The Mountains of Saint Francis: Discovering the Geologic Events That Shaped Our Earth

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Overview

The major new work by the best-selling author of T. Rex and the Crater of Doom—a fascinating history.
Walter Alvarez and his team made one of the most astonishing scientific discoveries of the twentieth century—that an asteroid smashed into the Earth 65 million years ago, exterminating the dinosaurs. Alvarez had the first glimmer of that amazing insight when he noticed something odd in a rock outcrop in central Italy. Alvarez now returns to that rich terrain, this time to take ...

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The Mountains of Saint Francis: Discovering the Geologic Events That Shaped Our Earth

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Overview

The major new work by the best-selling author of T. Rex and the Crater of Doom—a fascinating history.
Walter Alvarez and his team made one of the most astonishing scientific discoveries of the twentieth century—that an asteroid smashed into the Earth 65 million years ago, exterminating the dinosaurs. Alvarez had the first glimmer of that amazing insight when he noticed something odd in a rock outcrop in central Italy. Alvarez now returns to that rich terrain, this time to take the reader on an distant past. We encounter the volcanoes that formed the Seven Hills of Rome; the majestic limestone Apennine mountains that started to develop millions of years ago under water; the evidence that the Mediterranean Sea completely evaporated to a sunken desert, perhaps several times; and the proof that continental plates once overran one another to form telling, all major geologic episodes are as dramatic as the great impact that killed the dinosaurs, even when they happen over eons and without huge creatures to witness them.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Geologist Alvarez at UC-Berkeley is best known for discovering evidence of the asteroid collision that wiped out the dinosaurs (as recounted in T. Rex and the Crater of Doom). But much of his career has been spent in the mountains of Assisi, which he calls "the secret archives of Earth history." For more than three decades, he has studied the rock formations of the central peaks of the Apennines, particularly the Scaglia limestone, where fossil evidence confirms a mass extinction 65 million years ago-and points to reversals in the planet's magnetic field. His descriptions of the local villages and countryside show flashes of tour-guide charm, and he allows himself a touch of dry humor at rare moments. For the most part, however, his tone is measured and scientific; even riding the surface of an active lava flow is recounted with an oddly dispassionate tone. But readers who appreciate Alvarez's subdued enthusiasm will find a careful unpacking of Italy's geological anomalies (with quick detours to Rome and the Alps) and an intriguing glimpse of Earth's distant past. 8 pages of color and 60 b&w illus. (Aug. 25)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal

Alvarez (Univ. of California, Berkeley) is a distinguished geologist best known for his groundbreaking work attributing the end-Cretaceous extinction to a comet or asteroid impact, recounted in his best-selling T. Rex and the Crater of Doom. The current volume is an outcome of the author's many years of fieldwork in Italy, particularly in the Apennines, where evidence for the impact was first detected. The subject here, however, is the exciting scientific detective work involved in understanding the formation of the Apennines and of Italy in general. This subject may seem very localized and specific for a book designed to appeal to a general readership, but Alvarez manages to illustrate beautifully general geologic principles and problem-solving methods using these specific examples. Furthermore, geologic studies in the Apennines have had worldwide implications. This book is also a celebration of the ideas of pioneering Italian geologists who remain little known but have had a profound impact on the science. Highly recommended for all science collections.
—Walter L. Cressler

Kirkus Reviews
The rocks of central Italy, read with as much care as if Dante had written them. Engaging popularizer Alvarez (Geology/Univ. of California, Berkeley; T. Rex and the Crater of Doom, 1997) effortlessly takes readers back into the "unthinkable wilderness of time" to chart the evolution of the Umbrian landscape. How did the valleys and peaks of the Apennines come to look as they do? The author has done fieldwork in the towns of Gubbio and Assisi, as well as the Mountains of Saint Francis, for nearly 40 years; he traces his understanding of geological transformation in the light of progress in geological thought. He carefully discusses faunal succession and superposition, the tectonics of big plates and microplate activity, catastrophic change and uniformitarian change. He conveys a bright enthusiasm for his subject, and his painstaking research is always in evidence, as is his ever-curious mind. Alvarez's roving gaze never misses a telling stratum of blue clay and yellow sand, but the Giotto frescoes in the Basilica of Saint Francis also catch his admiring eye. He takes time to wonder what it was like for Hannibal to bring elephants over a mountain range, and to appreciate a convivial meal at a backcountry trattoria. He willingly gives credit to his peers, providing useful vest-pocket portraits of the Italian geologists who have toiled long and hard in the field to achieve critical insights. Alvarez keeps technical jargon to a minimum, and when he does use it, it's with an almost poetic verve, as when he writes of the Mountains of Saint Francis being formed by "a great Earth storm of thrust faults sweeping across the Italian peninsula."Alvarez brings sheer fun to the explanation of greatgeological phenomena.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393061857
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 4/21/2008
  • Pages: 288
  • Product dimensions: 6.50 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Walter Alvarez is a professor of geology at the University of California, Berkeley, and the author of the best-selling T. Rex and the Crater of Doom. He is a Fellow of the National Academy of Sciences and a past recipient of the Penrose Medal, the highest award given by the Geological Society of America. He lives in Berkeley, California.

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Table of Contents


Pt. I Assisi
1 Assisi in the Winter 3 Pt. II Rome
2 An Invitation to Rome 17
3 Witness to the Volcanic Fires of Rome 32
4 The Quest for the Ancient Tiber River 46 Pt. III Siena and Gubbio
5 Siena and the Discovery of Earth History 69
6 Gubbio and the Chronology of the Past 90 Pt. IV The Apennines
7 From Winter Storm to Earth Storm 117
8 Rocks for Building a Mountain Range 128
9 Distant Thunder from the Alps 147
10 The Approach of Destiny 168
11 Paroxysm in the Apennines 184
12 Tearing The Apennines Apart 199
13 Salt Crisis 216
14 Beyond Plate Tectonics 229 Epilogue 240 Notes 245 Illustration Credits and Notes 277 Glossary 281 Acknowledgments 287 Additional Reading 289 Index 291
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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Posted January 16, 2010

    Fascinating

    This book is about the geology of central Italy. The Professor writes well - entertaining while he educates - explaining in the beginning the basics of geology and what started him on his study of the Apennines. I really liked the book although I did get annoyed at what seemed to me to be overuse of certain phrases and, more significantly, the really poor quality of the photographs. Overall though, well worth reading.

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