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Why an awareness of Earth's temporal rhythms is critical to our planetary survival Few of us have any conception of the enormous timescales in our planet's long history, and this narrow perspective underlies many of the environmental problems we are creating for ourselves. The passage of nine days, which is how long a drop of water typically stays in Earth's atmosphere, is Why an awareness of Earth's temporal rhythms is critical to our planetary survival Few of us have any conception of the enormous timescales in our planet's long history, and this narrow perspective underlies many of the environmental problems we are creating for ourselves. The passage of nine days, which is how long a drop of water typically stays in Earth's atmosphere, is something we can easily grasp. But spans of hundreds of years--the time a molecule of carbon dioxide resides in the atmosphere--approach the limits of our comprehension. Our everyday lives are shaped by processes that vastly predate us, and our habits will in turn have consequences that will outlast us by generations. Timefulness reveals how knowing the rhythms of Earth's deep past and conceiving of time as a geologist does can give us the perspective we need for a more sustainable future. Marcia Bjornerud shows how geologists chart the planet's past, explaining how we can determine the pace of solid Earth processes such as mountain building and erosion and comparing them with the more unstable rhythms of the oceans and atmosphere. These overlapping rates of change in the Earth system--some fast, some slow--demand a poly-temporal worldview, one that Bjornerud calls "timefulness." She explains why timefulness is vital in the Anthropocene, this human epoch of accelerating planetary change, and proposes sensible solutions for building a more time-literate society. This compelling book presents a new way of thinking about our place in time, enabling us to make decisions on multigenerational timescales. The lifespan of Earth may seem unfathomable compared to the brevity of human existence, but this view of time denies our deep roots in Earth's history--and the magnitude of our effects on the planet.


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Why an awareness of Earth's temporal rhythms is critical to our planetary survival Few of us have any conception of the enormous timescales in our planet's long history, and this narrow perspective underlies many of the environmental problems we are creating for ourselves. The passage of nine days, which is how long a drop of water typically stays in Earth's atmosphere, is Why an awareness of Earth's temporal rhythms is critical to our planetary survival Few of us have any conception of the enormous timescales in our planet's long history, and this narrow perspective underlies many of the environmental problems we are creating for ourselves. The passage of nine days, which is how long a drop of water typically stays in Earth's atmosphere, is something we can easily grasp. But spans of hundreds of years--the time a molecule of carbon dioxide resides in the atmosphere--approach the limits of our comprehension. Our everyday lives are shaped by processes that vastly predate us, and our habits will in turn have consequences that will outlast us by generations. Timefulness reveals how knowing the rhythms of Earth's deep past and conceiving of time as a geologist does can give us the perspective we need for a more sustainable future. Marcia Bjornerud shows how geologists chart the planet's past, explaining how we can determine the pace of solid Earth processes such as mountain building and erosion and comparing them with the more unstable rhythms of the oceans and atmosphere. These overlapping rates of change in the Earth system--some fast, some slow--demand a poly-temporal worldview, one that Bjornerud calls "timefulness." She explains why timefulness is vital in the Anthropocene, this human epoch of accelerating planetary change, and proposes sensible solutions for building a more time-literate society. This compelling book presents a new way of thinking about our place in time, enabling us to make decisions on multigenerational timescales. The lifespan of Earth may seem unfathomable compared to the brevity of human existence, but this view of time denies our deep roots in Earth's history--and the magnitude of our effects on the planet.

30 review for Timefulness: How Thinking Like a Geologist Can Help Save the World

  1. 4 out of 5

    Tony

    I shrewdly avoided the more difficult science courses as I made my way through high school and college. And as far as I can tell I'm not the poorer for it, managing to get to a ripe old age without having used or needed to use organic chemistry, physics, or even algebra (knowingly) for that matter. But now, late in life, I have found and devoured substantial books on Island Biogeography, Genetics, Cancer Research, and Behavioral Biology. Not to mention the hundred or so topics that John McPhee h I shrewdly avoided the more difficult science courses as I made my way through high school and college. And as far as I can tell I'm not the poorer for it, managing to get to a ripe old age without having used or needed to use organic chemistry, physics, or even algebra (knowingly) for that matter. But now, late in life, I have found and devoured substantial books on Island Biogeography, Genetics, Cancer Research, and Behavioral Biology. Not to mention the hundred or so topics that John McPhee has chatted amiably about with me. I think I've actually learned a lot, but that's beside the point. The reading has been exhilarating: challenging subjects made understandable and yet fun. So this one looked like more fun, a book about geology and how it can save the world. And a host of positive to gushing reviews with a 4+ Goodreads star rating. I don't think I could have been more disappointed. First, the author seemed to go out of her way to not make herself understood by idiots like me. I read this out loud to a smarter person: For the first 1.5 million years of the Pleistocene, the 41,000-year obliquity cycle is especially evident. Then, around 1.2 million years ago, the pulse slows to the calmer 100,000-year rhythm of the eccentricity cycle, like an electrocardiogram readout of a patient who is falling off to sleep. This is called the mid-Pleistocene transition, and its cause is not completely understood. The smarter person, who can actually read an electrocardiogram, was nonplussed. This is what I gleaned from the book. Geologists are the red-headed stepchildren in the faculty lounge. Chemists and Physicists are the rock stars. As a result, Geologists are underpaid. And also, this means that we are not prepared to handle the doom occasioned by Climate Change. Rocks tell the story, she says, although couching everything in Mights, Coulds and Maybes. But I'm not a Climate denier. In fact, I felt I was kind of the choir waiting for her singing voice. So, how to end Climate Change? There have to be scientific answers, don't there? Here's her bullet-point cure: -- Recognize poverty and class-based disparity. -- Pay public school teachers more. -- Make Geology a capstone course. I'm not kidding. (See page 174). Oh. And we need spaces. Spaces are defined as choirs, community gardens, cooking schools, oral history projects, bird-watching groups, sturgeon fishing clubs . . . The next time some asshole in a black pick-up truck with a Hemi tries to run you over in a 4-way stop, suggest he go bird-watching with you. That should lower the ocean levels. Oh. Oh. We need to create a Secretary of the Future in American Government. Why? Because Kurt Effing Vonnegut suggested it in his last novel. I guess this means we need a Department of the Future, because you can't have a Secretary of the Future without having a Department of the Future. And if there's one thing that will stop Climate Change in its tracks it's more government. But it's cute though. Just like Rachel Sussman's photographs of the oldest living things on Earth: Or the conceptual artist On Kawara who created thousands of paintings which consist only of the date painted in white on a uniformly colored background. Or John Cage's ongoing 639-year concert where every chord is sustained over a period of months. Aaaaaaarrrggghhhh.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Peter Tillman

