09 August, 2010

Tomes 2010: Special Edition

There are very few books that I immediately want to read again even before I've finished them.  This is one.

 Supercontinent: Ten Billion Years in the Life of Our Planet

What to say?  That Ted Nield writes with the kind of clarity and style that, should he turn it into a narrative, would make even the phone book fascinating reading?  That's one thing.  Add that to the fact that he's writing about something inherently fascinating, and you have the recipe for a truly outstanding book.

Nield tells two histories: the history of supercontinents forming and rifting, and the history of our discovery and understanding of them.  Many times, when an author tells two tales, one takes second place to the other.  Nield manages to unfold them both in tandem, so that neither is slighted.  And he still finds time for interesting diversions: gentle pokes at Madame Blavatsky and other purveyors of New Age lost continent woo, the United States' brief flirtation with the Queen of Mu, snowball earths, why the supercontinent Rodinia may have been vital to the evolution of life on Earth and why understanding supercontinents is so very vital to our survival now.  It's a lot of territory to cover.  He does it in 270 pages.

At the end, he fires a scathing broadside at Ken Ham's Creation Museum and those who abuse and ignore science for their inane ideologies.  One paragraph in particular stood out:
I have tried in this book to show something of how ideas in science often grade into - perhaps even sometimes derive from - myth, and I have done this to show how important it is to know the difference between the two.  The truth is that we, as a species, can no longer afford the luxury of irrationality and prejudice.  We are too many and too powerful to live in dreams.  And the greatest and most irrational of the prejudices from which we must free ourselves is one identified by Lucretius in the last century BC: the belief that the world was made for us.
This book makes the third of a trinity for me, the other two being Walter Alvarez's The Mountains of St. Francis and Ellen Morris Bishop's In Search of Ancient Oregon.  These three, so far, are my favorite books on geology for both the quality of their writing and their science.  But if I were forced to choose only one to give, it would be Supercontinent.  It says all that needs to be said about the importance of science in general and geology in particular, and it contains everything I love about science: the incredible power and beauty of the natural world, and the passion and persistence of the scientists who work so hard to understand it. 

If you want a taste of his writing, you can find one here, where he demonstrates the importance of not flying an airplane through an ash cloud.  Yes, I've become a pusher, giving you a taste for free so that you'll get hooked.  I happily admit to being a science dealer, and I don't think you'll hate me much for it.  Not after reading this book.

Now go forth and get hooked.

1 comment:

Lyle said...

Agreed its an excellent book. It brings a lot of information about Rodinia together in one place. Provides good maps of what Pangea looked like etc.