Top Books of 2012: Historical Geology

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These are books that deal with the history of the Earth, the best kind of books to read with the Earth getting destroyed today and all. This is a top 9 list, simply because there weren’t so many choices that I came across throughout the year. At least you can rest assured that all the books listed here are of the highest quality, each one coming with a hearty recommendation from me. Besides #8, each one has a different focus or theme, so there’s quite a bit of variation.

  1. Zalasiewicz & Williams. The Goldilocks Planet: The 4 Billion Year Story of Earth’s Climate. (Oxford University Press)
The-Goldilocks-Planet-The-4-Billion-Year-Story-of-Earths-Climate-12593222-5 My top historical geology book of the year focuses entirely on climate through time, and I chose it as number one precisely because it’s something that doesn’t get too highlighted in most historical geology books. You will get a short overview with a bit of focus on the exceptional times (Snowball Earth, Ice Ages, Cretaceous Greenhouse), but nothing detailed. This book rectifies all of that and, in conjunction with a regular historical geology book, you will have a complete review of the history of the Earth. Another noteworthy addition in the book is the discussion of climate on other Solar System planets like Venus, and contrasting them with Earth. It’s a nice touch that really highlights the uniqueness of Earth in this respect.

  1. Pross. What is Life? How Chemistry becomes Biology. (Oxford University Press)
what-is-life-how-chemistry-becomes-biology This is my new favourite book on the origin of life that I will prescribe to anyone interested in the subject (yes, it’s better than my post). Pross takes on the subject from the point of view of chemistry, and goes on to integrate biology and evolution into the mix so that by the end of the book, you will have a complete summary of how life works and could have originated. The book doesn’t require any background knowledge either – it’S written with the layman in mind

  1. Brasier. Secret Chambers: The Inside Story of Cells & Complex Life. (Oxford University Press)
secret-chambers-the-inside-story-of-cells-and-complex-life The next big biotic event after the origin of life is the origin of cells and, later, eukaryotes. The latter is the subject of this excellent book. It gains additional points from me for being a true novel, and not a dry academic book – the facts are retold from Brasier’s own experiences and travels, giving insight into the history of all these discoveries as well. Some may dislike it for that same reason since it’s hard to find information again, but that’s what page marks and margin notes are for. The prose and style is fine, and the personal aspect is exactly what more scientists looking to break into popular science writing should try to emulate – even if, admittedly, the amount of raw information conveyed is less than in a regular academically-oriented book.

  1. Selden & Nudds. Evolution of Fossil Ecosystems. (2nd ed.; Academic Press)
evolution-of-fossil-ecosystems If you want a book showcasing some of the coolest fossil localities, this is it. The localities described span the entire history of animal life, so by looking at each one, you get a snapshot of how the Earth was like at the time, at least in that particular place. Not only does it cover them well, there’s also travel advice for those who want to see them first-hand, so it works as a field guide too.

  1. Macdougall. Why Geology Matters: Decoding the Past, Anticipating the Future. (University of California Press)
why-geology-matters-decoding-the-past-anticipating-the-future I’m cheating a bit by putting this book – the 2012 version is a new paperback printing of the 2011 hardback. I hope nobody minds, and even if you do, this is my list, I make the rules. The book’s worth it anyway. As the title suggests, this book tells you why it’s important to study geology and the history of the Earth, a topic that’s usually stressed only in economic geology books and rarely in historical geology books.

  1. Stinchcomb. Jewels of the Early Earth: Minerals and Fossils of the Precambrian. (Schiffer Publishing)
3505839 Some may object to my placing a field guide/picture book, but I don’t care. Precambrian rocks and fossils are absolutely unique, and this is driven home by this book, which bothers to describe the fossils and minerals in more detail than typical similar books. Another thing I really like about it is that it shows the minerals in their “natural” state, not the worked and polished minerals. Ultimately though, the reason it earns its place on the list is for concentrating on the Precambrian. There needs to be more books exploring the geological findings from this time period – it does make up 7/8th of Earth’s history, after all!

  1. Flannery. Here on Earth: A Twin Biography of the Planet and the Human Race. (Penguin)
here-on-earth-a-twin-biography-of-the-planet-and-the-human-race This book arguably belong in the environmentalism section, since its focus is on telling humanity’s real place on Earth. However, it does go through the history of the Earth as well, and so does have historical geology chops as well. This is the easiest reading from this list, and I fully recommend it if you’re shopping around for a new novel to read.

  1. Wicander & Monroe. Historical Geology. (7th ed.; Cengage Learning)
33852607_1346752979 I have the 6th edition of Historical Geology, and it’s great as a standard overview textbook, meant for undergraduates but suitable for anyone with the interest in Earth’s history. It has great diagrams, and uses local examples in addition to just retelling the facts. That’s why I prefer this book as a textbook, despite the majority of the examples being from the USA.

  1. Deamer. First Life: Discovering the Connections between Stars, Cells, and How Life Began. (University of California Press)
firstlife Another book on the origin of life, and a great companion to book #2 – I recommend reading this one as a prequel, as it goes into the story from a planetary view first, and then gets into the chemistry. Also, I felt it was a more basic book than What Is Life?, and it’s the one I’d recommend for high school students and laymen wanting a complete overview of current thoughts. If wanting more detail, you can then move on to What is Life?.

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