    Final report: My conclusion: good book, wrong reader. I had recently read a fine history of geology, so her historical material, for me, was, well, surplus to requirements. By the end I was skimming, and I didn't get much from her book beyond the personal anecdotes. I'm tempted to leave this unrated, but I do these things in part so I can remember what I've read, or tried to read. So don't take my 3-star review too seriously. Worth a try if the book sounds interesting, and she writes well. Interim Final report: My conclusion: good book, wrong reader. I had recently read a fine history of geology, so her historical material, for me, was, well, surplus to requirements. By the end I was skimming, and I didn't get much from her book beyond the personal anecdotes. I'm tempted to leave this unrated, but I do these things in part so I can remember what I've read, or tried to read. So don't take my 3-star review too seriously. Worth a try if the book sounds interesting, and she writes well. Interim report: I started reading this & it's promising, better than her previous pop-geology book. In particular, I liked her reminiscing about her Ph.D work at Svalbard circa 1984, and her surprise at returning to the same area in 2007. Lots of melt-off in the interim. The High Arctic has seen a lot of change in the current warming episode. Unfortunately, I couldn't renew the book, so further reading will await my number coming up again. Library has only one copy, and I'm #8 to get it back. Stay tuned, ======= Earlier stuff ========== Now on hand, and queued up for an early 2019 read. Her first pop-sci book was pretty good, if memory serves. She is Professor of Geology and Environmental Studies at Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisc. Bjornerud’s research focuses on the physics of earthquakes and mountain-building, and she combines field-based studies of bedrock geology with quantitative models of rock mechanics. Bjornerud has done research in high arctic Norway (Svalbard) and Canada (Ellesmere Island), as well as mainland Norway, Scotland, New Zealand, and the Lake Superior region. WSJ review, by geologist Robert M. Thorson https://www.wsj.com/articles/timefuln... (paywalled) "Geologists own time in the same way that geographers own space. From this insight Ms. Bjornerud forges a gem of an analogy that became my favorite takeaway from her book, if only because it showcases the subtitle, “How Thinking Like a Geologist Can Help Save the World.” She notes that although we’ve been repeatedly schooled about the perils of geographic illiteracy, we’ve not been schooled about the perils of temporal illiteracy: ignorance of the durations, rates and intrinsic timescales of earthly phenomena. “Like inexperienced but overconfident drivers,” she writes, “we accelerate into landscapes and ecosystems with no sense of their long-established traffic patterns, and then react with surprise and indignation when we face the penalties for ignoring natural laws. . . . We are navigating recklessly toward our future using conceptions of time as primitive as a world map from the fourteenth century, when dragons lurked around the edges of a flat earth.”

  3. 4 out of 5

    Veronica

    "Convinced that Nature is something outside us, a mute and immutable thing external to us, we are unable to empathize or communicate with it. But the Earth is speaking to us the all the time. In every stone, it offers an eternal truth or good rule of thumb; in every leaf, a prototype power station; in every ecosystem an exemplar of a healthy economy." Loved, in part, because of echoing resonances with both Miyazaki and the distant calls of Pullman's far North, east of the sun and west of the moo "Convinced that Nature is something outside us, a mute and immutable thing external to us, we are unable to empathize or communicate with it. But the Earth is speaking to us the all the time. In every stone, it offers an eternal truth or good rule of thumb; in every leaf, a prototype power station; in every ecosystem an exemplar of a healthy economy." Loved, in part, because of echoing resonances with both Miyazaki and the distant calls of Pullman's far North, east of the sun and west of the moon (Østenfor sol og vestenfor måne), the seductive call of the void and a longing for the crystalline purity of ice. "Time, which had for so long left Svalbard in its Ice Age slumber, was returning with a vengeance."

