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How the Mountains Grew

A New Geological History of North America

Published by Pegasus Books
Distributed by Simon & Schuster

The incredible story of the creation of a continent—our continent— from the acclaimed author of The Last Volcano and Mask of the Sun.

The immense scale of geologic time is difficult to comprehend. Our lives—and the entirety of human history—are mere nanoseconds on this timescale.  Yet we hugely influenced by the land we live on.  From shales and fossil fuels, from lake beds to soil composition, from elevation to fault lines, what could be more relevant that the history of the ground beneath our feet?

For most of modern history, geologists could say little more about why mountains grew than the obvious: there were forces acting inside the Earth that caused mountains to rise.  But what were those forces?  And why did they act in some places of the planet and not at others? 

When the theory of plate tectonics was proposed, our concept of how the Earth worked experienced a momentous shift.  As the Andes continue to rise, the Atlantic Ocean steadily widens, and Honolulu creeps ever closer to Tokyo, this seemingly imperceptible creep of the Earth is revealed in the landscape all around us. 

But tectonics cannot—and do not—explain everything about the wonders of the North American landscape.  What about the Black Hills? Or the walls of chalk that stand amongst the rolling hills of west Kansas? Or the fact that the states of Washington and Oregon are slowly rotating clockwise, and there a diamond mine in Arizona?

It all points to the geologic secrets hidden inside the 2-billion-year-old-continental masses.  A whopping ten times older than the rocky floors of the ocean, continents hold the clues to the long history of our planet.

With a sprightly narrative that vividly brings this science to life, John Dvorak's How the Mountains Grew will fill readers with a newfound appreciation for the wonders of the land we live on.

John Dvorak, PhD, has studied volcanoes and earthquakes around the world for the United States Geological Survey, first at Mount St. Helens in 1980, then a series of assignments in Hawaii, Italy, Indonesia, Central America and Alaska. In addition to dozens of papers published in scientific journals, Dvorak has written cover stories for Scientific American, Astronomy and Physics Today.

  • Publisher: Pegasus Books (December 23, 2021)
  • Length: 304 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781643135748

“Earth scientist John Dvorak’s exuberant new book How the Mountains Grew: A New Geological History of North America puts these Anthropocene fires into the context of deep time. Dvorak is a wonderful storyteller. He weaves disparate threads of past worlds into a coherent fabric of time, place and life that provides the ultimate context for all specific modern environmental issues. When reading How the Mountains Grew, I could easily imagine being outdoors with him breaking rocks in a search for fossils, crawling up some canyon wall to count the sands of time or trekking across one of our great ice sheets. His human stories are also fascinating, especially those involving serendipitous discoveries. Is this really a ‘new’ geologic history? Yes. Dvorak challenges the conventional wisdom. [The book] has a vast scope and an envelope-pushing narrative. This new geologic history of North America will enrich your everyday personal experiences.”

– Robert M. Thorson, The Wall Street Journal

“Imagine a world where pigeon-sized dragonflies soar above spiders with half-meter-long legs, where 2-meter-long millipedes slither and 20-kilogram scorpions hunt. About 300 million years ago, such surreal creatures thrived; today, rocks hint at how these and other creatures in the deep past lived. These clues allow geologist and writer John Dvorak to vividly re-create ancient landscapes in How the Mountains Grew.Far from a dusty tome plodding through plate tectonics, the book teems with life as Dvorak establishes inextricable links between geology and biology. Dvorak’s storytelling shines bright.”

– Science News

Praise for John Dvorak 

“Dvorak has done earthquake science sterling service by writing what is unarguably the best, the most comprehensive and compellingly readable book about the great fault that will one day affect all our lives.”

– Simon Winchester, New York Times bestselling author

“For a more expansive look at how eclipses have been mythologized throughout history, turn to Mask of the Sun. Dvorak offers useful, engaging background, and provides a deeper understanding.”

– The New York Times

“A lively biography. Dvorak is a great storyteller with a keen eye for details. His descriptions of the intense heat almost singe the page. Riveting.”

– Wall Street Journal

"Bubbling and sloughing under the surface of John Dvorak's terrific new book is the quietly terrifying reminder that we somehow manage to live on a tectonically active planet. A remarkable story.”

– The Christian Science Monitor

“Dvorak’s meticulously researched book covers the history of human reactions and interpretations from Homer to the Bible and beyond. A well-rounded, entertaining, and authoritative survey.”

– Omnivoracious

“A rich chronicle.”

– NATURE

“The story of Thomas Jagger and Isabel Maydwell is an inspiring tale of devotion, both to science and to each other.”

– Scientific American

“Jaggar's thrilling adventures to volcanic hot zones like Alaska and Hawaii, where he explored inside active volcanoes, makes one appreciate the fearless nature required for a life of volcanology. Riveting.”

– The American Scholar

“Dvorak brings Jagger to life in a richly researched narrative as thrilling as his topic, creating the sort of popular science history that flies off the shelves.”

– Booklist (starred review)

“Earth scientist John Dvorak’s exuberant new book How the Mountains Grew: A New Geological History of North America puts these Anthropocene fires into the context of deep time. Dvorak is a wonderful storyteller. He weaves disparate threads of past worlds into a coherent fabric of time, place and life that provides the ultimate context for all specific modern environmental issues. When reading How the Mountains Grew, I could easily imagine being outdoors with him breaking rocks in a search for fossils, crawling up some canyon wall to count the sands of time or trekking across one of our great ice sheets. His human stories are also fascinating, especially those involving serendipitous discoveries. Is this really a ‘new’ geologic history? Yes. Dvorak challenges the conventional wisdom. [The book] has a vast scope and an envelope-pushing narrative. This new geologic history of North America will enrich your everyday personal experiences.”

– Robert M. Thorson, The Wall Street Journal

“Earth scientist John Dvorak’s exuberant new book How the Mountains Grew: A New Geological History of North America puts these Anthropocene fires into the context of deep time. Dvorak is a wonderful storyteller. He weaves disparate threads of past worlds into a coherent fabric of time, place and life that provides the ultimate context for all specific modern environmental issues. When reading How the Mountains Grew, I could easily imagine being outdoors with him breaking rocks in a search for fossils, crawling up some canyon wall to count the sands of time or trekking across one of our great ice sheets. His human stories are also fascinating, especially those involving serendipitous discoveries. Is this really a ‘new’ geologic history? Yes. Dvorak challenges the conventional wisdom. [The book] has a vast scope and an envelope-pushing narrative. This new geologic history of North America will enrich your everyday personal experiences.”

– Robert M. Thorson, The Wall Street Journal

More books from this author: John Dvorak