Annals of the Former World review Ë 104



10 thoughts on “Annals of the Former World

  1. says:

    Absolutely bar none the finest work of American natural science that I've ever read McPhee has the eye of a scientist and the soul of a poet and it makes for truly astonishing writing I don't like to pile on the superlatives but this is probably one of my ten favorite books of all time


  2. says:

    If by some fiat I had to restrict all this writing to one sentence; this is the one I would choose the summit of Mount Everest is marine limestone” ― John McPhee Annals of the Former WorldWhat I absolutely love about McPhee's nonfiction is his ability to write about place people and ideas with both beautiful prose and amazing intimacy My favorite parts are where McPhee weaves place and people or people and ideas together and establishes the grand metaphor for his book McPhee picks up pieces of conversation with geologists and their satelites that might get missed by most other writers but manages to find keep and eventually place these nuggets into his book written over 20 years in a way that works to support his big themes Seriously this book is one of my favorite nonfiction works of all time You can see the mark McPhee left on his students' writing if you've ever read Robert Wright Richard Preston or New Yorker editor David Remnick Some consider McPhee to be the godfather of New New Journalism but he is much than that IMHO he is the godfather of modern nonfiction writing period


  3. says:

    I’m glad I’m not beyond the age where books I read can change the way I see the world If that is an age you can reach I don’t want to I can’t even drive down the highway now without seeing something as simple as roadcuts in a whole different light I’ve said this before but in another life I must have been a geologist Or like McPhee at least making a study of that place where language and the earth overlap Nothing fascinates me This was beyond fantastic I’ll keep reading it for years


  4. says:

    A most excellent remedy for insomnia and speaking as a sufferer I do not mean that pejoratively The perfect book for reading a little bit at bedtime every night easy to pick up and put down but still worth the reading It lasted me about 6 weeks; not sure what I'll use now Well I suppose there's still E O Wilson's The Ants but I'm not sure my arms are strong enough to hold it upLayer by layer McPhee sediments one's grasp of deep time and of the geologists who study it A little too accessible to be called magisterial but it still evokes that feeling I would also recommend it as an antidote for the news Highly recommended not that it apparently needs my approval I'm glad it won the Pulitzer in its dayTa L


  5. says:

