm and reincarnation. For more than four billion years, in beach sand, granite, and garnet schists, the planet has kept a rich and idiosyncratic journal of its past. Fulbright Scholar Marcia Bjornerud takes the reader along on an eye-opening tour of Deep Time, explaining in elegant prose what we see and feel beneath our feet. Both scientist and storyteller, Bjornerud uses anecdotes and metaphors to remind us that our home is a living thing with lessons to teach. Containing a glossary and detailed timescale, as well as vivid descriptions and historic accounts, Reading the Rocks is literally a history of the world, for all friends of the Earth.

About the Author

Marcia Bjornerud is a Professor and Chair of Geology at Lawrence University. She is a Fellow of the Geographical Society of America, and was a 2000-2001 Fulbright Scholar. She lives in Appleton, Wisconsin.

Product Details
ISBN: 9780465006847
ISBN-10: 0465006841
Publisher: Basic Books
Publication Date: October 31st, 2006
Pages: 256
Language: English