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.