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Three Books Reviewed

CanadaCanada Rocks: The Geological Journey

Nick Eyles and Andrew Miall
Published by: Fitzhenry & Whiteside (Markham, Ontario)
Publication date: 2008
ISBN-13: 978-1-55041-860-6
ISBN-10; 1-55041-860-2
List price: $60:00 Canadian
498 pp

Big country, big book, and one of more significance than the sum of its parts; a book that I found hard to put down. Subtitled The Geological Journey, it is not just about the geology of half a continent, it includes many judicious titbits on the history, exploration and development of Canadian research. The systematic study of Canada’s geology can be said to have begun in the eastern provinces with amateur and academic endeavours and mapping by the newly founded Geological Survey of Canada (1842). It still progresses with startling results year by year, ranging from the Precambrian to the Permo-Triassic and Pleistocene. Western Canada has seen a relatively late deciphering of its turbulent evolution, with the Geological Survey of Canada and petroleum and other prospecting parties playing key roles in this task.

This is an arresting and pictorially magnificent account of Canada’s long geological story and of the importance of its rocks in a modern, increasingly industrial country. It also covers the national concern for its resources, climate and identity. Canada Rocks is also a new high point in presentation. Ron Redfern’s The Making of a Continent (BBC, 1983) set a high standard for books on the geological evolution of North America, which is followed and exceeded here. The geological journey itself is neatly summarised in an early figure which has a time-stratigraphic column, table of major crustal events following the formation of the Canadian Shield, and a sequence of thumbnail maps highlighting the North American craton’s hemispheric migration. ‘Boxed’ topics added on the way include relevant petrography and processes, tectonics and structural geology. Canada’s spectacular palaeobiological record also gets plenty of welcome attention. All this is presented with the minimum of jargon and with a wealth of illustrations, making for a book of interest to a wide range of Earth scientists and not just those in North America.

Beginning the journey at the dusty origin of the Earth, the reader passes through theory and conjecture and arrives at the Canadian Heartland, the Shield, and for the non-specialist this is “where the story really begins”. From here on the evidence is before us in half a continent. This account of the Canadian Shield is the best your reviewer has seen. Written by “soft rock” geologists, it smoothes the rough edges of igneous and metamorphic geology for the general reader and the illustrations are excellent. It conveys just how enormously varied and complex the Shield and its history are.

Thereafter comes the geological evolution of the conspicuously distinct natural regions of Canada – the interior platform, Appalachian or Atlantic Canada, the Cordilleran Rockies and seaboard of the west, and the arctic lowlands and islands. Sloss’s concept of sequences is used to explain the great spread of relatively thin sediments over the Shield, with marine giving way locally to continental environments. The vast organic activity throughout Phanerozoic time is graphically shown; a photo amusingly compares the bioturbated Tyndall Stone in polished section with H.M. the Queen’s patterned dress in Winnipeg.

In summary this very well written and produced book is less of a textbook and more of a good read and browse. Physically it is a heavyweight, though a paperback: how long will it survive usage in students’ hands? At the price it is a bargain and should command a market beyond Canada’s bounds. The authors hold British and Canadian qualifications to which they might well add a palm or two for the present contribution, which they clearly enjoyed writing.

David Dineley, Bristol

TreagusAnglesey Geology - A Field Guide

Jack Treagus
Published by: Seabury Salmon & Associates
Publication date: 2008
ISBN: 0 95469 662 X (pbk)
List price: £9.95 (£11.00 incl p&p)
168 pp

How refreshing to have a beautifully presented guide to the geology of a classic British region that does not shy away from describing the geology in depth or drawing attention to the uncertainties that remain. Although an excellent adjunct for the armchair geologist, hopefully most readers will be inspired to visit the localities for themselves.