  4. 4 out of 5

    aPriL does feral sometimes

    'Timefulness' by Marcia Bjornerud is an excellent general review of how the work of geologist specialists of all kinds and from the observations of proto-scientists in earlier centuries to now, geologists have been able to determine the age of the Earth and its history. The book describes the history of the original formation of the Earth and its various atmospheric gas changes (well, at least from the eras after the Earth's first birthday of a few billion years old) to current times. By examini 'Timefulness' by Marcia Bjornerud is an excellent general review of how the work of geologist specialists of all kinds and from the observations of proto-scientists in earlier centuries to now, geologists have been able to determine the age of the Earth and its history. The book describes the history of the original formation of the Earth and its various atmospheric gas changes (well, at least from the eras after the Earth's first birthday of a few billion years old) to current times. By examining rocks, studying their composition and deterioration, and what has been trapped inside them, they have figured out what happened to the Earth during its lifetime. The book fills in those blanks regarding laboratory and mathematical processes that many general-reader science articles and TV shows skip over. I copied the cover blurb below as it is accurate: "Few of us have any conception of the enormous timescales in our planet's long history, and this narrow perspective underlies many of the environmental problems we are creating for ourselves. The passage of nine days, which is how long a drop of water typically stays in Earth's atmosphere, is something we can easily grasp. But spans of hundreds of years--the time a molecule of carbon dioxide resides in the atmosphere--approach the limits of our comprehension. Our everyday lives are shaped by processes that vastly predate us, and our habits will in turn have consequences that will outlast us by generations. Timefulness reveals how knowing the rhythms of Earth's deep past and conceiving of time as a geologist does can give us the perspective we need for a more sustainable future. Marcia Bjornerud shows how geologists chart the planet's past, explaining how we can determine the pace of solid Earth processes such as mountain building and erosion and comparing them with the more unstable rhythms of the oceans and atmosphere. These overlapping rates of change in the Earth system--some fast, some slow--demand a poly-temporal worldview, one that Bjornerud calls "timefulness." She explains why timefulness is vital in the Anthropocene, this human epoch of accelerating planetary change, and proposes sensible solutions for building a more time-literate society. This compelling book presents a new way of thinking about our place in time, enabling us to make decisions on multigenerational timescales. The lifespan of Earth may seem unfathomable compared to the brevity of human existence, but this view of time denies our deep roots in Earth's history--and the magnitude of our effects on the planet." FYI: the end of the Earth will probably happen in about 1.5 billion years. The sun will kill it by expanding, so. We should start clearing up the pesky engineering problems preventing us from building those proposed generational ships. The chapters are: -A Call for Timefulness -An Atlas of Time -The Pace of the Earth -Changes in the Air -Great Accelerations -Timefulness, Utopian and Scientific -Epilogue The pictures in this Wikipedia article are very helpful: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geologi... There are wonderfully informative appendixes in the back: -Simplified Geologic Timescale -Durations and Rates of Earth Phenomena -Environmental Crises in Earth's History: Causes and Consequences Plus, an extensive Notes and Index sections. Religious people will file all of these facts under Fantasy fiction no matter what proofs are shown in this book and other science books. For most of the rest of us, it's confirmed and reproducible science from centuries of observations and hard exploratory work by thousands of scientists and students. For conservative but mostly sane Republicans, dictators, oligarchs and other capitalists, it's information filed under "who cares" unless the geologists have discovered a pocket of oil or a rare mineral. The author Marcia Bjornerud is a professor of geology and environmental studies at Lawrence University.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Betsy

    [26 May 2021] I really enjoyed this book, but then I've always been partial to the earth sciences. Plate tectonics, earthquakes, volcanoes. In some ways this book is an overview of the geologic history of the earth. Very general. It's also a paean to the study of geology. It's a pleasure to read something by a practicing scientist who really really likes what she does. But more than anything, it is a plea to humanity to be more aware of time, to stop living selfishly in the moment without conside [26 May 2021] I really enjoyed this book, but then I've always been partial to the earth sciences. Plate tectonics, earthquakes, volcanoes. In some ways this book is an overview of the geologic history of the earth. Very general. It's also a paean to the study of geology. It's a pleasure to read something by a practicing scientist who really really likes what she does. But more than anything, it is a plea to humanity to be more aware of time, to stop living selfishly in the moment without considering the long term consequences of our actions. In fact she wants us to expand our sense of time to the eons reflected in geologic time. For our own good and the good of the earth. "The great irony of the Anthropocene is that our outsized effects on the planet have in fact put Nature firmly back in charge, with a still-unpublished set of rules we will simply have to guess at." Although this book could be considered a polemic, it's not overly didactic. It is very short and very well written. I think I would really enjoy taking a course taught by the author. And I recommend this book to everyone.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Kirsten

    Be still my heart: a science/history book that reads like a novel. I would love this book even if it weren't my favorite genres: it is massively relevant even as it details the epochal geological record. The book is rich and deep with metaphors and written with clarity and a refreshing long-term viewpoint. Writes Bjornerud: "We are navigating recklessly toward our future using conceptions of time as primitive as a world map from the 14th century, when dragons lurked around the edges of a flat ear Be still my heart: a science/history book that reads like a novel. I would love this book even if it weren't my favorite genres: it is massively relevant even as it details the epochal geological record. The book is rich and deep with metaphors and written with clarity and a refreshing long-term viewpoint. Writes Bjornerud: "We are navigating recklessly toward our future using conceptions of time as primitive as a world map from the 14th century, when dragons lurked around the edges of a flat earth." The entire book is filled with analogies like this. Even better, she takes "Young Earthers" to task and unflinchingly lays out the scientific evidence while simultaneously highlighting the dangers of not testing theories for reasonableness (again, folks: please don't get your "facts" from the internet). How i wish i could enroll in one of Bjornerud's classes; here is a writer and a scholar that is world class and whose message we desperately need right now. i can't wait to read it again.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Logan Judy

