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Assembling California by John McPhee

Assembling California

by John McPhee

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Great book. I like a lot of McPhees, mostly the ones where he focuses more on the subject than on the people he's found to explain it; here, I even found the people chapters interesting, though the geology was more so. His primary explainer is a geologist who was in school before plate tectonics were an accepted theory, and had to deal with the new concepts almost immediately upon graduation; he did a very good job of presenting why plate tectonics took over so quickly and thoroughly, as they explained so many puzzles and mysteries that had no answers before. How mountains arose, why some rocks are tilted and others folded, where these different types of rock came from and how they come to be where they are...McPhee started in the Sierra Nevada, discussing the types of rocks and formations that are found in those uplifted ranges, then heads west, across the Central Valley and into the San Francisco Bay Area, where very different rocks and formations exist. The latter half of the book is a discussion of the San Andreas Fault system - the several identified faults that make up the boundary of the North American Continental Plate, as the Pacific Plate grinds along its edge, heading north-west. He discusses the different types of rocks and how they got there - how California, as we know it, is the result of several island chains crashing into the edge of the North American Continental Plate and becoming attached, adding new rocks, pushing old ones up or down, folding, tilting, and melting them into new formations. Interesting discussions of how visibly distinct types of rocks exist many miles apart along the faults, showing just how much the Pacific Plate has displaced northward - 60 to a couple hundred miles separate the same formations to the east and west of the fault. The last chapter is a detailed description of the Loma Prieta quake of 1989 - both from a geologic point of view, the epicenter's location and depth and the types of waves emanating from there, and a human point of view, illustrating what happened when the waves arrived in each location - the damage, or lack of same, that resulted. Fascinating, and horrifically amusing - the description, for instance, of the woman who, after the earthquake, looked out her third-floor window and saw a man's legs outside. Her building had pancaked into the first-floor garage, and her apartment was now at (or a little below) street level. A very enjoyable book, and I learned a lot. ( )
  jjmcgaffey | Apr 11, 2016 |
Bryson likes this author in Short History...
  Cheryl_in_CC_NV | Apr 14, 2015 |
In the final volume of his Annals of the Former World, John McPhee takes the last leg of the Interstate 80 corridor into California, for a discussion of that state's complex and fascinating history, particularly as it relates to its geology. McPhee's skillful and literate prose is as sumptuous as ever, ensuring a masterful conclusion to the series, previous volumes of which include Basin and Range, In Suspect Terrain, and Rising from the Plains. Absolutely essential reading.

Full review here: https://bibliomaneblog.wordpress.com/2015/10/16/assembling-california-by-john-mcphee-a-review/ ( )
  Bill_Bibliomane | Aug 1, 2013 |
It is hard to imagine that a book on geologic history could be as fascinating and dazzlingly written as this is. The author takes the reader on a geological field trip across North America along Interstate 80. In the course of the journey, he combines travelogue, geologic history and human history with some of the finest writing I have come across. What makes this book even more of an achievement is the author’s ability to convey subject matter that is so complex and potentially dry in such an engrossing manner. In the course of the book, the reader begins to understand the vastness of geological time and the tremendous forces that were required to shape the landscape. Sometimes, the feat is accomplished with breathtaking ease, as when he states, “The summit of Mt. Everest is marine limestone.” This is a long book at almost 700 pages, and it is filled with complex terminology (I’m still not completely sure what an orogeny is), but it is well worth the effort. It will change the way you think about the world.
  kbroenkow | Sep 5, 2007 |
I liked this book the best of all of McPhee's geology works. His explanations were easy to understand and his last chapter on the Loma Prieta earthquake was worth the price of the book. ( )
  berylmoody | Nov 10, 2006 |
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You go down through the Ocean View district of San Francisco to the first freeway exit after Daly City, where you describe, in effect, a hairpin turn to head north past a McDonald's to a dead end in a local dump.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0374523932, Paperback)

As an explainer, John McPhee is a national treasure. The longtime "New Yorker" staff writer has taken us inside the world of art museums, environmental groups, fruit markets, airship factories, basketball courts, and atomic-bomb labs the world over. Here he covers the complex geological history of California, the source of much news today. As Californians daily await the inevitable great earthquake that will send their cities tumbling down like so many matchsticks, McPhee piles fact on luminous fact, wrestling raw data into a beautifully written narrative that gainsays a sedimentologist's warning: "You can't cope with this in an organized way," he told McPhee, "because the rocks aren't organized." As always, McPhee enlarges our understanding of the strange, making it familiar--and endlessly interesting.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:25:13 -0400)

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