Initial Publication Date: September 30, 2008

Popular Books for Introductory Courses

This list of books was compiled by faculty at the 2008 workshop.

Physical Geology

Short History of Nearly Everything, by Bill Bryson
Great visualizations of time and size scales. Also good descriptions of geologic process at work.

Lost Mountain, by Erik Reece - Mountain top removal coal mining in West Virginia

Rising from the Plains, by John McPhee
Great descriptions of the geology of Wyoming, and biographical sketch of geologist David Love.

Beyond Oil by Ken Deffeyes
Accessible explanations of the math behind Hubbert's Peak and the future of energy supplies from a geologist's perspective

The Map That Changed The World, by Simon Winchester
The story of William Smith and his geologic map. Great read and human-interest story!

Naked Earth by Shawna Vogel
Description of geophysics and how we know what we know about the interior of the earth (Vogel is a science journalist)

Reading the Rocks by Marcia Bjornerud (a geologist)


The Ice Chronicles: The Quest to Understand Global Climate Change by Paul Andrew Mayewski and Frank White

Excellent description of the GISP2 project for drilling ice cores on Greenland, including all of the benefits and complications involved in multi-institutional collaborations. Good final chapter on the interplay between science and policy, though it is now a bit out of date since it focuses on the IPCC's Second Assessment, released in 1995. (Mayewski was a PI on the project, White is a science journalist)

Earth Paleoenvironments: Records preserved in Mid- and Low-Latitude Glaciers (Developments in Paleoenvironmental Research), by L. DeWayne Cecil, Jaromy R. Green, and Lonnie G. Thompson

The Two-Mile Time Machine: Ice Cores, Abrupt Climate Change, and our Future, by Richard Alley, Penn State
Alley was a scientist on the GISP2 Greenland ice core drilling project; this book is a description of that project as an entry point to understanding what we can learn from ice cores in general and climate in the North Atlantic in general.

The Whale and the Supercomputer: On the Northern Front of Climate Change by Charles Wohlforth
A well-presented integration of the different kinds of knowledge that climate modeling and Alaska Natives can offer in understanding climate change on the North Slope of Alaska. (Wohlforth is a science journalist.)

The Coldest March by Susan Solomon
A scientific explanation for Scott's ill-fated Antarctic expedition, written by the head scientist of Working Group I of the IPCC report

Snowball Earth by Gabrielle Walker
The history of our understanding of the Proterozoic glaciations that appear to have enveloped the earth in ice - excellent tracking of the process of science at work. (Walker is a science journalist)

Thin Ice, by Mark Bowen

The Little Ice Age, by Brian Fagan

The Long Summer - How Climate Changed Civilization, by Brian Fagan

Environmental Geology

Encounters With the Archdruid, by John McPhee
A balanced account of environmental issues, the archdruid is David Brower (old but not dated)

Control of Nature, by John McPhee (three chapters, each can stand alone)

Water Follies
Great for intro w/ enviro focus. After (ok) intro chapter, each chapter details Groundwater-Surface water use in various places around the U.S. Great for showing interconnectedness of earth systems, as usually the groundwater withdrawal is impacting surface water use/quality. Can read individual chapters effectively, so you don't have to use the whole book.

Cadillac Desert by Marc Reisner
This book provides a history of water use, dam-building and water diversion projects in the development of the American West. There is also a three-part video series that accompanies the book. The videos are excellent for in-class use.

Living Downstream

Collapse, by Jared Diamond

Dirt: The Erosion of Civilization by David Montgomery (a geomorphologist at University of Washington)

Taking Sides, by Mark Eaton
Gives two essays about various environmental topics, each from an opposing point of view. Great for setting up class debates.

Natural Hazards

The Earth in Turmoil by Kerry Sieh and Simon LeVay

Earthquakes in Human History, by Zeilinga de Boer & Sanders
Describes the socio-political effects of earthquakes on human civilization through time

Surviving Galeras, by Williams & Montaigne
Outstanding, graphically horrific, detailed descriptions of volcanic hazards

No Apparent Danger, by Victoria Bruce

Krakatoa, by Simon Winchester

Volcano Cowboys, by Dick Thompson (Mt. St. Helens)

Historical Geology

The Seashell on the Mountaintop, by Alan Cutler
A biography of Nicolas Steno

The Man Who Found Time, by Jack Repcheck
A biography of James Hutton

T. Rex and the Crater of Doom by Walter Alvarez

Wonderful Life, the Burgess Shale and the Nature of History, by Stephen Jay Gould

Your Inner Fish, by Neil Shubin


Science for All Americans, AAAS - available online

Hard Road West, by Keith Heyer Meldahl

The Chronologer's Quest, by Patrick Wyse Jackson

The Oracle, by William Broad


The Buffalo Creek Disaster. 1970's, Appalshop movie shows effect of coal waste impoundment failure. Nice waste/pollution & landslide content, plus human reactions. It's black and white, but every year the #1 favorite activity in my Intro geo class!