    A very frustrating book that, despite well-told, fascinating geological information, expressed disdain of every sort for any who reach alternate conclusions. For an author that claims to aim at bringing "all factions to the table," she spends a disproportionate amount of time attacking religion, not only young Earth creationism but also scripture itself, calling Genesis "an insulting oversimplification." In the end, the presented information is little more than a veiled political treatise. Any w A very frustrating book that, despite well-told, fascinating geological information, expressed disdain of every sort for any who reach alternate conclusions. For an author that claims to aim at bringing "all factions to the table," she spends a disproportionate amount of time attacking religion, not only young Earth creationism but also scripture itself, calling Genesis "an insulting oversimplification." In the end, the presented information is little more than a veiled political treatise. Any who don't share her policy preference are treated as religious nuts with unshakeable faith in the free market, while her own dedication to a simplistic carbon tax solution is assumed rather than argued for. The book is mostly a rallying cry for her own supporters, with little but antagonism to offer those who, though disagreeing, would listen to her political conclusions.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Sam Dotson

    TL;DR A good, brief, survey of the history and techniques of geology. I would not recommend this book. Timefulness was fine. The book opens with the author reliving a childhood memory of a snow day, relating the feeling of missing school to a sense of being outside of time. I actually quite liked this portion. Such poetic writing is unique in the world of popular science. However, this style was not sustained and instead gave way to a defensive and insecure tone regarding geology's place among the TL;DR A good, brief, survey of the history and techniques of geology. I would not recommend this book. Timefulness was fine. The book opens with the author reliving a childhood memory of a snow day, relating the feeling of missing school to a sense of being outside of time. I actually quite liked this portion. Such poetic writing is unique in the world of popular science. However, this style was not sustained and instead gave way to a defensive and insecure tone regarding geology's place among the other sciences. As a physicist that enjoys geology, the attack felt unwarranted. I liked the historical development of geology as a field, although the author could have gone into more detail about some of the key characters. For example, Marie Tharp and her contributions to our modern understanding of plate tectonics were exceptionally brief. The portion on carbon dating was clear, although there was at least one technical detail that the author got wrong. I needed to scratch the itch so the explanation is in a spoiler below. Finally, if the thesis of the book is that "thinking like a geologist can help save the world" the support for it is thin. The author's discussion about "seven generations" and looking to our past for evidence of holistic living reminded me of a quote from Scott Campbell's Green Cities, Growing Cities, Just Cities : Searching for our future in our indigenous past is instructive at both the philosophical and the practical level (Turner 1983; Duerr 1985). Yet it is also problematical, tapping into a myth that our salvation lies in the preindustrial sustainable culture. The international division of labor and trade, the movement of most people away from agriculture into cities, and exponential population growth lead us irrevocably down a unidirectional, not a circular path: the transformation of preindustrial, indigenous settlements into mass urban society is irreversible. Our modern path to sustainability lies forward, not behind us. Do I think it would be helpful for society to take a longer view when making decisions? Yes. We tend to be devastatingly myopic. But the answers to these problems are not in the past, as Bjornerud suggests. As a brief survey of the history and techniques in geology, the book does an okay job. The call to action was uninspiring. I hesitate to recommend it. (view spoiler)[ On page 42, Bjornerud explains that the Manhattan Project required separating "fissionable" U-235 from "nonfissionable" U-238. They are both fissionable! What the author meant to say was that U-238 is "non-fissile." This may seem pedantic, but the distinction in nuclear physics is important. U-238 can sustain a chain reaction when neutron energies are high (i.e. "fast"), thus it is fissionable. U-235 is fissile (and fissionable) because it is more unstable than U-238 and can sustain a chain reaction at any neutron energy. The separation of these two isotopes is important for commercial nuclear power reactors because those reactors operate with thermal (low-energy) neutrons. However, the enrichment (ratio of U-235/U-238) is only about 3%. Nuclear weapons have an enrichment greater than 90%. (hide spoiler)]

  9. 5 out of 5

    gwayle

    Bjornerud sets out to widen our temporal perspective by educating us about the cycles and processes of the Earth. What follows is an elegant rendering of deep time, very satisfying and eye-opening for any curious mind. I despair that our species will never be able to comprehend—much less base policy on—anything beyond the last and next decade (and that's generous), but the idea of a time-literate and -sensitive society is so achingly lovely. Bjornerud sets out to widen our temporal perspective by educating us about the cycles and processes of the Earth. What follows is an elegant rendering of deep time, very satisfying and eye-opening for any curious mind. I despair that our species will never be able to comprehend—much less base policy on—anything beyond the last and next decade (and that's generous), but the idea of a time-literate and -sensitive society is so achingly lovely.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Leif

    Here's how this book went, in my mind: a geologist applied their particularly specialized reasoning to the many forms of climate change, biodiversity loss, and other environmental ills that put the world in the titular state - how a geologist might save the world! Well, that ain't this book. Instead, perhaps predictably, Timefulness is a lively but ultimately familiar story of the rise of geology as a discipline. Bjornerud gives the players and events plenty of attention and tells the story with Here's how this book went, in my mind: a geologist applied their particularly specialized reasoning to the many forms of climate change, biodiversity loss, and other environmental ills that put the world in the titular state - how a geologist might save the world! Well, that ain't this book. Instead, perhaps predictably, Timefulness is a lively but ultimately familiar story of the rise of geology as a discipline. Bjornerud gives the players and events plenty of attention and tells the story with verve, but it's not until the book kicks into gear around the 5th or 6th chapter that I began to get engaged, and where the promise of the book started to become clear. And then, too soon, it ends without really doing much justice to the central premise of geology's contribution to environmental action today. Like many excellent scientists, Bjornerud appears to fall into the camp that attributes many environmental woes to a deficit of scientific understanding, with the implicit logic that understanding the story of geology will, therefore, lead to beneficial outcomes. I am not convinced. The difference between a geology textbook and philosophically-enriched policy advice is pretty clear, and I'm afraid that Timefulness veers too close to the former for my happiness. That said: if it's geological history you want, and if you'd like that history extended to a few policy speculations for today, this is the book for you!

