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Stone buildings are symbols of urban denaturation, but in this engaging pop-geology excavation, Williams sees them as biological entities. That's literally true of the petrified-wood gasoline station in Colorado, the stately edifices made of Indiana limestone formed from the carbonate shells of ancient mollusks, and the fossil-strewn and dinosaur-tracked slabs of New York's ubiquitous brownstone facades. But Williams (The Seattle Street-Smart Naturalist) sets every kind of stone in an ecology, a habitat and a dramatic life cycle (Minnesota's celebrated Morton gneiss, he notes, owes its gorgeous black-and-pink swirlings to 3.5 billion years of fiery upheavals and catastrophic deluges). While telling these sagas, the author investigates the science of rock dating and techniques of quarrying, recounts the exploits of great geologists and the travails Michelangelo faced in transporting marble blocks from the quarry to his workshop, and ponders the often surprising structural and aesthetic character of different species of stone. (The coquina stone of St. Augustine's fortress is material for stopping cannonballs, even though it's as fragile as a Rice Krispies Treat.) Williams's lively mixture of hard science and piquant lore is sure to fire readers' curiosity about the built environment around us. 12 b&w photos. (July)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.