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The Earth: An Intimate History [Paperback]

Richard Fortey
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (29 customer reviews)
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Book Description

7 Mar 2005

The paperback of the Sunday Times bestseller that reveals how the earth became the shape it is today. This book will change the way you see the world – permanently.

The face of the earth, criss-crossed by chains of mountains like the scars of old wounds, has changed constantly over billions of years. Its shape records a remote past of earthquakes, volcanos and continental drift, and the ongoing subtle shifts that bring our planet alive.

Richard Fortey introduces us to the earth’s distinct character, revealing the life that it leads when humans aren’t watching. He follows the continual movement of seabeds, valleys, mountain ranges and ice caps and shows how everything – our culture, natural history, even the formation of our cities – has its roots in geology. In Richard Fortey’s hands, geology becomes vital and exhilarating and unmistakably informs our lives in the most intimate way.

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The Earth: An Intimate History + Life: an Unauthorised Biography + Survivors: The Animals and Plants that Time has Left Behind
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Product details

  • Paperback: 528 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial; New Ed edition (7 Mar 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0006551378
  • ISBN-13: 978-0006551379
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (29 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 62,262 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Richard Fortey retired from his position as senior palaeontologist at the Natural History Museum in 2006. He is the author of several books, including 'Fossils: A Key to the Past', 'The Hidden Landscape' which won The Natural World Book of the Year in 1993, 'Life: An Unauthorised Biography', 'Trilobite!', 'The Earth: An Intimate History', and most recently 'Dry Store Room No.1: The Secret Life of the Natural History Museum'. He was elected to be President of the Geological Society of London for its bicentennial year of 2007, and is a Fellow of the Royal Society.

Product Description

Amazon Review

The Earth: An Intimate History is prize-winning science writer Richard Fortey's latest book and an ambitious attempt to tell the geological story of planet Earth for the general reader. Several centuries and the combined efforts of thousands of professional geologists have been required to make any real sense of the Earth's structure and its 4.5 billion-year history. That Fortey manages to turn the most important aspects of all this into an enjoyable narrative for the general reader is a considerable achievement.

The book is a sort of guided tour around a number of geological sites with which Fortey is personally familiar, such as the Grand Canyon, the European Alps and Vesuvius (the description of the eruption of Vesuvius and the destruction of Pompeii in AD 79 by Pliny the Younger is probably the first clear and objective description of a geological phenomenon.) He then uses their particular geological details to build a more general story of the geology of earth as it is generally understood today.

As a professional geologist at London's Natural History Museum, Fortey is well-qualified to tell this story. His writing skills have been widely acclaimed in earlier books such as Life: An Unauthorised Biography and Trilobite Eyewitness to Evolution. By giving the story a historical slant we can more readily understand how the present understanding of the earth story has been built up over the centuries and it introduces real people into the narrative. Consequently, the more technical aspects of present day earth science are rendered more palatable and understandable. The text is supported by a number of black and white diagrams and other pictures, which help illustrate some of the more complex processes and features of the earth. --Douglas Palmer. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


Praise for ‘The Earth’:

‘A dazzling achievement. Richard Fortey is without peer among science writers.’ Bill Bryson

‘Books with a title this ambitious generally do not live up to their billing. This one does.’ New Scientist

‘“The Earth” is a true delight: full of awe-inspiring details…it blends travel, history, reportage and science to create an unforgettable picture of our ancient earth.’ Sunday Times

‘Read this book because it is, indeed, the best natural history of the first four billion years of life on earth.’ John Gribbin, Sunday Times

Praise for ‘The Hidden Landscape’:

‘Don’t drop dead until you have read “The Hidden Landscape”.’ Jonathan Keates, Observer

Praise for ‘Life: An unauthorised Biography’:

‘This is not a book for people who like science books. It is a book for people who love books, and life…[Fortey] has written a wonderful book.’ Tim Radford, Guardian

