“Orogenesis: The Making of Mountains” by Michael R.W. Johnson, Simon L. Harley, Published April 9, 2012:

Orogenesis, the process of mountain building, occurs when two tectonic plates collide – either forcing material upwards to form mountain belts such as the Alps or Himalayas or causing one plate to be subducted below the other, resulting in volcanic mountain chains such as the Andes. Integrating the approaches of structural geology and metamorphism, this book provides an up-to-date overview of orogenic research and an introduction to the physico-chemical properties of mountain belts. Global examples are explored, the interactioning roles of temperature and deformation in the orogenic process are reviewed, and important new concepts such as channel flow are explained. This book provides a valuable introduction to this fast-moving field for advanced undergraduate and graduate students of structural geology, plate tectonics and geodynamics, and will also provide a vital overview of research for academics and researchers working in related fields including petrology geochemistry and sedimentology.

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This new book arrived today and I can’t wait to read it. I’m currently half-way through Hard Road West:  History and Geology along the Gold Rush Trail” by  Keith Heyer Meldahl, published in 2007. This is the first of Meldahl’s books that I’ve read and he is a fantastic writer.



This is a really good book, a great read. The author is a gifted writer and he beautifully weaves the tales of the emigrant travels to California with the landscape geology that they had to cross. I am a big reader of geology books and this is one of the best that I have read. With all due respect to Mr. Mcfee who pioneered this genre (and I have also read and enjoyed over the years), I think this book is at least as good and maybe even better. First of all, Hard Road West uses numerous pictures and diagrams to explain complicated geological principals which are invaluable for understanding the geology. And Hard Road West lets the emigrants themselves tell the story though their travel journals. Its a wonderful approach and makes the geology jump out of the page as you follow the emigrants almost step-by-step through their many travel hardships crossing the west to reach California. He is a really fun writer and I look forward to many other books by him in the future. Highly recommended.

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Meldahl’s second book, “Rough-Hewn Land: A Geologic Journey from California to the Rocky Mountains” published in 2011 was a thoroughly enjoyable read as well.

R.M. Peterson Review:

“In ROUGH-HEWN LAND, Keith Heyer Meldahl (a Professor of Geology) takes the reader on a geological journey eastward, starting at the Golden Gate and ending on the eastern edge of the Rocky Mountains. The north-south band of his tour centers roughly on Interstate Highway 80. He explores such things as the pillow basalt heaped up around the Golden Gate (volcanic basalt that once formed part of the ocean floor thousands of miles west of California); other geological aspects of the accreted terranes that form the entire west coast of North America for one hundred or more miles inland; the gold and other mineral resources of the Sierra Nevada foothills; the dramatic evidence of past earthquake activity throughout much of the West and the geological reasons for it; the Basin and Range province, where to a degree unmatched anywhere else the Earth’s crust has been stretched like an accordion; and the formation of the Rocky Mountains, where some of the oldest rock of the continent can be found on mountain summits.

What underpins the geology of the book is plate tectonics, and Meldahl helped me appreciate much better that the explanatory power of plate tectonics is roughly on a par with the concept of biological evolution and with quantum physics. Most of the book is in accord with the current consensus of geological science, though on a few specifics Meldahl ventures beyond the accepted consensus. For instance, does the San Andreas fault mark the western edge of the North American Plate, as reflected in all the textbooks? Meldahl says no, that wedged between the Pacific Plate and the North American Plate there is a separate plate that moves on its own, which he calls the “Sierran Plate”.

Meldahl interlaces his discussion of geology with incidents from history – for example, the Gold Rush and the Donner Party — that were heavily influenced by features of Western geology. (Those historical discussions exemplify Robert Penn Warren’s remark that “history is all explained by geography, and geography is all explained by geologic forces.”) Meldahl’s writing is hip and informal, colorful and creative. He has a slightly wacky sense of humor (for instance, he says that about the only benefit to Californians from living along the edge of a tectonic plate is “the thrill of knowing that death from an earthquake could come any day, which naturally makes each latte and yoga lesson more meaningful.”)

What makes the book particularly appealing, and comprehensible, are the many excellent schematic illustrations and helpful photographs. Imagine, then, John McPhee’s classics on geology (the works assembled in “Annals of the Former World”) updated and intelligently illustrated. That is close to what you get with ROUGH-HEWN LAND, albeit without McPhee’s stylistic filigree. If anything, ROUGH-HEWN LAND is even more comprehensible to the interested layperson than McPhee.

I admit to a personal fascination with geology. If I could re-run my life, I would seriously consider studying geology, perhaps even making that my profession. But one need not have as strong an interest in geology as I do to appreciate ROUGH-HEWN LAND. Indeed, to enjoy reading the book one probably need not even have had at the outset a distinct interest in geology at all – though by book’s end there is a good chance such an interest has been kindled.”



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