Paper No. 1
Presentation Time: 1:00 PM


MOORES, Eldridge M., Department of Geology, University of California, Davis, One Shields Avenue, Davis, CA 95616, DEFFEYES, Kenneth S., 13101 Hartfield Ave, San Diego, CA 92130, KLEINSPEHN, Karen L., Dept. of Earth Sciences, University of Minnesota, 310 Pillsbury Dr SE, Minneapolis, MN 55455-0219 and VAN SCHMUS, W.R., Dept. of Geology, Univ of Kansas, 1475 Jayhawk Blvd, Room 120, Lawrence, KS 66045-7613,

Annals of the Former World by John McPhee received the 1999 Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction, perhaps the only book on geology ever so honored. The book grew out of a conversation between one of us (KSD) and John on the value of roadcuts, and evolved into a 20-year effort to describe US geology, using as a basis roadcuts along and near Interstate 80 from New York City to San Francisco. The book consists of five descriptive segments with different emphases and geological companions: Basin and Range (1981; Nevada and New Jersey), In Suspect Terrain (1983; Appalachians), Rising from the Plains (1986; Rocky Mountains), Assembling California (1993: California, Cyprus, and northern Greece), and Crossing the Craton (1998; central US). Each segment combines geology of the region with its local history, while intertwining the personal stories of McPhee's companions. With his unique style and elegant prose, McPhee tackles difficult and complex concepts in ways that make them accessible to non-scientists. He includes such topics as plate tectonics and geologic time (he coined the term "Deep Time"), continental glaciation, continental hot spots, environmental geology, global tectonics and ophiolites, and a long segment of the San Andreas Fault, weaving the whole into a compelling narrative. Overall the book provides a snapshot of the status of ideas during the period 1978-1998 when geology underwent extraordinary changes with application of plate tectonics to the Earth and development of new tools and strategies to study the planet. First published in The New Yorker, each unit developed a large following among the general public, the literary community, and geosocientists.

Although John McPhee is not a geologist, he expresses a fascination with the language of geology and excels at the art of working with experts, capturing not only their understanding of the geology, but also their personal enthusiasm and passion for the subject.

Annals of the Former World is perhaps the best account of geology ever written for non-geologists. In this time of profound need for increased awareness of Earth processes McPhee has done all of us a great and lasting service in writing this book. GSA honored McPhee as a Fellow (1986), and awarded him the 2002 GSA Public Service Award.