  11. 4 out of 5

    Dana Sweeney

    When I started this book, I was hoping for & expecting something in the vein of a political, philosophical treatise: a book-length argument about our society’s time illiteracy, or temporal dysmorphia, and how that foundational, collective misunderstanding harms us and can be changed. This book was not quite that, but it was still very good. The bulk of this book was, to me, akin to a sprint through an excellent Intro to Geology class in college. Part science history, part science itself, the boo When I started this book, I was hoping for & expecting something in the vein of a political, philosophical treatise: a book-length argument about our society’s time illiteracy, or temporal dysmorphia, and how that foundational, collective misunderstanding harms us and can be changed. This book was not quite that, but it was still very good. The bulk of this book was, to me, akin to a sprint through an excellent Intro to Geology class in college. Part science history, part science itself, the book traces in exciting narrative form how the field of geology came to be and what its practitioners came to learn about our planet. The book is great for that content; it’s not really what I had hoped for, and it was largely (but not wholly!) redundant of things I had read and learned elsewhere. I probably should have done more homework ahead of time to determine that this book wasn’t really a match for what I want (which is models of thinking / living / understanding myself in more temporally expansive ways), but if you don’t know much about geology, highly recommended for that purpose. It’s a great primer. The final chunk (maybe 20%) of the book was exactly what I was hoping for. I’m a bit disappointed that it wasn’t the central premise, but the quality of what I got was superb. Situating the climate crisis within everything covered about geologic history, Bjornerud argues that geology “points to a middle way between the sins of narcissistic pride in our importance and existential despair at our insignificance.” She offers the science of geology as a challenge to the pervasive philosophy of presentism, and offers us concrete ways to relate to other people and to nature in “polytemporal” ways. Without quite going all the way there, Bjornerud touches on the fact that capitalism has nothing to say or offer to us in the face of planetary destruction. She outlines how any pathways forward require not only new modes of economic and social life, but also new ways of storytelling: new ways of building community that make legible our connection to others who do not live at the same time as we do. Four stars because the 20% of what I was actually looking for was phenomenally resonant, and will linger with me. (This book, toward the end, had me crying about rocks. It doesn’t take a lot for a book to make me cry but that’s still impressive.) Only docking a star because the rest of the content (while really good!) was not what I was looking for.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Tim Weed

    A bracing journey through geologic time. The author begins by making the point that most humans alive today are time-illiterate. Our sense of the dimensions of the timescale of our own continually evolving planet is as flawed as the typical human's sense of geography was in the dark ages. This clearly written and efficiently narrated book has helped me address that specific shortcoming in my own worldview. I'm finding the new vantage point exhilarating, especially at this time of planetary envir A bracing journey through geologic time. The author begins by making the point that most humans alive today are time-illiterate. Our sense of the dimensions of the timescale of our own continually evolving planet is as flawed as the typical human's sense of geography was in the dark ages. This clearly written and efficiently narrated book has helped me address that specific shortcoming in my own worldview. I'm finding the new vantage point exhilarating, especially at this time of planetary environmental crisis. Highly recommended!

  13. 5 out of 5

    Nina

    4.5 stars. After spending much of this year reading up on various aspects of geology (mineralogy, volcanism, plate tectonics, etc. etc.), I figured it was time to take a step back and look at the larger picture. I enjoyed this book (though I lost the thread a few times) and found it to be well-written. The author's tie-in between the vast time scales of geology and our future on Earth was at a different angle from the usual climate change arguments. I'm curious to see what geologists think of th 4.5 stars. After spending much of this year reading up on various aspects of geology (mineralogy, volcanism, plate tectonics, etc. etc.), I figured it was time to take a step back and look at the larger picture. I enjoyed this book (though I lost the thread a few times) and found it to be well-written. The author's tie-in between the vast time scales of geology and our future on Earth was at a different angle from the usual climate change arguments. I'm curious to see what geologists think of this book!

  14. 4 out of 5

    Theodore Kinni

    Chances are good we've already destroyed ourselves by screwing with planet, but in case we haven't, the sun will snuff us out in a billion or so years. Best geology book I've read since McPhee's Annals of the Former World. Chances are good we've already destroyed ourselves by screwing with planet, but in case we haven't, the sun will snuff us out in a billion or so years. Best geology book I've read since McPhee's Annals of the Former World.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Dave

    Excellent review of deep time and basic geology.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Anne

