The first of John McPhee's works in his series on geology and geologists, Basin and Range is a book of journeys through ancient terrains, always in juxtaposition with travels in the modern world—a history of vanished landscapes, enhanced by the histories of people who bring them to light. The title refers to the physiographic province of the United States that reaches from eastern Utah to eastern California, a silent world of austere beauty, of hundreds of discrete high mountain ranges that are green with junipers and often white with snow. The terrain becomes the setting for a lyrical evocation of the science of geology, with important digressions into the plate-tectonics revolution and the history of the geologic time scale.
“In Basin and Range, McPhee is not so much a visiting amateur as a rhapsodist of "deep time" . . . The result is a fascinating book.” —Paul Zweig, The New York Times Book Review
“One result of the trip west is an introduction to plate tectonics--probably the most readable summary extant. Geologists will find it sound, others will find it understandable and illuminating.” —Geotimes
“He triumphs by succinct prose, by his uncanny ability to capture the essence of a complex issue, or an arcane trade secret, in a well-turned phrase.” —Stephen J. Gould, New York Review of Books
“An exciting account of geology and the geologist, providing both an excellent history and an up-to-date snapshot of our science in the 1980s.” —Howard R. Gould President, the Geological Society of America
“McPhee has taken on something that all of us--especially the American Geological Institute and its news magazine Geotimes--should take on: the explanation to non-geologists of what geology is all about.” —Wendell Cochran, Geotimes
“The best popular portrayal of geology that I have seen in my thirty-two years of experience as a professional geologist.” —H. A. Kuehnert, Director, Worldwide Exploration, Phillips Petroleum Company