The rocks of central Italy, read with as much care as if Dante had written them.
Engaging popularizer Alvarez (Geology/Univ. of California, Berkeley; T. Rex and the Crater of Doom, 1997) effortlessly takes readers back into the “unthinkable wilderness of time” to chart the evolution of the Umbrian landscape. How did the valleys and peaks of the Apennines come to look as they do? The author has done fieldwork in the towns of Gubbio and Assisi, as well as the Mountains of Saint Francis, for nearly 40 years; he traces his understanding of geological transformation in the light of progress in geological thought. He carefully discusses faunal succession and superposition, the tectonics of big plates and microplate activity, catastrophic change and uniformitarian change. He conveys a bright enthusiasm for his subject, and his painstaking research is always in evidence, as is his ever-curious mind. Alvarez’s roving gaze never misses a telling stratum of blue clay and yellow sand, but the Giotto frescoes in the Basilica of Saint Francis also catch his admiring eye. He takes time to wonder what it was like for Hannibal to bring elephants over a mountain range, and to appreciate a convivial meal at a backcountry trattoria. He willingly gives credit to his peers, providing useful vest-pocket portraits of the Italian geologists who have toiled long and hard in the field to achieve critical insights. Alvarez keeps technical jargon to a minimum, and when he does use it, it’s with an almost poetic verve, as when he writes of the Mountains of Saint Francis being formed by “a great Earth storm of thrust faults sweeping across the Italian peninsula.”
Alvarez brings sheer fun to the explanation of great geological phenomena.