    Geologists in their all but closed conversation inhabit scenes that no one ever saw scenes of global sweep gone and gone again including seas mountains rivers forests and archipelagoes of aching beauty rising in volcanic violence to settle down uietly and then forever disappear—almost disappear”“If by some fiat I had to restrict all this writing to one sentence this is the one I would choose The summit of Mt Everest is marine limestone” My first review will be in Annals and then I will review the rest in the individual books I may be cheating by doing it this way but in this reread I have a lot I want to talk about and there are restrictions on characters in these reviews and I am running up against them I found that out with Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek where I tried to not only immortalize her words but talk about how they made me feel and think and ran out of room So I am rereading the whole canon Annals of the Former World but reviewing each book separately which they are technically separate books so technically not cheating by claiming each one separately And I feel that I am writing the way Mr McPhee writes in grand sentences and with grand ideas and with caveats and humor and must apologize for the copycatting I also think that talking reading and thinking about geology does this to me Mr McPhee is credited with opening a huge new interest in geology in us laypeople I have to credit it emphatically to Annie Dillard who has 2 examples of “big picture” geology and deep time one like a lyrical waking dream and the other an artist’s interpretation of time “Mountains burst up jutting and dull and soften before your eyes clothed in forests like felt The ice rolls up grinding green land under water forever; the ice rolls back I have never been the same always attuned to the geopoetry of this way of looking at the world and seeing the links between Dillard and McPhee in my worldviewAn example of what it does goes like this I read a sentence such as “There was glaciation in the Southern Hemisphere at the time” And my mind is blown why in the Ice Ages was there so little glaciation in the Southern Hemisphere? Antarctica is obviously a fertile field for glaciers how have I never though of this? Why was there in this period he is talking about? McPhee drops information like this often and sometimes answers the uestion I have sometimes not this being a throw away sentence so I have to pause and start googling What a world we live in to have this information at our fingertips literally This is the type of thinking that makes kids into scientists so I am first thrilled I can have that innocence of wonder and awe and secondly that also makes poets and that is why this is such a source of joy for me ”The poles of the earth have wandered The euator has apparently moved The continents perched on their plates are thought to have been carried so very far and to be going in so many directions that it seems an act of almost pure hubris to assert that some landmark of our world is fixed at 73 degrees 57 minutes and 53 seconds west longitude and 40 degrees 51 minutes and 14 seconds north latitude—a temporary description at any rate as if for a boat on the sea”This opening is so similar to Annie Dillard’s style that I was hooked from the minute I picked up the 734 page book I don’t think he is copying her he just has that sense of what hooks a reader and how to plant a thought that all of us wanderers and armchair wanderers muse about from time to time; where is this place we have been set down? There is a new interactive map that will demonstrate where whatever place you are interested in has been in the past 20 million 75 million 400 million etc years you are interested in and it is like McPhee got that in his head from his travels over 20 years with geologists ” You are in central Nevada about four hundred miles east of San Francisco and after you have climbed these mountains you look out upon as it appears in present theory open sea You drop swiftly to the coast and then move on across moderately profound water full of pelagic suid water that is uietly accumulating the sediments which—ages in the future—will become the roof rock of the rising Sierra Tall volcanoes are standing in the sea Then at roughly the point where the Sierran foothills will end and the Great Valley will begin—at Auburn California—you move beyond the shelf and over deep ocean There are probably some islands out there somewhere but fundamentally you are crossing above ocean crustal floor that reaches to the China Sea Below you there is no hint of North America no hint of the valley or the hills where Sacramento and San Francisco will be” These passages are one of the main hooks for me as I travelled across the country several times only a few by I80 but it is not necessary for the idea the inspiration McPhee places the geology in my sense of place and on the land instead of a theoretical or obscure science I love long distance driving I love being so close to the land and looking up at the sky; I feel as close to flying on the ground as you can be and McPhee’s descriptions do nearly the same thing Land and mountains seem so sure so permanent but we know they are not They become sand And after that they sink and are piled upon by sediment to become rock again and then sand again So the basic building block of our planet is a grain of sandAnnie Dillard does an thought experiment of looking at a bird and trying to visualize it becoming defeathered and de evolved into a lizard and then back again; my favorite is while in a talus filed or a sand dune field under mountains to visualize them building up into mountains and then dissolving again in time; and that is why geology is the “music of the earth” per Hans Cloos Or as the author describes why he chose I80 it “avoids melodrama avoids the Grand Canyons the Jackson Holes the geologic operas of the country but it would surely be a sound experience of the big picture of the history the construction the components of the continent And in all likelihood it would display in its roadcuts rock from every epoch and era” ”Slowly disassemble the Rocky Mountains and carry the material in small fragments to the Mississippi Delta The delta builds down It presses ever deeper on the mantle Its depth at the moment exceeds twenty five thousand feet The heat and the pressure are so great down there that the silt is turning into siltstone the sand into sandstone the mud into shale