    On January 29, 2018, I set myself a goal to read 50 books during the next 12 months. This last month I still had 18 books to read--and so several of them were picture books (but they certainly count!). I picked this one up partly because it was a short book for adults, and because I thought it might provoke some thoughtfulness on my part. It proved perfect. I learned a lot about geology, climate, time, change, equilibrium, rocks, chemistry, glaciers, fossils, and so much more. Well, actually, I On January 29, 2018, I set myself a goal to read 50 books during the next 12 months. This last month I still had 18 books to read--and so several of them were picture books (but they certainly count!). I picked this one up partly because it was a short book for adults, and because I thought it might provoke some thoughtfulness on my part. It proved perfect. I learned a lot about geology, climate, time, change, equilibrium, rocks, chemistry, glaciers, fossils, and so much more. Well, actually, I probably "learned" just a fraction of all the fascinating science that is packed into this relatively short book of six chapters plus prologue and epilogue. My mind is not especially scientific—i.e. read: analytic—and my grasp of chemistry, physics, and the like is approximately nil. But still, I enjoyed this broad look into deep time, including the philosophical ramifications of It All. This is popular science at its best. Bjornerud does a good job of contextualizing geology by bringing it home to place. And her facility with similes and analogies is spot-on. For example, in discussing the use of lead isotopes to arrive at the age of the Earth (4.5 billion years), she likens two radiogenic lead isotopes (derived from radioactive decay of uranium) to the cumulative earnings from two savings accounts, one with a high interest rate that allows rapid withdrawals to be made, the other with a lower interest rate that is drawn down more slowly; while a third, nonradiogenic isotope (that is, it starts out as lead) is like money hidden under a mattress. The earth itself she likens to a peach: the pit is the core, the flesh is the mantle, the skin is the crust, and the fuzz is the atmosphere. Works for me! The chapters that I found most compelling were 2, "An Atlas of Time," where she covers the discoveries and thinking of foundational scientists such as Hutton, Lyell, and Darwin in the 18th and 19th centuries, up to big theories as mind-blowingly recent as the 1960s (plate tectonics and understanding of midoceanic ridges) and 1980s (the precise dating of the end of the Cretaceous period via the Mayan Peninsula's Chicxulub Crater)—even as we continue (eternally, no doubt) to revise our set of knowledge about this planet; and 6, "Timefulness: Utopian and Scientific," where she argues that humankind seriously needs a much more profound grasp of and appreciation for time both past and future, not just present, which is what economic models of value would ask us to focus on. As she puts it, "Stranded in the island of now, we are lonely." Not just lonely, but potentially headed down a treacherous path. In chapter 6, Bjornerud references the works of various artists as a means of better appreciating time. One is a project by photographer Rachel Sussman, who traveled around the world taking formal portraits of living organisms older than 2,000 years: The Oldest Living Things in the World. "These Old Ones," Bjornerud writes," open our eyes to alternative relationships with time. They help us, vicariously, to see beyond the horizon of our own mortal limits." Yes, my mind grasps art and philosophy better than science. But in fact, both are crucial to our fate on this planet, and to the fate of this planet. We need imagination and close observation; creative approaches that transcend fiscal cycles; appreciation of the vast complexity of this endlessly evolving miracle that we call home. "For me," Bjornerud writes, "geology points to a middle way between the sins of narcissistic pride in our importance and existential despair at our insignificance. It affirms a teaching attributed to the eighteenth-century Polish Rabbi Simcha Bunim that we should all carry two slips of paper in our pockets: one that says 'I am ashes and dust,' and one that reads 'The world was made for me.' . . . If widely adopted, an attitude of timefulness could transform our relationships with nature, our fellow humans, and ourselves. Recognizing that our personal and cultural stories have always been embedded in larger, longer—and still elapsing—Earth stories might save us from environmental hubris. We might learn to place less value on novelty and disruption, and develop respect for durability and resilience. . . . Understanding how things have come to be the way they are, what has perished and what has persisted, makes it easier to recognize the differences between the ephemeral and the eternal. Growing old requires one to shed the illusion that there is only one version of the world."

  17. 5 out of 5

    Sunhawk

    This short, profound, mind-altering work is brilliant. Had it been read by 10% of the world's decision makers and serious influencers in 1990, we would probably not be in the Racing to Extinction Orgy we now find ourselves in ...Oh, but wait: it wasn't published until 2018. Oh, well. There's another verdant and generous planet just next door, right? Scientific without being dry, the book manages to feel like a geology class in a 1960s college where the professor and students are all in "it" toge This short, profound, mind-altering work is brilliant. Had it been read by 10% of the world's decision makers and serious influencers in 1990, we would probably not be in the Racing to Extinction Orgy we now find ourselves in ...Oh, but wait: it wasn't published until 2018. Oh, well. There's another verdant and generous planet just next door, right? Scientific without being dry, the book manages to feel like a geology class in a 1960s college where the professor and students are all in "it" together, and the prospects are infinitely possible going forward. Using lots and lots of surprising similes -- the spreading of the Atlantic at the mid-Atlantic ridge is about the same as fingernail growth, while at the mid-Pacific ridge, it's ten times faster, more like the speed of hair growth [p68-69] -- the book makes geologic processes relatable. Our commonest model for geologic time -- the 24-hour clock wherein the whole of human history takes place in the last fraction of a second -- is "wrongheaded and even irresponsible" because it suggests "insignificance and disempowerment" allowing us to ignore our effects on the planet, while completely ignoring the pressing question: What happens after midnight? [p16] The author, Marcia Bjornerud, speaks in a gentle but insistent voice, telling us that our relationship with Time is messed up, but that listening to the rocks can help straighten us out. Here's a long quote that sums up her thinking: "As members of a technological society that can keep Nature at arm's length most of the time, we have an almost autistic relationship with the Earth. We are rigid in our ways, savants when it comes to certain narrow obsessions, but dysfunctional in other regards, because we wrongly view ourselves as separate from the rest of the natural world. Convinced that Nature is something outside us, a mute and immutable thing external to us, we are unable to empathize or communicate with it. "But the Earth is speaking to us all the time. In every stone, it offers an eternal truth or good rule of thumb; in every leaf, a prototype power station; in every ecosystem, an exemplar of a healthy economy. In Aldo Leopold's words, we need to 'start thinking like a mountain,' awake to all the habits and inhabitants of this ancient, complicated, endlessly evolving planet." [p179] I could write on and on; the comprehensive and humanistic roots of this book are so deep and delightful -- one word: Ygdrassil -- that it would be a great read even if it wasn't about the end of macrofauna as we know it. Thank you for this wonderful book, Marcia. PS: the appendices are brilliant; the list of extinctions, or what Marcia calls "Environmental Crises in Earth's History: Causes and Consequences" is by itself illuminating and worth the price of the book. On the other hand, the index is useless: six pages of tiny type, but when I tried to look up six bits I wanted to refer to, I struck out five times. (Ygdrassil was in.) Indexers: mightn't it be useful to read and understand the book before indexing it?