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
37 of 37 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars How the earth works 17 May 2004
By A Customer
Everyone ought to read this book. I never thought that a layman like me would be interested in geology but this book opened my eyes. He writes clearly and to the extaent that it is possible simply. (At least I could understand it) His words paint a clear picture of the changing earth; he uses places that are at least familiar, to show how the earth is the way it is and the way it was. He shows that the earth is a place of constant change and that the way it is now is not going to be permanent. His enthusiasm for his subject comes over in his writing which enthralled me in its description of the movements of the plates. My only very slight complaint is that some of the illustrations are a bit dull and that a glossary would have been helpful. But it is a truly fascinating work.
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19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent - a truly global view 20 April 2005
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This book is simply a magnificent account of the Earth's structure and how it "works". Taking as his framework a series of visits to key sites - including Hawaii, Vesuvius, the Alps, Newfoundland and the North West coast of Scotland - Fortey explains not only the structure of the Earth and how it came to be as it is, but also how our understanding of that structure has grown and developed over the past 2000 years. He also finds space to fit in (relevant) musings on the nature of progress in science, ecology and the effect of humans on the environment, and much more. A recurring theme is the effect of the underlying geology on the visible land and the way it is used. (In passing, I think this book would make excellent television.)
The book concludes with a virtual tour of the globe, swooping down to comment on this feature or that aspect, unifying the earlier, more particular studies in a spectacular fashion.
Fortey's writing is beautiful and well worth reading for its own sake, and his explanations are excellent. There are relatively few illustrations and diagrams, and more of these might have helped, but this is a very slight flaw in a wonderful book.
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21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Does the Earth move for you? 31 Mar 2006
In answer to a time-related statement from another, such as "I turn 57 next month", have you ever answered, "Rocks don't live that long"? In EARTH, British paleontologist-author Richard Fortey reminds the reader that the globe is theorized to be 4.5 billion years young, and the oldest rock datable by current technology, a zircon crystal from Australia, registers at 4.4 billion years. Is your mother-in-law that old?
I've always been fascinated, when flying over or driving through the deserts of the western U.S., by the myriad of different rock formations unclothed by vegetation and naked for all to see. I've wished that I had a geologist by my side to explain how they came to be. Fortey may be the next best thing. In EARTH, the theme is "plate tectonics", and it's a tribute to the author's writing talent that he can make so esoteric a subject supremely interesting. The book is, at times, hard to put down.
To illustrate the observable effects of past movements of the Earth's crust - movement that will continue long past the habitation of the Earth by the human species, Fortey has selected several spots on our world as exhibits: Pompei, Hawaii, the Swiss Alps, Newfoundland, Scotland, India, Kenya, California, and the Grand Canyon. The narrative is, of course, about the evolution of tectonic plate theory, but also about proto-continents, lost oceans, volcanoes, mountain ranges, upthrusts, downthrusts, subduction zones, deep ocean trenches, mid-ocean ranges, lava, basalt, granite, gneisses, fossils, fault lines, schists, nappes, magnetic fields, limestone, ice sheets, diamonds, gold, coral reefs, green sand, "hot spots", tin mines, magma, marble, polar wandering, rubies, tors, and a mule named "Buttercup".
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A very good book, but could do with more diagrams 20 April 2009
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I bought this book after seeing it at Dynamic Earth in Edinburgh.

Fortey writes very well and makes what could be a very heavy going book about geology very accessible. Every area of the world that he has been to, and is used as the basis for describing the processes that have helped shape our world, is written about in enough detail for you to imagine being there and seeing it through his eyes.

If there is one fault I could pick out with this book it would be the need for more diagrams. Even though this book is made accessible to anyone who wants to read about geology, I think diagrams would be an added bonus when explaining what nappes, unconformities etc. are.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Worth the effort 16 Sep 2006
The compass of this book staggered my imagination. Not a breezy book and certainly not one to course through in a sitting. The places he chooses for geological description are diverse and representative of the complex processes shaping the surface of the earth. The material is not superficial, not at all "dumbed down." Ponderous? Restructing one's view of the cosmos ... if just only the idea of earth time ... perhaps not easily digestible. The author's comprehensive synthesis (and I did not say 'simplification')in his descriptions and historical overview of the growth of knowledge and some understanding of the various macro geological processes is enviable and refreshing at least. His language, I found, lubricates the reading process for a non-specialist like me.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars The Earth: A magical mystery tour
Fantastic descriptions and an enthusiastic writer make this a truly enjoyable world tour. It tied the tectonic history of Earth together for me in a way that 5 years studying... Read more
Published 12 days ago by Rattypip
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Book as described and delivered quickly.
Published 19 days ago by Jill Setchfield
4.0 out of 5 stars As Expected.
A good quality second hand book with library stickers on it and lamination. No tears or marks ruining the book.
Published 3 months ago by Taylor
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Intro to the subject..
Manages to sum up all I ever needed (or want) to know about Geology in a very accessible form and without tangling everything into science :-) I'ts a great read whether you are... Read more
Published 6 months ago by Peter Matthews
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the best books ever!!
Richard Fortey is a first class communicator. He writes with authority and humour about geology and palaeontology with numerous fascinating anecdotes and insights into the history... Read more
Published 6 months ago by Chippie
5.0 out of 5 stars Richard Fortey's "The Earth: An Intimate History"
Having previously enjoyed his "Hidden Landscape" it's a pleasure to read his most accessible geology again - delivered promptly to South Africa.
Published 8 months ago by Donald Lidgley
5.0 out of 5 stars wonderful book
I really enjoy this book. I wanted to know more about geology and its given me some stunning insights. Read more
Published 11 months ago by Ms. J. Borrett
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant book
This was my introduction to Richard Fortey and his wonderful popular scientific books about geology. Read more
Published 20 months ago by Ingrid Anell
4.0 out of 5 stars Intimate history of the Earth by Richard Fortey
A difficult subject made into a most enjoyable read. Mr Forty has not "dumbed down" his narrative but has none the less pitched it at a level that keeps one's interest very much... Read more
Published 23 months ago by Mr. Jones
1.0 out of 5 stars The Kindle version has no illustrations or photos
With great anticipation I cheerfully downloaded this and took it away on holiday as I knew it would be quite a long and close read. Read more
Published on 10 July 2012 by Smalcolm
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