The Gulf of Mexico was a good example of a geosyncline with a large part of the Rocky Mountains sitting in it as than twenty five thousand feet of silt sand and mud siltstone sandstone and shale”I hiked in the Mount Evans Wilderness recently along a creek that was carving out the basement rock of the fourteener and came across a rock outcrop that had an alcove below and a hanging garden above and it was a wall of the trail essentially and again was drawn into a meditation of the mountain crumbling into these giant rocks who live with us for a while and then crumble into smaller stones and then sand It is a way of seeing I love At the same time beneath my feet the sand and dirt I walk upon is putting pressure on the detritus of the mountains below us and rock is being born McPhee is a translator of sorts as he says and then alchemizes it “Geologists in their all but closed conversation inhabit scenes that no one ever saw scenes of global sweep gone and gone again including seas mountains rivers forests and archipelagoes of aching beauty rising in volcanic violence to settle down uietly and then forever disappear—almost disappear”This book is one of my favorite of the series and contains the narrative description of what McPhee coined as “deep time” He writes about the history of geology in an alive engaging way I wish all historians could try; and as he describes James Hutton the Scottish father of modern geology Hutton “had no way of knowing that there were seventy million years just in the line that separated the two kinds of rock and many millions in the story of each formation—but he sensed something like it sensed the awesome truth and as he stood there staring at the riverbank he was seeing it for all humankind” If you don’t get chills from that visual I am sorry To see something to sense it based on your eyes and mind for all of humankind is a holy moment “It was at some moment in the Pleistocene that humanity crossed what the geologist theologian Pierre Teilhard de Chardin called the Threshold of Reflection when something in people “turned back on itself and so to speak took an infinite leap forward Outwardly almost nothing in the organs had changed But in depth a great revolution had taken place consciousness was now leaping and boiling in a space of super sensory relationships and representations; and simultaneously consciousness was capable of perceiving itself in the concentrated simplicity of its faculties And all this happened for the first time”Annie Dillard wrote in 1974 and then in 1990 in depth about Pierre Teilhard de Chardin so I was delighted he is in Basin and Range Teilhard was a paleontologist priest and philosopher and my main mantra in life is attributed to him Throughout my whole life during every minute of it the world has been gradually lighting up and blazing before my eyes until it has come to surround me entirely lit up from within When I read about the Threshold of Reflection I wished I was there In my mind it links to the immortalized footsteps found in Tanzania where Mary Leakey found a trail of hominid footprints as Dillard writes in For the Time Being“They walked on moist volcanic tuff and ash We have a record of those few seconds from a day about 36 million years ago—More ash covered the footprints and hardened like plaster Ash also preserved the pockmarks of the raindrops that fell beside the three who walked it was a rainy dayWe do not know why the woman paused and turned left briefly before continuing “A remote ancestor” Leakey said “experienced a moment of doubt” Possibly they watched the Sadiman volcano erupting or they took a last look back before they left We do know we cannot make anything so lasting as these three barefoot ones did”Perhaps they became conscious of themselves as conscious beings in that moment meaning perhaps we were all there McPhee writes “The mind seemed to grow giddy by looking so far into the abyss of time” Why yes yes it did and it still does maybe alwaysSome deep time analogies ”Geologists will sometimes use the calendar year as a unit to represent the time scale and in such terms the Precambrian runs from New Year’s Day until well after Halloween Dinosaurs appear in the middle of December and are gone the day after Christmas The last ice sheet melts on December 31st at one minute before midnight and the Roman Empire lasts five seconds”“With your arms spread wide again to represent all time on earth look at one hand with its line of life The Cambrian begins in the wrist and the Permian Extinction is at the outer end of the palm All of the Cenozoic is in a fingerprint and in a single stroke with a medium grained nail file you could eradicate human history”“The human consciousness may have begun to leap and boil some sunny day in the Pleistocene but the race by and large has retained the essence of its animal sense of time People think in five generations—two ahead two behind—with heavy concentration on the one in the middle Possibly that is tragic and possibly there is no choice The human mind may not have evolved enough to be able to comprehend deep time It may only be able to measure it”Going into the deep time meditation a little differently about the spans of time in either direction I loved these imageries “There is no younger rock in the United States than the travertine that is forming in Thermopolis Wyoming A 27 billion year old outcrop of the core of the continent is at the head of Wind River Canyon twenty miles away”“And in the deep shadow below the Cambrian were seven years for everyone in all subseuent time There were four billion years back there—since the earliest beginnings of the world”“In six thousand years you could never grow wings on a reptile With sixty million however you could have feathers too”“On the geologic time scale a human lifetime is reduced to a brevity that is too inhibiting to think about The mind blocks the information Geologists dealing always with deep time find that it seeps into their beings and affects them in various ways“Mammalian species last typically two million years We’ve about used up ours Every time Leakey finds something older I say ‘Oh We’re overdue’ We will be handing the dominant species on earth position to some other group We’ll have to be clever not to”“If you free yourself from the conventional reaction to a uantity like a million years you free yourself a bit from the boundaries of human time And then in a way you do not live at all but in another way you live forever”