This is the first substantive account to be prepared for the recently established GeoMôn (Anglesey’s GeoPark). It is an educational book, aimed at colleges and universities; it is also suitable for interested amateurs. Jack Treagus knows Anglesey extremely well, and is familiar with many of the geological controversies. He succeeds in presenting a balanced view and, where appropriate, makes clear where other opinions might prevail. His book presents a total of 14 itineraries, each of which would take at least half a day. Many are coastal exposures, some of which are tide-dependant. With a paucity of good exposures inland, this means that it is unlikely that the whole set of itineraries could be fully studied within a week. Nevertheless, a little careful planning should enable the majority to be covered. Furthermore, the GeoMôn web site ( helpfully includes details of many additional sites, arranged according to geological age, as well as sources of information aimed at different educational levels.

The guide needs reading twice before use, first to get an overview of the breadth of coverage and second to appreciate the various nuances of detail for which each location is known. The stratigraphy provides an introductory framework but it is the structural deformation that makes Anglesey so special for a field study, together with its plate tectonic setting. The excellent images within the text help the reader identify key exposures. The colour photographs are very clear and well focussed. Furthermore, they are reproduced in clear detail, and so effectively enhance an understanding of the rock. In the field it would also be useful to have a text such as Ken McClay’s The Mapping of Geological Structures (last published in 1991 as part of the Geological Society’s Handbook Series), and a compass/clinometer (but not a hammer!).

Sufficient information is included to guide the visitor with respect to parking and access, but large scale topographic maps will also be essential. A number of localities are included for each itinerary, helping broaden one’s appreciation of the local geology and reduce concentration on the better known exposures. Printed on clay-rich paper to maximise the clarity of the photographic images, the book is perhaps a little heavy. However, the printers have sensibly selected a spring-type wire ring binding which can easily release those pages needed for a day’s excursion. For those less familiar with the scientific terminology, there is a useful seven-page glossary. The font is a little small but is clear, helped by the extensive use of colour, reduction of text block size by insertion of photographs, and dual columns to accommodate the Welsh text alongside the English.
The three-page reference list provides a good overview of the pertinent literature and will help facilitate further study. Perhaps the only omission is reference to one or two good books on structural geology, for instance: Price and Cosgrove’s Analysis of Geological Structures (1990) or Pollard & Fletcher’s Fundamentals of Structural Geology (2005).

This book is strongly recommended and good value for money!

Mike Rosenbaum, Ludlow

KeareyGlobal Tectonics (3rd Edition)

Philip Kearey, Keith A Klepeis & Frederick J Vine
Published by: Wiley-Blackwell
Publication date: 2009
ISBN: 978-1-4051-0777-8
List price: £34.99
482 pp

It's worth pointing out occasionally that earthquakes have their positive side as well. Our planet needs tectonic activity to balance erosion, to stop the world becoming one vast shallow sea. Tectonics has made our planet what it is today, but it’s fascinating how much we don't actually know. Does the Adriatic plate go under the Eurasian or vice versa? Which plate is Tokyo on? One would expect these to be simple questions, and it can be a surprise to find how much disagreement there is in the literature.

Global Tectonics, now in its third edition, won't answer these questions. Despite its title, it doesn't offer a global survey of what's going on where. What it does provide is an excellent synopsis of the processes themselves, aimed at senior undergraduate and postgraduate levels, but which should appeal to a much broader audience within the Earth sciences. For the non-specialist in tectonics, it would be hard to imagine a more comprehensive, yet readable, guide to the entire field.

One of the great strengths of this volume is the way that it has been written with a sense of the history of the subject. Thus in addition to presenting what is the best understanding today, the authors guide us through the development of modern thinking, taking in discarded ideas along the way. Knowing how current theory was arrived at, and what it superseded, gives one a much more secure understanding of the subject than would otherwise be the case and this approach is greatly to be welcomed. It also provides a good perspective on topics that are controversial today, since these can be seen in the context of an evolving science.

Indeed, the authors do not shy away from controversies, and make it clear, for instance, the extent of the current disagreement on such things as the existence of mantle plumes. I was interested to see not just a mention of the expanding Earth hypothesis, but an actual section on it, in which the authors demonstrate that evidence does not support this idea.

The first author, sadly, died in 2003 just after starting work on the preparation of this third edition. Fortunately his work was completed by the other two - this is a valuable text: comprehensive, clear, reasonably-priced and physically very well produced. Strongly recommended.

Roger Musson
BGS, Edinburgh