In Suspect Terrain

Author: John Mcphee
Type: aBook
Date Released: 0000
Format: mp3
Language: English
Page Count: 0
Isbn10 Code: -
Isbn13 Code: -

In Suspect Terrain (Audiobook) by John McPhee (Author) Whatever drove John McPhee to writing of geology should be found and packaged. It would find a ready market in university science departments. This finest of American essayists produced a series of exemplary books on how North America came to be. His journeys gleaning the information he provides us, traversed the continent, chiefly along an Interstate highway, examining roadcuts, adjacent outcrops and surrounding mountains. His guides were America's foremost geologists, their work often hiding them from the public gaze. McPhee brings them into view, relating their work, their personalities, their accomplishment through unmatched descriptive prose. In this book, McPhee teams up with geologist Anita Harris in touring the eastern mountains of North America from the coast to the southern shores of the Great Lakes. The journey is far more than the examination and cataloging of rocks. McPhee has elsewhere expressed his sense of history with peerless ability. Here, he extends history to deep time as he and Harris examine the formation of the Appalachian Mountain chains. The lithic record, as might be imagined, is hardly clear-cut. Rock formations are jumbled, twisted, folded over in a confusing testimony to the Earth's action in forming continents. McPhee, in the beginning, is as confused as the rocks - and the reader. Harris, with admirable patience, explains the rocks and what they express, helping McPhee, and us, to see their history. "I haven't worked at this level since I don't know when," she says of his novice status. Her knowledge and his prose skills manage to advance our knowledge painlessly. The rocks, however, daunt their efforts to paint a uncomplicated picture. When the idea of plate tectonics emerged in the 1960s, McPhee explains, it was a revolutionary view of our planet. Replacing the older "drying, wrinkling apple" scenario, plate tectonics provided an elegant, sweeping picture of continental forming. Within a decade, the North American Plate, the Pacific Plate, the Eurasian Plate took places in the niches of our memories. Schools quickly adopted the new science, supported by expressively illustrated textbooks. "Continental drift" became a "buzzword" in jokes, advertising, and other memetic devices. To Anita Harris, this ready acceptance blinded even geologists to the truly complex record of the area she dubs "suspect terrain." Through McPhee she shows us that "a given place will have been at one time below fresh water, at another under brine, will have been mountainous country, a quiet plain, an equatorial desert, an arctic coast, a coal swamp, and a river delta - all in one ZIP Code" [ZIP codes are the equivalent of Postal Codes in the USA. Some thinly populated delivery areas are immense]. All this activity, no matter how anciently derived, requires explanation. Harris reminds him that "geology" is derived from Gaea, the daughter of Chaos. Recounting the source of Appalachian land forms remains an unfulfilled task. Along with continental movement are the vagaries of weather. Mountain building is always associated with erosion, McPhee reminds us. He goes on to describe the effects of the greatest eroder of them all, the three kilometre thick ice sheets that pushed Canadian diamonds into Indiana. Along with gemstones, the glaciers bore a cargo of rocks and soil acquired in their journey southward. The "suspect terrain" this bears marks of ice, volcanic activity, unexplained mountain building and oceanic advances and retreats. It may not be a pretty picture, but in McPhee's descriptive hand, its fascination is endless. For learning geology or simply to bask in superior writing skills, this book is outdone by only one means - more John McPhee. [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]

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