  6. says:

    As a geology major a former gold miner and finally as a hydrogeologist the earth and its water have always fascinated me Reading John McPhee is always a delight because he takes what remains mostly a poorly done body of work in mostly scientific terms and turns an explanation of how the earth came to be into a readable and engaging topic Something just about anyone can enjoy provided they have the curiosity and interest in wondering how so much stunning geography came to be where it is and what it isWell done John McPheeGreat Read


  7. says:

    I've only read parts of this book since there are many different books included in this version of his geologic exploration of a cross section of the US I have a few things to say #1 Read Rising from the Plains as you're driving in the Tetons #2 Read any other section as you're driving in the area described Your road trip will become something entirely different if you can see what you're reading about #3 Read these books when you're planning a trip to any of the areas discussed #4 Just read them John McPhee does connect things better than most writers of text about geology He makes it accessible while also staying interesting for those in the know And the people who are part of the geologic history of a place like the mappers and surveyers are not mere footnotes in his writing Oh no they are the main characters out for adventure and getting a lot of it along the way


  8. says:

    Based on my friend Caterina's review of one of the books contained within this compilation I think this might make an excellent gift for a young man I know


  9. says:

    This book has a rhythm unlike anything else I've read just like geology has a timescale that takes some time to wrap your head around It's like an opera Geology and opera both have a reputation of being long and boring but they are also majestic and complex This book is long but it's not boring For a while when I first started this book my three year old wanted me to read every other page to her the words were like poetry You can't read it uickly Reading out loud helped me settle down to the book's pace There are lots of big words some of the geology geek persuasion others of the English major nerd varietybut I wasn't constantly reaching for a dictionary McPhee throws a new geology term at you repeats it in multiple contexts so that you get a sense of the thing and then offers a complete definition just in case you still need help It's engagingAt first I was a little bothered by the lack of photographs of everything McPhee uses a thousand words to make a picture but I still wouldn't recognize welded tuff if it was right in front of me I wanted a modernized six minute YouTube clip series complete with reality TV interviews with the geologists right at the road cutI'm not sure I would have savored that as much though And also the ideas still get through I don't want to be a geologist and I don't need to memorize what all the rocks look like But I have a much better picture of the complexities of the idea of plate tectonics what it explains what it doesn't And while I'm sure some of the ideas presented in the book are dated the big picture of geology hasn't changed too much from the public's perspective in the last twenty some odd yearsEach book described some section of geology along Interstate 80 as well as the background of the geologist that McPhee accompanies during that stretch of land You really don't have to read the books in order if you don't want to Rising from the Plains was my favorite The geologist David Love had a childhood much like Ralph Moody who wrote the Little Britches series and Love's story is woven into the geology of Wyoming beautifully What an adventure


  10. says:

    Probably one of the best books I have ever read Be prepared for some geologic rigamarole and a sense of patience and the timeline of ages will unfold Its a compilation of all of McPhee's writings about American continental Geology I know sounds dull but he uses the lives and characters of the Geologists whose work he is describing along with the massive narrative arc of plate tectonics and the history of the science itself The story of America's westward expansion along with the Romantic era of northeastern America all seem to blend into a text that can miraculously also explain geomorphology and other remarkably dry topics Gives the vast expanses of time a tiny human scale which we can then wonder at how our ancestors saw these places as well as the painstaking detective work that was critical to our understanding of how they formed where these places came from and how in something as seemingly stolid as the ground beneath our feet is a plastic and still changing skin manipulated by forces beyond human comprehension Utterly beautiful work–I know of nothing else like it


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review ☆ PDF, DOC, TXT or eBook ☆ John McPhee

