Earth magazine contributor Williams (The Seattle Street-Smart Naturalist, 2005, etc.) explores the nexus of culture and geology in the human use of stone as a building material.
Stone speaks volumes with great beauty, the author avers. Having studied geology in college, Williams spent some years in the rapturous geologic landscape of Utah before moving to Boston. He was starved for his geologic fix until he realized that he was surrounded by stone. With giddy infectiousness, he launches into the cultural geology of various rock types. “The basic geologic story of brownstone is simple and appealing,” he writes, and he offers a satisfying explanation of brownstone’s rise to prominence during the 19th century. A handful of rocks get similar treatment. Williams explains why granite was the right stone for the Bunker Hill Monument, for example, and why Carrara marble was right for Michelangelo but wrong for the Standard Oil Company headquarters in Chicago. He does a yeoman’s job linking Robinson Jeffers’ love of stone to his poetry—its strong, supple metaphorical associations, its lasting value. (Readers will wish he had done the same for Robert Frost.) Williams’ range of interest is wide, encompassing the evolution of geologic theory, commercial quarrying techniques, the suitability of Coquina stone for building forts, Minnesota Gneiss’s comfortable marriage to Art Deco and the importance of Indiana limestone as a “holder of American memory,” thanks to its ubiquitous use in monuments and landmarks. Each line of inquiry coaxes out some expressive scientific, emotional or philosophical nugget from a piece of travertine, slate or, in one Pop Art extravaganza, a gas station made of petrified wood.
Makes stone sing.