  18. 4 out of 5

    Janine

    Not all books deserve or can be summed up by a trite five star rating. In fact, in my opinion, MOST books and Goodread reviews would benefit from eschewing this very limited system of “review”. If you’d like an extra challenge, try writing a review that removes any reference to yourself as an individual. No “I” statements? What does this have to do with Marcia Bjornerud’s “Timefulness”? A lot in fact. Bjornerud is a geologist and this book is a glimpse into “deep time”, a practice that de-centers Not all books deserve or can be summed up by a trite five star rating. In fact, in my opinion, MOST books and Goodread reviews would benefit from eschewing this very limited system of “review”. If you’d like an extra challenge, try writing a review that removes any reference to yourself as an individual. No “I” statements? What does this have to do with Marcia Bjornerud’s “Timefulness”? A lot in fact. Bjornerud is a geologist and this book is a glimpse into “deep time”, a practice that de-centers the human when thinking about the history (and future) of Earth. A relatively easy thing to do since humans are a tiny dot on this planet’s timeline. Bjornerud’s central premise is that by adopting deep time, and decentering our petty, limited and awfully short life spans as humans, we could save the world from the truly horrific track it’s on, barreling towards a carbon rate of 500ppm by 2100 (a rate that leaves the possibility for this to be a truly unprecedented geological age in Earth’s history). The quandary here is of course that the term “Anthropocene” by definition centers the human in our current geological epoch. Bjornerud, like most geologists, expresses a certain ambivalence towards the term. She uses a phrase in the last chapter that would be great on a T-shirt. “Repeal the Anthropocene”. She does talk about capitalism and it’s link to the Anthropocene, as well as modernism and many of the overlapping products of “rational” processes that have created this mess. She also talks about some indigenous cultures which have a far better grasp on deep time. Finally, she also talks about art. Telling stories is also connected to repealing the Anthropocene. Not only in the way stories are told and which stories are told but also how we experience the stories themselves. What happens if you de-center yourself while experiencing a piece of art? Can you move away from simple like/dislike? What does it mean to have “ratings” for artistic endeavors? As Bjornerud eloquently puts it, “...geology points to a middle way between the sins of narcissistic pride in our importance and existential despair at our insignificance. It affirms a teaching attributed to the eighteenth-century Polish Rabbi Simcha Bunim that we should all carry two slips of paper in our pockets: one that says ‘I am ashes and dust,’ and one that reads ‘The world was made for me’.”

  19. 4 out of 5

    Helen

    Based on the title, I was expecting a slightly more anthropological take, but the majority of this felt like a fast-tracked intro to geology course. Only the last 2 chapters really get into the ways in which we interact with the world and the steps we might take to change on our course of eventual destruction. Unfortunately though, Bjornerud is not nearly as strong as a policy analyst as she is a geology professor. The suggestions were nice enough, but sort of lackluster and not bearing much in t Based on the title, I was expecting a slightly more anthropological take, but the majority of this felt like a fast-tracked intro to geology course. Only the last 2 chapters really get into the ways in which we interact with the world and the steps we might take to change on our course of eventual destruction. Unfortunately though, Bjornerud is not nearly as strong as a policy analyst as she is a geology professor. The suggestions were nice enough, but sort of lackluster and not bearing much in the way of supporting research. She also takes a pretty negative perspective on the net effect of human existence on Earth, simplifying humanity to CEOs and economists solely focused on profit-maximization (I get it, believe me, but RUDE. #notalleconomists?) and everyday people obsessed with our phones. I think if this had been marketed as more of a primer on the history of geology, then the final suggestions wouldn’t have been as disappointing. Not a bad book, just a case of mismatched expectations.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Bonnie

    I think EVERY person in/from Wisconsin with an interest in geology would give this one 5 stars. Her many references to Wisconsin geological features and her own responses to them help personalize her passion for this science but so do other anecdotes (see especially p. 128). The book is 'about' what it feels like to be a contemporary geologist who wants to teach/inspire others to glimpse that perspective. Along the way, a lot of geologic history is outlined, and of course changes she's seen over I think EVERY person in/from Wisconsin with an interest in geology would give this one 5 stars. Her many references to Wisconsin geological features and her own responses to them help personalize her passion for this science but so do other anecdotes (see especially p. 128). The book is 'about' what it feels like to be a contemporary geologist who wants to teach/inspire others to glimpse that perspective. Along the way, a lot of geologic history is outlined, and of course changes she's seen over a lifetime of observing earth, air, water, and human activity is a constant subject. I'm grateful that my library system has reinstalled interlibrary loan service, enabling me to borrow this book. Now I know how well the copy I bought will fit on my bookshelves if it ever comes back from all the people I want to hand it to.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Angus Mcfarlane

