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Devil in the Mountain: A Search for the Origin of the Andes [Paperback]

Simon Lamb , Gary Hincks
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

1 May 2006

How do high mountain ranges form on the face of the Earth? This question has intrigued some of the greatest philosophers and scientists, going back as far as the ancient Greeks. Devil in the Mountain is the story of one scientist, author Simon Lamb, and his quest for the key to this great geological mystery.

Lamb and a small team of geologists have spent much of the last decade exploring the rugged Bolivian Andes, the second highest mountain range on Earth--a region rocked by earthquakes and violent volcanic eruptions. The author's account is both travelogue and detective story, describing how he and his colleagues have pursued a trail of clues in the mountains, hidden beneath the rocky landscape. Here, the local silver miners strive to appease the spirit they call Tio-the devil in the mountain.

Traveling through Bolivia's back roads, the team has to cope with the extremes of the environment, and survive in a country on the verge of civil war. But the backdrop to all these adventures is the bigger story of the Earth and how geologists have gone about uncovering its secrets. We follow the tracks of the dinosaurs, who never saw the Andes but left their mark on the shores of a vast inland sea that covered this part of South America more than sixty-five million years ago, long before the mountains existed. And we learn how to find long lost rivers that once flowed through the landscape, how continents are twisted and torn apart, and where volcanoes come from.

By the end of their journey, Lamb and his team turn up extraordinary evidence pointing not only to the fundamental instability of the Earth's surface, but also to unexpected and profound links in the workings of our planet.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 348 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press; New Ed edition (1 May 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691126208
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691126203
  • Product Dimensions: 23.5 x 16 x 2.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,074,766 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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One of New York Times Book Review's 100 Notable Books of the Year for 2004

"An absorbing account of the many years Lamb has spent exploring and pondering the Andes. But the book is not simply about a particular place or one scientific career. Lamb gives his readers a wonderful feel for how geology works- how geologists gather clues, test hypotheses and ultimately come to understand the workings of the world. . . . [The book] make[s] us so familiar with the history of the Andes that they become living things."--Carl Zimmer, New York Times Book Review

"An absorbing account of how geologists come to understand the workings of the world."--The New York Times

"Simon Lamb's book is an enticing blend of personal adventure and scientific explanation. It is an unusual scientist who manages to describe the world vividly but also explain the science clearly. . . . Lamb takes us painlessly through the workings of the great engine of the earth--and what could be more important than understanding how our planet is put together. . . . His descriptions of flogging through the jungle-clad eastern foothills of the Andes leave one relieved to be able to experience it all from the comfort of an armchair."--Richard A. Fortey, Times Literary Supplement

"[An] engrossing and well-written book. . . . Lamb's writing is engaging and clear. . . . Even when he tackles esoteric areas of geophysics and dynamical modeling far from his own field of expertise, Lamb exhibits an enviable facility for simplifying complex and, in some cases, quite controversial ideas. He has keen insight into Bolivian geology and a sympathetic eye for local culture. . . . Devil in the Mountain makes compelling reading. Lamb has done a masterful job in piecing together the Andean puzzle in a way that seems to make perfect sense."--David E. James, Nature

"[Lamb's] prose is lively and for the most part free of jargon. His tales of adventures during individual field campaigns engage readers in a way that a straight science text could not. Most important, he describes particularly well the process by which a field geologist interprets the Earth."--Richard W. Allmendinger, American Scientist

"This book describes physical quests as well as a scientific one. The history of mountains can only be told in millennia, but in America the history of people's attempts to make mountains their own can be told in a few centuries."--Washington Post Book World

From the Inside Flap

"This is Lamb at his best, telling gripping stories of the Earth, making the reader think s/he's sitting with him around the camp-fire during his field work. Lamb sheds some light on a world of science as rarely told; and the listener feels part of his field trip, warmed by the fire and a glass of local brew."--Maarten J. de Wit, University of Cape Town, Rondebosch

"If I were reading this book for the first time and didn't know what to do with my life, I would immediately enroll in the nearest geology program. This account of life on the Altiplano is a masterful integration of geological concepts and personal experiences."--Grant Heiken, past president, International Association of Volcanology and Chemistry of the Earth's Interior, and co-author of Volcanoes: Crucibles of Change and the forthcoming The Seven Hills of Rome

