A part-time buffoon and ersatz scholar specializing in BS, pedantry, schmaltz and cultural coprophagia.
I am nearly finished with the individual portions of' Annals of the Former World' ('Basin and Range' ☑, 'In Suspect Terrain' ☑, 'Assembling California' ☑). All I have left is to read the section 'Crossing the Craton' (a sixty page addition to his 40th parallel/I-80 project that filled in the blank in the map and allowed the publishers of 'Annals of the Former World' some additional McPhee text not found in the four main books/sections previously published to incentivize McPhee's fans to fork out the addtional $35 in 1998 to get the whole brilliant McPhee mess).
I read/listened to these books a little out of order over a little over the last year. I started off well with 'Basin & Range', 'In Suspect Terrain', but then jumped to 'Assembling California' since a couple of weeks ago I was going to be driving through California and figured it would be nice to have some geology of the geography I was going to be driving through next to me.
While I was a little disappointed with 'Assembling California', I loved 'Rising from the Plains'. I don't know if it was a return to my roots (Wyoming and Snake River and Mormon Country), or the fact that this book seemed just to excite McPhee more. You could tell he loved the Loves (David Love: Yale educated geologist, cowboy; John Love: David's father, mirthful Scot rancher/cowboy, nephew of John Muir; Ethel Waxham Love: David's mother, teacher, writer). He threads this family's golden personality and history with the geology and geography of Wyoming.
These books are dangerous and should not be given to children. I am keeping them locked up with my William S. Burroughs, Henry Miller, etc. If my son or daughter (no field geology sexist me) were to discover these McPhee books too young (s)he might just grow up to be a passionate field geologist. Reading this as I near my 40s, McPhee almost makes me want to take up a hammer, hop on a horse and ride into the mountains.
I give it four stars, simply because 'Coming into the Country' still exists for me as a slightly better book, but I think the combined energy of all of the 'Annals' is definitely amazing. I've grown to appreciate the narrative skills of Nelson Runger, although he went back and forth calling the Uinta Mountains at times the [WINtas) and at other times properly the (YOU-IN-tas). Anyway, a minor issue, but not overly distracting.
This book is an example of how “common sense” is not all that common. Tackling many myths about science – and the growing popular belief that science is “evil” but alternatives are “good,” Michael Specter shows us how the scientific method holds the key to the continuing existence of our species. He urges us not to go back to the era when we believed that “science” was all good and urges us to investigate discoveries rationally – not hysterically. He does raise some serious ethical questions – some of which do not have ready answers. This is all the more reason for us to learn how to neither investigate new discoveries with hysteria nor compete faith and acceptance. The book is well narrated – fast paced – and very compelling.