    This is an ironically fast paced overview of the earths history, told from the perspective of how events have taken place over time. Tick tick time and it's measurement from the present backwards, which process the temporal slate onto which history was written and, importantly for the author, the space for darwin's theory to take place. (If you are committed enough to getting together with others to read Origin of the species from start to finish, aloud, determination to prove him right is not s This is an ironically fast paced overview of the earths history, told from the perspective of how events have taken place over time. Tick tick time and it's measurement from the present backwards, which process the temporal slate onto which history was written and, importantly for the author, the space for darwin's theory to take place. (If you are committed enough to getting together with others to read Origin of the species from start to finish, aloud, determination to prove him right is not surprising! But a little more than is necessary to accept he was onto something). Then there is epochal time, the events which have taken place to become the words, sentences and chapters of the story itself. In some instances, these were dramatic, at others banal, but it is these events which enable geological time itself to be measured (although we would also know we live in an old universe from other means). More importantly, it is the epochal time which makes the rest of it significant. The various geological eras are often demarcated by extinction events, for example, thereby providing focal points for life's development at various stages. While ironic relative to geological time, the author has an urgent message and points out, rightly, that event time in particular was not the result of nearly imperceptible, gradual change. Many events took place in relatively short time periods, with fossils themselves, as Darwin noted, evidence of rapid burial periods when decay had little opportunity to destroy the remains. Since humans have produced such massive changes in so short a period, the last 200 years in particular, the urgency is justified. Even without recourse to carbon induced warming, the changes to landscapes through farming, mining and urbanization are dramatic, although whether they will prove as destructive as historical events - asteroids and ice ages for example - is yet to be determined. Maybe it was hidden under other points, but her catastrophist view didn't wrestle with its full implications beyond modern climate change. While answering Darwin's fossil record conundrum, it also raises Gould's contingency observation and punctuated equilibrium hypothesis. Would mammals have risen if the gap created by the era ending asteroid hadn't happened? Was the Precambrian explosion initiated by a climatic event with the survival of our line the lucky survival of a weaker species? Eukaryotes? It's not as if these things have simple answers and it's all the more fascinating that we don't, but that's why the discussion makes it fun.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Lisa Konet

    This was an interesting take on geology/world issues/climate change/the planet all mixed together. I found this a more refreshing way to read about what humanity has done to the planet and history of the planet than some other books I’ve read whose names escape my mind right now. Plus I like how this book wasn’t thick/large given the content; made it easier to read in a timely fashion. A few new ideas were discussed within the pages and always fascinating to talk geology in a candid way, so that This was an interesting take on geology/world issues/climate change/the planet all mixed together. I found this a more refreshing way to read about what humanity has done to the planet and history of the planet than some other books I’ve read whose names escape my mind right now. Plus I like how this book wasn’t thick/large given the content; made it easier to read in a timely fashion. A few new ideas were discussed within the pages and always fascinating to talk geology in a candid way, so that will help other readers. If you like books about the history of the earth, you’ll like this.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Riya Mahesh

    This book was incredible. It was the perfect mix of science and commentary. It also gave us concrete things that we can do to fix the climate change issue. I think everyone should read this book, especially people who are in a position of power. It was very fitting that I read this book while the world was literally on fire....now is the time to do something...Anyways, this is a must-read.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Mikhail

    Nice introduction to some geological concepts and methods; yet it is deeply tarnished by the author's condescending attitude and shockingly laughable proposals on social and environmental issues. And yes, the latter occupy as much space in the book as the former. Nice introduction to some geological concepts and methods; yet it is deeply tarnished by the author's condescending attitude and shockingly laughable proposals on social and environmental issues. And yes, the latter occupy as much space in the book as the former.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Kayla

    Wonderful. This book makes me want to go dig up old rocks and marvel at their time on Earth. Marcia Bjornerud explains the history of the Earth and how we are shaping the future (of Earth and of us) with a compelling perspective of time. I agree with her philosophy, and I admire her drive to promote the knowledge of geology in schools - it is disappointing that it is not as dominant as other sciences. Geology is the history of time - what's cooler than that?! It really is the answer to saving th Wonderful. This book makes me want to go dig up old rocks and marvel at their time on Earth. Marcia Bjornerud explains the history of the Earth and how we are shaping the future (of Earth and of us) with a compelling perspective of time. I agree with her philosophy, and I admire her drive to promote the knowledge of geology in schools - it is disappointing that it is not as dominant as other sciences. Geology is the history of time - what's cooler than that?! It really is the answer to saving the world (or rather prolonging its habitable time). For those of you interested in learning about the Earth we live on, you must read this book. "We have the power to write a different saga for the coming millennium. Rather than lapse into existential despair that we won't be here in a billion years, let us reclaim at least the next few centuries." - Marcia Bjornuerud

  26. 5 out of 5

    Emily

    I'm in love with this book! I'm in love with this book!

  27. 4 out of 5

    Sienna

    A marvelous perspective. We definitely need a Department of the Future! I enjoyed listening to this book while following in print.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Anna

    4.5 stars

  29. 5 out of 5

    Tanya

    I feel like the subtitle of this book should be "How thinking like a geologist can make you feel helpless in the faces of forces large and completely uncontrollable." Also, maybe it should come with a warning, You can only read this book if you fairly recently took a chemistry class and did well. Still, I'm not sorry I read it. It challenged me to think of time in terms so much greater than I usually do. I'm glad I read it for book club and look forward to talking with other people about it. I feel like the subtitle of this book should be "How thinking like a geologist can make you feel helpless in the faces of forces large and completely uncontrollable." Also, maybe it should come with a warning, You can only read this book if you fairly recently took a chemistry class and did well. Still, I'm not sorry I read it. It challenged me to think of time in terms so much greater than I usually do. I'm glad I read it for book club and look forward to talking with other people about it.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Michelle Nijhuis

    Brilliant and so lovely.

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