Thursday, June 22, 2017

Irreview, Book Review: The Story of Earth

I've been a science nerd for a long, long time.  Physics was probably my favorite science subject in high school (perhaps other than oceanography), and I am far more interested in the forces of the universe at large than I am in chemistry or biology.

All that aside, there is one branch of science that I have long avoided in my life (other than its relation to the aforementioned study of oceans), and that branch is Earth science (or, as I will refer to it, geoscience).

(I promise I'll slow down with the parentheses.)

I don't know why I've so far avoided geoscience, but I think it has something to do with the observation that in the school system I grew up in, the Earth science class seemed to be for the idiots who were too stupid to take the other sciences.  Whether or not that observation has any merit is irrelevant, but that's probably the reason I never gave the geosciences much thought.  At least, not actively.

Anyway, fast-forward to... a few years ago... and I'm working on a science fiction story in which one of the lead characters is a geoscientist.  Her discipline changed based on whichever draft I was writing, but she was always in geoscience.  Maybe as an oceanographer, maybe as a meteorologist (might be making that one up, and maybe as even a geophysicist.  Long-story short, the amount of cursory research I was doing of geoscience began to pique my interest.  Piqued it enough that I am now seriously considering going to a local community college and picking up an Associate degree in Geoscience.

This, combined with the fact that I have recently met a geoscientist that I enjoy friendly banter with, led me on search for "science communicator" books regarding geoscience.

Now, this is easier said than done.  While there are many, many science communicators who write about physics (Tyson and Davies are favorites of mine, and Kaku populates my library), finding one who writes about geoscience felt like a wild goose chase, albeit a brief one.

Finding a book called The Story of Earth: The First 4.5 Billion Years, From Stardust to Living Planet on Amazon, I decided to take a chance on it, despite several spurious reviews and some mentions of controversy.

And, oh, am I glad I did.

This book is fantastic.  Written very simply, author Robert M. Hazen informs and elucidates on the origins of our planet in a very clear and subtly repetitive manner.  Yes, there is not insignificant reliance on math and science that I didn't fully grasp, but never did I feel completely lost, either.  And even those passages in question were usually bookended by anecdotal explanation to keep the reader on track.

Though concentrating mostly on the lithosphere of Earth (its geology), Hazen takes us through the origins and developments of the hydrosphere, the atmosphere, and the biosphere.  From the Big Bang to the death of the planet (Earth itself, not us humans), Hazen explains the eras of Earth's history in a series of colors (black, blue, gray, red, white, green) with some interjecting phrases in between.

Personally, I didn't find his notion that the geosphere and biosphere co-evolved all that controversial, as it seems more logical.  Granted, that's the point of this book, but the most controversial thing I found was the chapter about the Theia hypothesis, regarding the formation of our moon.  Hazen writes as though Theia is indisputable fact, though I am personally unaware of whether or not Theia is the current widely accepted theory in academia.

Regardless, I am extremely glad I bought this book.  If you have even a passing interest in geoscience, or in the general natural history of Earth, this one is a must read.

Rating: 20 (Style: 4 stars; Substance: 5 stars)

Things I Learned:

Beyond the obvious, of course...
  1. New word: adsorbtion - the adhesion in an extremely thin layer of molecules (as of gases, solutes, or liquids) to the surfaces of solid bodies or liquids with which they are in contact
  2. New word: anoxic - of, relating to, or affected with anoxia; greatly deficient in oxygen
  3. New word: evince - to constitute outward evidence of; to display clearly

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