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Three New Reviews

Yorkshire Geology

Paul Ensom
Published by: The Dovecote Press
Publication date: 2009
ISBN: 978-1-904-34964-8
List price: £22.50
192 pp

YGYorkshire is England’s largest county and, in its varied and often magnificent scenery, displays a matching range of exposed strata, from early Ordovician to the present. There have been several distinguished and still widely revered and utilised accounts of its geology, dating back to the early 19th Century, but this new offering by Paul Ensom is to my knowledge the first that is directed so unashamedly at the general public and non-practising geologist. A fair indication of the style of writing and the intended audience is given by the ‘racy’ chapter titles; e.g. the Permo-Triassic rocks appear under the title The Heat is On.

The book is attractively produced with generally excellent illustrations, including several global palaeogeographical reconstructions. After some introductory and summary chapters, the rocks are considered from the oldest upwards - with descriptions of their lithology, thickness, facies variation, palaeogeography and main contemporary life forms. There are a few minor factual errors, but in no case would the reader be misled in any significant way. The text is generally well written and easily understood, though I would have welcomed the addition of some cross-sections to better clarify the complex facies and thickness changes in the Upper Palaeozoic and Mesozoic rocks. Another valuable feature of these chapters is the emphasis on the (regrettably, mainly former) commercial value and varied economic uses of the rocks. The final chapters on water and meteorite occurrences, despite their undoubted value and interest, rather have the feel of add-ons, and perhaps room for the information they contain could have been found elsewhere in the book.

There are numerous books available to the general reader on particular aspects or specific areas of Yorkshire geology, but this book is the only one that I have come across that covers the whole county in a comprehensive manner. Unfortunately, at £22.50 is seems rather expensive, compared for example with the £12.50 being asked at Amazon for Tony Waltham’s recent book on the Yorkshire Dales. Nevertheless, Paul Ensom and his publishers have generally achieved their aims and the book should be widely welcomed, particularly by the many non-specialist readers interested in the region. It will also be invaluable as a teaching aid in schools. In addition, many professional geologists, whatever their links to the county, will eagerly find a ready space for such an attractive book on their bookshelves.

Doug Holliday

Arsenic Pollution: A global synthesis

P Ravenscroft, H Brammer & K Richards
Published by: Wiley
Publication date: 2009
ISBN: 978-1-4051-8601-8
List price: £34.99
616 pp 

ArsenicFew elements of the periodic table are as evocative as arsenic, and most people if asked would probably associate it within its historical literary context as a poison. However, the nature and occurrence of arsenic in the environment and the physical evidence for the cumulative health effects to humans subjected to long-term exposure remains a relatively modern discovery; the vast majority of the systematic research having occurred since the 1980s. This book aims to capture this recent scientific expansion and provide an up-to-date interdisciplinary account on the extent of arsenic pollution across the planet.

The book has a number of major strengths, the primary one being that there is a clear definition between the separate parts of the text. The first part of the book is dedicated to providing the reader with all the background information and technical data needed to understand fully the physical and chemical attributes of the behaviour of arsenic in the environment, particularly relating to water supply issues and human health. The second part of the book provides a geographical focus with three comprehensive chapters on the characteristics, impacts and activities relating to arsenic pollution in different areas. In this way, the book achieves its second objective, which is to appeal to as wide a reader audience as possible. The scientific research community, practitioners in the water supply industry, aid and development officials, health workers and the general reader will all find interest in this book.

Each chapter clearly identifies the aims of the text and this consistent approach, together with the use of clear, well-illustrated diagrams and numerous tables of data, allow the reader to understand fully each of the technical sections in turn, as well as the geographical context explored later in the book. The content is accessible, enabling the reader to dip in and out of the text to find reference to a particular issue. It is well indexed throughout and the comprehensive bibliography provides access to further material if required.

This is an excellent book. For those seeking first-time knowledge, as well as those seeking to enhance their existing understanding about arsenic and recent research developments, there is probably no better book currently available - excellent value for money!

Phil Merrin
United Utilities, Warrington

Earth’s Restless Surface

Deirdre Janson-Smith, Gordon Cressey, Andrew Fleet
Published by: The Natural History Museum, London
Publication date: 2008
ISBN: 13 978 0 565 09236 8
List price: £9.99
111 pp

ERSThis is a well-written book illustrated with large, attractive, relevant photographs and clear explanatory diagrams - good value at £9.99. It is suitable for someone starting a study of geology or physical geography, such as an A/AS level student, first-year undergraduate or just anyone who is interested in how the world works.

The book begins with a general discussion of geology including uniformitarianism, the history of geology, plate tectonics, timescales and change. It goes on to discuss climate, the atmosphere, the biosphere, the hydrosphere including ocean currents, and the solid crust, including landslides, volcanoes and earthquakes, concepts of time and scale vs. change. It compares forces (such as ice) that act slowly and continuously, with forces such as landslides, hurricanes and tsunamis which can act rather more quickly.

The authors also consider the processes that give rise to sediments - weathering, erosion and deposition - and go on to consider the landscapes formed from these and other rocks. A desert landscape, a coastal landscape, an ice-formed landscape and a living landscape (coral reef) are given as examples. A brief history of plate tectonic movements covering the last 500 million years is provided, as are brief explanations of some famous geological localities in the UK.

As in many geology books at the moment there is a discussion of climate change but decides that as many factors are involved it is difficult to draw many firm conclusions about the future development of the climate. The book describes the value of computer models in predicting future atmospheric changes being brought about by burning fossil fuels. The authors conclude that at the beginning of the 21st Century the link between carbon dioxide (and other greenhouse gases) and global warming lies beyond reasonable doubt. How the pace of that change can be slowed will partly depend on technological advances, but above all else will be a matter of individual and political will.

Steve Rowlatt, Bishop’s Stortford