6 May 2020

The Broken Land, by Frank L. DeCourten

Posted by Callan Bentley

You might think that the last two months would have been a good time for reading, given the social isolation and stay-at-home orders. But that hasn’t worked out to be the case for me. The stresses of the pandemic, new and different work responsibilities, new homeschooling responsibilities, ongoing textbook writing and an impending move for my family have all conspired to gobble up my time, and there’s been very little time left over for reading books. I managed perhaps 2 or 3 pages per day. I started Frank DeCourten’s The Broken Land before I went to Death Valley in early March. But I didn’t finish it until this morning. It was good. It’s a comprehensive summary of Great Basin (Basin & Range) geology: outcrops, locations, events, and interpretations, accompanied by anecdotes and DeCourten’s own hand-sketched illustrations. I found it an excellent compilation, and I’ll keep it on my shelf for the rest of my career, for the next time (hopefully) that I’m lucky enough to return to the Basin & Range. One distinctive aspect to the book is that each chapter opens with a personal story about some experience DeCourten has had on a geological field trip. These are an attempt to draw the reader in toward the experience of geological explorations in the area. I found them familiar enough and therefore engaging, but I’m increasingly conscious that they may not appeal to everyone – they are the experiences of a able-bodied white male professor, and I wonder how they would land with any other audience. Unfortunately, I’m the wrong person to make that call. My gut tells me that the book would have been stronger without them, though. Overall, the geological content is solid and comprehensive and useful. It’s a valuable resource for anyone seeking a better understanding of how the Basin & Range came to be.

And now: Onward to the next book! Hopefully I’ll have more reading on which to report before another two months elapse.