The Practical Geologist

The Practical Geologist


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The Practical Geologist by Dougal Dixon

From exploring the basic principles of geology to starting a rock and mineral collection, The Practical Geologist is the perfect introduction to the world of earth science.
Beginning with a history of the earth's formation and development, this book explores the substances that compose the planet, movements within the earth, the surface effects of weather and water, and underground landscapes.
It shows you how to search for, identify, and extract samples of various rocks and minerals, and for each rock and mineral type there is a brief mineralogy and explanation of its locations. There are also sections on mapping, preparing, and curating specimens, and geological sites on the six continents.
Packed with more than 200 full-color illustrations, this comprehensive guide is the essential practical companion for natural science enthusiasts everywhere.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780671746971
Publisher: Touchstone
Publication date: 08/28/1992
Pages: 160
Sales rank: 318,126
Product dimensions: 9.75(w) x 7.50(h) x 0.60(d)

About the Author

Dougal Dixon was a geology student in college and now is a well-known writer specializing in the earth sciences. He took part in the 1985 and 1987 British Open University/Earthwatch expeditions to the Askja caldera in central Iceland. Previous books include After Man: A Zoology of the Future, The New Dinosaurs, Man After Man, and Time Exposure.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1


Geology — the science of the Earth. It is a study that incorporates all the other sciences and binds them together in one all-embracing subject.

Literature gives us some guides. In Saint Ronan's Well by Sir Walter Scott, written in 1823, Meg Dodds, the prickly landlady of Cleikum Inn, refers to those of her guests who:

"rin uphill and down dale, knapping the chucky stanes to pieces wi' hammers, like sae mony road-makers run daft, to see how the world was made."

In A Study in Scarlet (1887), Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, speaking through Dr. Watson, lists Sherlock Holmes' accomplishments and his limitations. In the list we read:

"Knowledge of Geology — Practical, but limited. Tells at a glance different soils from each other. After walks has shown me splashes upon his trousers, and told me by their colour and consistence in what part of London he had received them."

Here we have two aspects of the science of geology — the academic and the utilitarian. The former represents knowledge for its own sake, while the latter knowledge is turned to some creative purpose. Both aspects involve practical work — going out to find the knowledge in the first place.

Observational geology such as this has a long history. Greek scholars such as Pythagoras (c 580-500 BC) and Herodotus (c 485-425 BC) both noted the presence of fossil seashells high up in mountains and drew the conclusion that geographies were very different in times past. This early surge of interest in geology vanished during the Dark Ages and did not surface again in the West until the Renaissance in the 15th century. At this time technology and the arts began to blossom, and the necessity of supplying the raw materials for these new activities led to an interest in the formation of minerals. In 1556 the German mineralogist Georgius Agricola published De Re Metallica in which he describes the formation of metal ores in veins in a manner that was well ahead of his time.

The observations made over the next century or two led to some erroneous theories. The presence of crystals in some igneous rocks suggested to Abraham Gottlob Werner (1749-1817), Professor of Mining and Mineralogy at Freiberg, that all rocks had been deposited from solution as a vast primordial ocean had evaporated. This view — the Neptunian view — became geological orthodoxy.

The value of fieldwork

Throughout history the observations of the Earth's structure and composition have been misinterpreted, and it is only by diligent field work and increasingly precise experimentation that the more realistic theories have been developed.

One of the pioneers of utilitarian geology was English canal engineer William Smith (1769-1839). During the course of his work he realized that the different layers of rocks through which he excavated his ditches and tunnels could be identified by the kinds of fossils that they contained. Using this information, he was able to construct the first geological map and, with his book Strata Identified by Organized Fossils, initiated the science of stratigraphy.

Nowadays the classic study of geology has combined with such related subjects as meteorology, oceanography, astronomy, geophysics, and geochemistry, to become the all-embracing discipline of Earth Science. For the professionals, the practical work is done with highly sophisticated equipment. Drills penetrate the surface of the Earth and bore rock samples from deep within the crust. The structure of the underground rocks can be studied by setting off explosions and recording the patterns of reflected shock waves, analyzing the results by computer. Infra-red photography from aircraft and satellites can show chemical differences in vegetation that reveal the nature of the underlying rocks. Sonar waves bounced off the ocean floor can give resolute pictures of the landscape. Sensitive gauges can measure the electrical properties of soil and rocks, and determine if an exploitable water supply lies beneath. Instruments can detect tiny variations in the Earth's gravitational field which can suggest the presence of workable metal deposits. It is all a long way from hammers and mud stains.

With the great surge of 20th-century knowledge and the wealth of books on Earth Science — at both the academic and the popular level — it has become possible to learn all that is known about the nature and the workings of the Earth without moving from one's armchair. Yet practical geology for the amateur is far from dead. Studying the rocks as they outcrop and collecting new specimens will always add to the mounting knowledge of the Earth. And nothing can quite compare with the exhilaration of tramping up a deserted mountainside to observe the folds and faults in the exposed rock, or with the joy of splitting open a boulder to find a crystal of garnet or a trilobite fossil that has never before been exposed to the daylight.

Copyright © 1992 by Quarto Inc

Table of Contents




The Development of the Solar System

The Earth Solidifies

Inside the Earth

The Evidence for the Theories


Minerals — Rock Components

Mineral Shapes

Mineral Identification

Analyzing Minerals with Light

Common Minerals

The Rock Cycle and Igneous Rocks

The Rock Cycle and Sedimentary Rocks

The Rock Cycle and Metamorphic Rocks


Plate Tectonics

Field Equipment

Using Field Equipment

Preparing a Field Notebook

Rock Deformations

Small-Scale Structures

Igneous Structures


History in the Rocks

Sedimentary Sequences




The Weather Cycle and the Effect of Rivers

River Patterns

Underground Landscapes


Coastal Erosion

Coastal Accretion

Homo Destructus


Techniques for Igneous Rocks

Techniques for Sedimentary Rocks

Techniques for Metamorphic Rocks and Drift




Rhyolite and Andesite




Fine-Grained Sedimentary Rocks




Village Geology

Urban Geology


Mapping 1

Mapping 2

Mapping 3

Mapping 4

Mapping 5

Preparing and Curating Specimens

Preparing Reports






South America

North America





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The Practical Geologist 3.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
TinaTawdre More than 1 year ago
The cover says "introductory guide to the basics of geology and to collecting and identifying rocks". It's ALL about basics (mineral types, tectonics, mapping). Good info, as far as it goes. Only one chapter is actually about the collection and preparation of mineral samples. That's disappointing.
Lightningbug More than 1 year ago
This book has nice color photos and covers a lot of information in an introductory manner not getting very deeply into any subjuct. It is a good intro book for someone who wants to explore the field to see if they might be interested in getting into it. It might also serve as a good refresher for those who have already had some Geology courses.