Don't Know Much About Planet Earth


  • Do sleeping volcanoes snore? (see page 12)
  • Is the Dead Sea dead? (see page 21)
  • How icy is Iceland? (see page 78)

Join best-selling author Kenneth C. Davis on an entertaining trek across the globe as he answers some big questions about the world in the amusing style that has won millions of readers.

With fascinating anecdotes about the world's most unusual places and notable...

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  • Do sleeping volcanoes snore? (see page 12)
  • Is the Dead Sea dead? (see page 21)
  • How icy is Iceland? (see page 78)

Join best-selling author Kenneth C. Davis on an entertaining trek across the globe as he answers some big questions about the world in the amusing style that has won millions of readers.

With fascinating anecdotes about the world's most unusual places and notable quotes from world travelers throughout history, Davis leads you to the longest river, coldest desert, tallest waterfall, most powerful volcanic eruption, and much more. Humorous illustrations and amazing stories make the "boring" facts of geography come to life as you read about Marco Polo's adventures in China and discover that people in Latin America speak Spanish and Portuguese — not Latin at all!

Kenneth C. Davis brings the verve of his popular best-seller Don't Know Much About® Geography to a new audience. He makes it fun to learn more about this incredible planet we call home.

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Editorial Reviews

ALA Booklist
“This entry in the Don’t Know Much About series introduces children to the home planet. ”
People Magazine
Reading [Davis] is like returning to the classroom of the best teacher you ever had.
Publishers Weekly
Davis, author of the bestselling Don't Know Much About... series for adults, is known for his light writing tone and thorough yet accessible explanations of complex topics. He recently created two new books for children inspired by some of his popular works for adults, which in turn were captured on audio. Science is far from dull on these solid recordings that explore geography and astronomy. Wyman authoritatively presents fun facts and anecdotes with a lively, almost gee-whiz air. ("Is the solar system as old as the universe? Nope. Our Sun and planets are only middle aged compared to the universe. Five billion years ago, the solar system was a huge, cold, spinning cloud of dust and gas...."). The material's q&a format (children read the questions and Wyman reads the answers), complete with several fast-paced "true/false" and "pop quiz" segments keep things rolling alongAand keep listeners hooked, at least for a while. Because of the sheer volume of information presented here, these programs are likely to be more easily digested in small portions. But no listener will walk away from these titles without several factoids that will not only help with school subjects but will sound impressive when repeated. Ages 8-up. (Aug.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Children's Literature
In the tradition of the author's other "Don't Know Much about" books, this selection touches on a subject that many American students avoid—in this case, geography. Using a format based on questions and answers, the author traces key geographic factors that help to shape the world we live in. Each of the seven continents is featured, including topics such as climate, noteworthy geographic features, weather and lifestyles. Did you know that Antarctica is one of the world's largest deserts? Are you aware that Mandarin Chinese is the most widely spoken language in the world? Would it surprise you to know that Japan is one of the wealthiest countries in the world but also one of the least self-sufficient in terms of natural resources? These and many other fascinating questions and answers are presented in this fast-paced geography book. Readers young and old will find something of interest in this book. 2001, HarperCollins, $19.95. Ages 10 to 14. Reviewer: Greg M. Romaneck
School Library Journal
Gr 4-6-Having scored hits with five "Don't Know Much About" books for adults, Davis goes for a younger audience, laying out basic knowledge with a combination of breezy questions and answers punctuated by boxed asides, quotations, or biographical sketches. He also includes lighthearted pop quizzes along the lines of: "The Amazon River gets its name from a group of legendary Greek: a) warriors b) Internet companies c) river boats d) water gods." In Planet Earth he discusses the physical and political geography of each continent, scattering memorable facts and (usually) clever jokes throughout ("How are deserts like desserts?" "Deserts, like apple pie, can be served hot or cold"). In Space he takes on stars, the solar system, the history and structure of the universe, space exploration, black holes, dark matter, the search for life on other planets, and more. Bloom's cartoon drawings add further humorous notes to Planet Earth, but it lacks some much-needed maps; in Space, Ruzzier's somewhat more sophisticated but still decorative art is supplemented by several photos and photo-realist paintings. Few readers will come away from these books without having been amazed or amused, but considering the array of more systematic, better-illustrated books available on the topics, they are supplementary purchases at best.-John Peters, New York Public Library Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780064408349
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 8/28/2001
  • Series: Don't Know Much About Series
  • Pages: 144
  • Age range: 8 - 12 Years
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.39 (d)

Meet the Author

Kenneth C. Davis is the New York Times bestselling author of A Nation Rising; America's Hidden History; and Don't Know Much About® History, which spent thirty-five consecutive weeks on the New York Times bestseller list, sold more than 1.6 million copies, and gave rise to his phenomenal Don't Know Much About® series for adults and children. A resident of New York City and Dorset, Vermont, Davis frequently appears on national television and radio and has been a commentator on NPR's All Things Considered. He blogs regularly at

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

What's So Special About Earth?

