Desert island books

If all your worldly possessions were set alight in a fearsome blaze, which five books would you save? This thought came to me in the midst of churning some particularly puzzling data; naturally, I disturbed the whole office with my ponderings and ended up starting a heated discussion. Given full literary scope, I would obviously save my all time favourite Plop the Owl Who Was Afraid of the Dark, but keeping on-trend with the topic of this blog, here are my geology-themed choices:

Dick Thompson

A romp through the modern advances in volcanology told from the perspectives of the scientists involved the eruptions of Mt St Helens and Pinatubo. Science is pitched in turn against equal quantities of political crises, heart-rending decisions and personal angst. Written for the American audience, chapter titles include “They’ll Think You’re a Hero” and “The Musketeers”. Deliciously sensationalist.


William Alexander Deer, Robert Andrew Howie & Jack Zussman

The undergraduate bible and a must for any petrologist’s bookshelf. Colloquially known by its monkier “DHZ”, this weighty tome lists hundreds of minerals. Chemical composition, optical properties, paragenesis, structure, distinguishing features: you name it, it’s in here. An indispensable reference book; only bedtime reading for the über-keen.


RIchard Fortey

Now I’m no palaeontologist, but I do love a good trilobite. There’s something about their spindly legs and crystalline eyes that really does it for me. Richard Fortey clearly feels the same. His third book is a tour de force of science writing, blending a heady mix of culture, evolution and witty anecdotes into a dissection of the anatomy of Trilobita. A lesson in how to take an esoteric subject to mass-market without losing sight of the original passion.


Peter Toghill

A little obscure perhaps, but a nod to my homeland, and the book that I credit with sparking my interest in geology. Shropshire’s rocks span 700 million years and consist of some of the world’s most important geological sites. Descriptions of rock units and notable outcrops are seamlessly linked to clear explanations of global tectonic processes. Look out for the substantially updated second edition with new figures and text, the highlights of which are photomicrographs of local specimens.


Bernie Wood & Donald Fraser

Do the terms “chemical potential”, “ideal mixing”, and “fugacity” send shivers down your spine? Then you need to read this. Chapter by chapter, this book demystifies the fundamentals of thermodynamic theory and has the potential to turn you into the PhD student of your supervisor’s dreams. Who knows, one day I might understand further than the first two chapters…


Which books would you save?

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About Charly Stamper

I’m an ex-experimental petrologist.
I used to make pretend volcanoes; now I work in renewable energy

2 comments on “Desert island books

  1. It’s a tricky one but I think I will have to go for Trilobite. I always feel like I’m learning something important when I read Richard Fortey, he’s a great writer. Also, trilobites do look like weird woodlouse aliens so they have a cool factor about them.

    DHZ has never tickled my fancy but it would last longest on a desert island. Elementary thermodynamics sends shivers down my spine reminding me of first year exams and how everything in the book is far from ‘elementary’!

  2. Sorry for the late reply Charly Stamper – was too busy basking in the Greek sunshine last week, with some glasses/bottles of white wine :-p But here is my feedback: I absolutely agree on the ‘Rock Forming Minerals’ of DHZ, and a book on Thermodynamics is also a must-have to get through the long and boring days on a desolate island… Apart from that, I would add for more leisurely reading the ‘Violent Volcanoes’ book in the ‘Horrible Geography’ series (I actually bought this book in the UK when I was about 14 :-) ), besides ‘Radiogenic Isotope Geology’ by Alan P Dickin… And as suggested above: the Myron Best book on Igenous and Metamorphic Petrolgy – to get to grips and an overview again when I am getting lost in the details of the geochemistry books 😉

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