"In this very engaging book, Lamb masterfully blends personal anecdotes about trips to exotic places in different parts of the globe with the science of a fascinating range of geological phenomena and processes to explain how mountains in general and the Andes in particular are built."--S. George Philander, Princeton University, author of the forthcoming Our Affair with El Niño: How We Transformed an Enchanting Peruvian Current into a Global Climate Hazard.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
IN BOLIVIA, the local silver miners consider the entrance tunnel of a mine, so laboriously hewn into solid rock, as the gateway into a mysterious realm ruled by earth spirits. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Review of Devil in the mountain by Simon Lamb 10 April 2011
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Having lived and worked in Bolivia for two months this year I became fascinated by the geology of the country. Bolivia is geology, it just stares you in the face constantly and I have never been anywhere quite like it in the world where it dominates every aspect of life in the country. The Andes are very impressive and incredibly vast with dramatic uplifts and contorted strata, hot springs, thermal vents, extinct volcanoes and massive salt lakes. Anything a student of geology might wish to study is there. On my return to the UK I purchased the book by Simon Lamb and have read it avidly. He like me was captivated by the Andes and set out to discover how they had been created. In this book he explains how he conducted his examination of the rocks of Bolivia and how it finally led him to the solution to his quest. As he details his research he also reveals other aspects of the country and its people to which I was able to relate having been a visitor to the country. The book is written in a very readable style and although a lot of science is involved, the author does not make it uninteresting to the non scientific reader.
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Amazon.com: 4.5 out of 5 stars  11 reviews
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A stunning overview of a great mountain range 4 Jun 2004
By Robert J. Stern - Published on Amazon.com
Research geologists rarely spend much energy synthesizing and making their work available to the general public, to both party's loss. But Lamb does that here, giving an accessible overview of the Central Andes that will be of interest to the traveller as well as the geologist. His writing is clear and filled with personal anecdotes that are well-integrated into his story. The combination of travelogue, the tale of a young man building a team and a career, and explanation of modern mountain-building concepts is an unusual way to present the material, but it provides spice and should motivate a wide range of readers to keep turning the pages. It is richly illustrated with detailed illustrations and maps of the highest quality, I can't thank the author and publisher enough for their care in this regard. I have a few quibbles, though. Lamb doesn't note the fact that lithosphere of increasingly young age has been subducted beneath S. America through the Cenozoic, making subduction increasingly difficult and converting an extensional 'Mariana-type' convergent margin into the present 'Andean-type' compressional margin. He doesn't mention the presence and role of 'flat-slab' segments of the S. American subduction zone (and their possible role in raising the Andes). He doesn't consider the importance of trade winds being blocked by Eastern Andes for producing the deserts and empty trenches of the central Andes. But these weaknesses are amply compensated for by the overall product, an ambitious, well-edited, and compelling overview of a great mountain range.
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Fine Geology Primer 27 Oct 2004
By R. Hardy - Published on Amazon.com
"Tourists do not normally go to the places geologists want to visit." These are the words of a geologist, Simon Lamb, who has done years of fieldwork in Bolivia (which tourists go to Bolivia for any reason?) to hunt for an answer to a basic question: How do high mountain ranges form? The question seems so basic to non-geologists; after all, to the rest of us, the mountains just seem always to have been there, and they don't change a bit that we can see. Geologists, however, look at the world in a different way; even the ancient Andes mountains participate in a life and death cycle, and according to Lamb, they are "almost living creatures, and... their life stories are deeply felt by the rest of the planet." He has wonderfully succeeded in conveying a geologist's view of the world in _Devil in the Mountain: A Search for the Origin of the Andes_ (Princeton University Press), which although it looks at his Bolivian exploits in particular, is a fine primer for anyone who wants to learn some geological basics.

The revolutionary ideas of plate tectonics were all well accepted in the 1980s, when Lamb started his career. Though plate tectonics explained much, it didn't answer specifics about the Andes. What made them so high, for instance, and how is it that unlike other mountain ranges, they have a bent rather than straight or sinuous appearance on the map? Through extensive travel within Bolivia in a battered land cruiser, he and his colleagues and students developed a picture of the mountains over the past 65 million years. The picture of the rise of the mountains can be put into order "using not much more than a hammer and a compass", but putting dates on the events cannot be done with simple equipment. Lamb explains potassium / argon dating, the search for tracks of particles of uranium decay within zircon, the process of crushing rocks to determine their strength, sampling helium from volcanoes, and the use of the Global Positioning System for measurements within a few millimeters. Though these technical matters occupy much of the book, it is mostly a chronological memoir about how Lamb came to his current understanding of the formation of the Andes. As such, it is full of adventures, some having to do with unscrupulous natives, or dodgy bureaucrats, or cantankerous machines, told here with good humor.