What in the world is geography?

Geography is the science that explains why you -- yes, you reading this book -- are where you are. It asks and answers some of humankind's most basic questions: Where am I? What's over there? How did it get there? What is it like? Why is it there?

Geography is the big mixing bowl of the sciences: it brings together all sorts of other specialties. If you combine a little history, geology, meteorology, biology, economics, astronomy, and almost every other "ology", "onomy," or "omics" you can think of, you'll begin to see what geographers do. They study how we shape -- and are shaped by -- the shape of the world.

Has Earth always been around?

It has always been a fairly round planet. (It does bulge a little in the middle.) But Earth hasn't always been around. Earth and its neighboring planets started out as a huge cloud of space dust and gas. Then, about 4.6 billion years ago, something -- maybe a shock wave from a nearby exploding star -- gave the cloud a push, and it began spinning into a flat disk. Gravity pulled some of the dust and gas toward the disk's center. There it clumped into a dense and intensely hot ball of gases and the Sun was born. Most of the other dust and gas formed smaller, cooler clumps that became Earth and the other planets, moons, asteroids, and comets that travel around the Sun as our solar system.

What's so special about Earth?

Of the nine planets in our solar system, Earth is the only one (that we know of) that has life. As the third planet from the Sun, Earth gets just the right amount of heat to keep water in its three forms -- liquid, vapor, and ice -- and to support our kinds of plants and animals. Earth's atmosphere, the blanket of air that surrounds it, is also unique. It contains oxygen for us to breathe, protects us from the Sun's heat and harmful rays, and keeps our planet warm.

How is Earth like a peach?

Earth might not look or taste like a peach, but the two do have a few things in common. Like a peach, Earth has a thin outer skin. This is -- Earth's crust. Underneath Earth's crust is the juicy fruit, or mantle. The mantle is a thick layer of really hot rocks and goopy semimelted rock called magma. Underneath the mantle is the peach pit, Earth's core, a solid, superhot ball of iron. Now imagine that the skin of our peachy Earth has been sliced into sixteen or so irregularly shaped pieces. All these separate pieces, or plates, float around the outside of Earth like giant rafts on a sea of molten rock.

230 million years ago, you could have walked from Pole to Pole.

True! Back then, all Earth's land was connected in a huge single mass called Pangaea ("all land" in Greek). So what happened between then and now? Earth's plates have been on the move in a process called plate tectonics. Even though most plates move only a few inches a year, those few inches add up over millions of years. In time, continental drift tore Pangaea apart to form the continents and islands we know today. If you look closely at a map of the world, you can see how the edges of some continents, such as South America and Africa, could still fit together like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle.

The continents continue to move, about 1/3 inch to 6 inches (3/4 cm to 15 cm) a year. In another few million years, East Africa will probably break off from the rest of Africa, and Mexico's Baja California peninsula will detach from North America.

Earth's plates drift around so slowly that we usually don't know they're moving. But where plates grind into each other or pull apart, there are scenes of slow violence. Sometimes this violence bursts onto Earth's surface when earthquakes rattle our houses, volcanoes erupt, or mountains rise from flat land.

Does everyone agree that there are seven continents?

No. A continent is simply defined as one of the main landmasses on the planet. This definition is a problem when you look at Europe and Asia, because they're one big landmass. That's why some geographers say Europe and Asia are one continent, Eurasia, so that there are only six continents, not seven. (We'll discuss this more in Chapter 6.) But since continents are a way to help us organize and refer to the world's many different lands and peoples, it's usually more useful to say there are seven: Asia, Africa, North America, South America, Antarctica, Europe, and Australia.

Whose fault are earthquakes, anyway?

If you asked the ancient Japanese, they'd blame the thrashing namazu, a giant catfish believed to live underground. Sound a little fishy? Middle Eastern tribes were sure the shaking of Earth was a sign of God's displeasure. Today we know that earthquakes happen after Earth's plates build up pressure by pushing into or squeezing past each other. When the plates can't take the pressure anymore, they release the stress by slipping suddenly along faults, or cracks in Earth's surface. When the rocks along a fault move quickly, they send out ripples, or shock waves, through the ground. The ground moves up and down and side to side, turning what once seemed like a solid surface into a bowl of quivering Jell-O.

Do high tides bring high tidal waves?

A tidal wave is more properly called a tsunami, which is a Japanese word for "harbor wave." Tsunamis have nothing to do with tides, but a lot to do with earthquakes. Quakes under the ocean floor can create these enormous, fastmoving waves that can travel great distances and crash down on people and cities along the coast.

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