Review of HOW THE MOUNTAINS GREW
Everything you ever wanted to know about the geology of North America
I’ve always loved earth science. I still remember building my working model of Mount Etna in my high school earth science class, and winning my science Olympiad medal for the earth science event in eleventh grade. Learning about how mountain ranges rise, continents move, and volcanoes explode is endlessly fascinating.
When I first came across How the Mountains Grew: A New Geological History of North America by John Dvorak, I was understandably very excited. The problem was, however, is that the book was seemingly sold out on Amazon and the paperback isn’t coming out until July (it is, of course, now back in stock). Finally found the book at a bookstore and dug in the minute it was delivered.
Long history books like this can take one of two forms in my opinion. The book is either incredibly dense and lacks an overall narrative (which is so hard for me to get through despite wanting to learn about the content), or it can be detailed yet woven together with interesting stories and connections to the present. Fortunately, Dvorak chose the latter approach.
Unlike many books I read, I didn’t mark up or underline in this book. I almost regret it, but there was just too much information for me sort through to mark up! Every page has new facts and interesting perspectives. I certainly didn’t absorb everything, and this may be a book I actually re-read at some point in the near future.
How the Mountains Grew takes a classic chronological approach beginning more than 4.5 billion years ago when the earth first formed and ending with the “great acceleration” during the mid-twentieth century, and then into brief speculation about the next few hundred thousand years.
What I found particularly fascinating about this book was Dvorak’s integration of biology and evolution into his obviously geological text. He explains this is inevitable given that the evolution of life is so intimately intertwined with geological change. He goes into detail about the numerous mass extinctions that have occurred since plant and animal life evolved, using a detective like approach to compile various geological clues into a cohesive explanation. Did the asteroid actually kill off the dinosaurs? Are we really in a sixth mass extinction? You’ll have to read to find out.
This was a fantastic book absolutely packed with information. One point of complaint I have is that I wanted more pictures. Why? For one, earth science just has the best pictures and diagrams as a field. But I think it would have made the information clearer. There is a lot of jargon, terms, and names in the book which can be difficult to follow. Plus, geology and plate tectonics are highly complex; more visuals (there are already many in the book) would have helped clarify the processes and changes explained.
Overall, I loved this book and would highly recommend.
Published: August 2021
If you think this sounds interesting, bookmark these other great reads:
Meltdown: The Earth Without Glaciers by Jorge Daniel Taillant (2021)
Jungle: How Tropical Forests Shaped the World―and Us by Patrick Roberts (2021)
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