The Pulitzer Prize winning view of the continent across the fortieth parallel and down through 46 billion yearsTwenty years ago when John McPhee began his journeys back and forth across the United States he planned to describe a cross section of North America at about the fortieth parallel and in the pro Absolutely bar none the finest work of American natural science that I've ever read McPhee has the eye of a scientist and the soul of a poet and it makes for truly astonishing writing I don't like to pile on the superlatives but this is probably one of my ten favorite books of all time Fabricate the continent across First & Then the fortieth parallel and down Painting Garden Birds with Sherry C. Nelson (Decorative Painting) through 46 billion yearsTwenty years ago when John McPhee began his journeys back and forth across Ella Puede! the United States he planned Newlyweds Anal Lessons to describe a cross section of North America at about The Millionairess the fortieth parallel and in Elements of the Writing Craft the pro Absolutely bar none Me Tawk Funny the finest work of American natural science E.E. Cummings that I've ever read McPhee has Judgment Day the eye of a scientist and Bumperhead the soul of a poet and it makes for The Wondrous And True Story Of Christmas truly astonishing writing I don't like The Women on the Island to pile on Digital Painting, 37 Intermediate Tricks and Techniques the superlatives but How to Keep a Sketchbook Journal this is probably one of my Let the Trumpet Sound: A Life of Martin Luther King, Jr. (P.S.) ten favorite books of all Me So Pretty! (Pretty Freekin Scary, time

characters Annals of the Former World

Annals of the Former World

Cess come to an understanding not only of the science but of the style of the geologists he traveled with The structure of the book never changed but its breadth caused him to complete it in stages under the overall title Annals of the Former WorldLike the terrain it covers Annals of the Former World tel A most excellent remedy for insomnia and speaking as a sufferer I do not mean that pejoratively The perfect book for reading a little bit at bedtime every night easy to pick up and put down but still worth the reading It lasted me about 6 weeks; not sure what I'll use now Well I suppose there's still E O Wilson's The Ants but I'm not sure my arms are strong enough to hold it upLayer by layer McPhee sediments one's grasp of deep time and of the geologists who study it A little too accessible to be called magisterial but it still evokes that feeling I would also recommend it as an antidote for the news Highly recommended not that it apparently needs my approval I'm glad it won the Pulitzer in its dayTa L Let the Trumpet Sound: A Life of Martin Luther King, Jr. (P.S.) to an understanding not only of Me So Pretty! (Pretty Freekin Scary, the science but of The Witchs Coven the style of Supplementary Exercises for Introducing Biblical Hebrew by Allen P. Ross the geologists he Great Famine traveled with The structure of The Color of Night the book never changed but its breadth caused him What Preachers Never Tell You About Tithes & Offerings to complete it in stages under Pulse (Frank Quinn, the overall Obsession title Annals of The Supreme Court and Puerto Rico the Former WorldLike Simply Napkins the The Unconscious Civilization terrain it covers Annals of The Complete Tightwad Gazette the Former World The Day Lasts More Than a Hundred Years tel A most excellent remedy for insomnia and speaking as a sufferer I do not mean الدعوة الإسلامية دعوة عالمية that pejoratively The perfect book for reading a little bit at bedtime every night easy Writing and Selling Magazine Articles to pick up and put down but still worth The Strange Bird the reading It lasted me about 6 weeks; not sure what I'll use now Well I suppose Collected Stories there's still E O Wilson's The Ants but I'm not sure my arms are strong enough Collected Stories to hold it upLayer by layer McPhee sediments one's grasp of deep Cleopatras Daughter time and of Funny Feckin' Irish Jokes!: Humorous Jokes about Everything Irish.Sure Tis Great Craic! the geologists who study it A little Settlers too accessible Never Deny a Duke (Decadent Dukes Society, to be called magisterial but it still evokes The Sphinx that feeling I would also recommend it as an antidote for Tidelands (Fairmile the news Highly recommended not Pretty Lucy Merwyn that it apparently needs my approval I'm glad it won Strings the Pulitzer in its dayTa L

review ☆ PDF, DOC, TXT or eBook ☆ John McPhee

Ls a multilayered tale and the reader may choose one of many paths through it As clearly and succinctly written as it is profoundly informed this is our finest popular survey of geology and a masterpiece of modern nonfiction Annals of the Former World is the winner of the 1999 Pulitzer Prize for Nonficti Based on my friend Caterina's review of one of the books contained within this compilation I think this might make an excellent gift for a young man I know