Using the Andes as a working example, Lamb is able to jam his book full of interesting accounts of finding out how the mountains grew, and contrast them with the Alps, Rockies, or the ancient hills of Britain. The great engine of the inner Earth, powered by gravity and radioactive heat, is revealed to be strange, unlike anything we have to deal with here on the surface, but comprehensible. Lamb shows that the knowledge is vital for many reasons, not the least of which is that the Andes are a force strongly contributing to world weather. The Andes make possible, for instance, the rainforests of the Amazon, and over long geological history probably played a role in the spread of savannah in Africa, which may have changed primate evolution. The forces of such changes are still at work, and are excitingly explained in Lamb's agreeable combination of pure science and field memoir.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Between science and personal adventure... 10 July 2006
By Dario Ventra - Published on Amazon.com
I bought this book because, as a geologist myself, I am getting interested in the dynamics and tectonic controls of fluvial "megafans" developed along the Andean chain. I thought this little work, straddling the border between a popularization of geotectonics and personal travel diaries, could help me break the ice with the geological context of Bolivia and surrounds... Spot on!
Lamb did a great job, whether you look at it from the technical point of view or from a layman's perspective. Of course the geological insights to gain here are just very basic, they are meant to inform the uninitiated, but the style and the motivation with which a geologist's thoughts are reported, well, they kind of make me proud of my research... (Which I already was anyway!) Maybe the links between orogeny in the Andes and global climatic interactions are way too simplistically explained, and some people might get tricked into believing the climate system is really that! easy and predictable... I doubt... But that's a kind of problem you run into when trying to simplify to the extreme, opening a door for the newbies. No fuss then...
If you want to gain a feeling of what geological fieldwork feels like, if you'd like to learn something really cool on how rocks and mountains develop and behave through time on this planet, and maybe if you could use some insider's advice on how to get about in Bolivia (you never know where research might take you some day eh...), then this is a fun, quick, informative and emotionally rewarding read. I guess we're still far from really having understood the whole story about the Andes, but as Lamb shows, from his very personal point of view, sometimes the journey can be more important than reaching your destination too quickly... It all has to grow inside of you...
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The experience of fieldwork 3 April 2007
By Rumbullion - Published on Amazon.com
This book accurately reflects how geological fieldwork is often done and for this reason would be an excellent read for a geology student or interested layperson. Lamb's exposition of tectonics is very clear and he obviously has a gift for explaining geology to the non-specialist. The only thing that I didn't like was the implication that the Oxford team was the only one of consequence working in the Andes - something that from personal experience I happen to know was not the case.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars How rocks in Bolivia affect your choice of vacation 14 Nov 2006
By Harry Eagar - Published on Amazon.com
Here's something to chew on: If it weren't for the existence of the Andes Mountains, Hawaii would be out of business.

The argument is way too complicated to summarize in a brief review, but Oxford geologist Simon Lamb presents it with admirable clarity in "Devil in the Mountain."

He hardly mentions Hawaii, actually, but the implication is clear enough: The Andes began growing 40 million years ago, at the same time that the Antarctic ice sheet began growing; and these events were causally linked -- together (with lots of other complications) they ended the Warm Ages and introduced the Ice Ages we live in.

If follows then, that if the whole world were still warm, there wouldn't be much reason to visit Hawaii.

It is extraordinary how recently scientists got to the point where they could make such an argument. In the past four decades, even non-geologists have learned to think that mountains arise where two giant plates collide, driven by currents of molten rock miles beneath the surface.

And yet, thought Lamb, as recently as 1989, when he began a 10-year research project centered on Bolivia, it cannot be that simple.

There are places where plates collide but high mountains do not rise. And, where they do, why do they take the shape they do?

Like any good scientific theory, plate tectonics created more mysteries than it solved.

The new mysteries were, of course, at a more profound level of explanation.

In particular, the research of Lamb and others has opened the question of whether "the rise of great mountain ranges can significantly change the planet's climate." These days, everything turns out to be about global warming.

The short answer is, yes. But it takes a lot of legwork to get there.

Lamb's account, designed to suck non-geologists into the mystery, is enlivened with brief anecdotes of working in some of the roughest, poorest country in the world.

But "it was earthquake prone, always a good sign to a geologist."

So he went searching for the devil -- Tio, the wicked spirit of the mountains whose caprices are appeased by the Bolivian miners. Tio is an excessively manly demon, a point not mentioned by Lamb, whose approach is anything but sensational, although the implications of his (and others') research are.

Toward the end of his research, Lamb was led to "the extraordinary thought that the temperature of the water in the oceans can ultimately control the raising of large portions of the Earth's crust."

We've come a long way now from the explanation that mountains were made by heroes throwing rocks at each other.
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