Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Book review: Basin and Range by John McPhee

I have read eight books by John McPhee, no two on a remotely similar topic, and thoroughly enjoyed all of them. This one is probably the one where I understood the least, as plate tectonics isn't exactly a simple process to explain to lay people, but I enjoyed it anyway. I think in parts, he was just listing off cool names of things (types of rocks, eras of prehistory), just because they sound cool, not because he expected anyone to understand. Some bits almost read like poetry.

His books always are a deep dive New Yorker-style into an obscure topic, and this one was the most obscure. Parts of it in the beginning were actually right around here as he talked about the Palisades and Watchung Mountain and even once mentioned Montclair. But soon he heads out west to Nevada and to the Basin and Range. It's an unusual place of plate tectonics as they did not create the usual mountain and plain but where you can see the plates in action. This book is a little older (1981) and plate tectonics wasn't 100% accepted by geologists yet—some still were stuck on continental drift. And I have no clue how much of the geologic science I read about is no longer accurate, but it doesn't matter as I retained none of that. I don't read a book like this to retain obscure facts about rocks, but instead for the general feel and vibe of spending time with an insanely knowledgeable uncle who will explain his interest/area of expertise to the nth degree even if you didn't ask. It will be thoroughly enjoyable even if not pertinent or retained. I have six more McPhee books on my shelves to tackle, and I will enjoy every one of them. I might not know more afterwards but I feel smarter, just for having spent that time with him.

I checked this book out of the library.

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