Basin and Range

John McPhee

Farrar, Straus and Giroux



Trade Paperback

240 Pages



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Basin and Range is a book of journeys through ancient terrains, always in juxtaposition with travels in the modern world—a history of vanished landscapes, enhanced by the histories of people who bring them to light. The title refers to the physiographic province of the United States that reaches from eastern Utah to eastern California, a silent world of austere beauty, of hundreds of discrete high mountain ranges that are green with junipers and often white with snow, a spectacular topography that is never evoked by people who dismiss it as "desert."

On and off Interstate 80, the author traversed the Basin and Range with Kenneth S. Deffeyes, a professor of geology who has done extensive field work in Nevada. The terrain becomes the setting and the sample for a lyrical evocation of the science of geology, with important digressions into the plate-tectonics revolution and the history of the geologic time scale.

Basin and Range is the first book in a series on geology and geologists, presenting a cross section of North America along the fortieth parallel, and gathering under the overall title Annals of the Former World. The second and third books in the series are In Suspect Terrain and Rising from the Plains.


Praise for Basin and Range

"In Basin and Range, McPhee is not so much a visiting amateur as a rhapsodist of 'deep time' . . . The result is a fascinating book."—Paul Zweig, The New York Times Book Review (front page)

"One result of the trip west is an introduction to plate tectonics—probably the most readable summary extant. Geologists will find it sound, others will find it understandable and illuminating."—Geotimes

"He triumphs by succint prose, by his uncanny ability to capture the essence of a complex issue, or an arcane trade secret, in a well-turned phrase."—Stephan Jay Gould, New York Review of Books

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Basin and Range

The poles of the earth have wandered. The equator has apparently moved. The continents, perched on their plates, are thought to have been carried so very far and to be going in so many directions that it seems...

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  • John McPhee

  • John McPhee is the author of more than 25 books, including Annals of the Former World, for which he received the Pulitzer Prize in Nonfiction in 1999. He has been a staff writer at The New Yorker since 1965 and lives in Princeton, New Jersey. McPhee's Encounters with the Archdruid and The Curve of Binding Energy were both nominated for National Book Awards in the category of science.

  • John McPhee Yolanda Whitman