In Suspect Terrain

John McPhee

Farrar, Straus and Giroux



Trade Paperback

224 Pages



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From the outwash plains of Brooklyn to Indiana’s drifted diamonds and gold, In Suspect Terrain is a narrative of the earth, told in four sections of equal length, each in a different way reflecting the three others—a biography; a set piece about a fragment of Appalachian landscape in illuminating counterpoint to the human history there; a modern collision of ideas about the origins of the mountain range; and, in contrast, a century-old collision of ideas about the existence of the Ice Age. The central figure is Anita Harris, an internationally celebrated geologist who went into her profession to get out of a Brooklyn ghetto. The unifying theme is plate tectonics—here concentrating on the acceptance that all aspects of the theory do not universally enjoy. As such, In Suspect Terrain is a report from the rough spots at the front edge of a science.


Praise for In Suspect Terrain

“This is a book you cannot put down . . . It provides a great deal of information about the way many geologists think about science . . . and about the necessity for continual questioning and revising of new and old ideas. This is the best way science can remain healthy and continue to grow.”—Robert D. Hatcher, Jr., Natural History

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Read an Excerpt

In Suspect Terrain
The paragraph that follows is an encapsulated history of the eastern United States, according to plate-tectonic theory and glacial geology.About a thousand million years ago, a continent of unknown dimensions was rifted apart, creating an ancestral ocean more or less where the Atlantic is now. The older ocean has been called Iapetus, because Iapetus was the father of Atlas, for whom the Atlantic is named. Some geologists, who may feel that their science is dangerously clever, are snappish about Iapetus. They prefer to say proto-Atlantic. The ancestral ocean existed a great
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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 Peter Cook