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Iowa's Geological Past

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Iowa's Geological Past
Three Billion Years of Change
By Wayne I. Anderson
University of Iowa Press, Iowa City: 1998
A Bur Oak Original
ISBN: 978-0-8774-5640-7

Reviewed by Harry S. Chou - April 29, 2015

Iowa's Geological Past: Three Billion Years of Change is a fascinating textbook covering the historical geology of Iowa. It was written by Wayne I. Anderson, a professor of geology at the University of Northern Iowa, and a native Iowan. Although this text concentrates on the geology of the state of Iowa, it is well suited for use as a supplemental text in any college level course dealing with historical geology. It is also ideal for nonspecialists seeking to gain an understanding of Iowa's geologic past.

This text begins with a general overview of Iowa's geology, and then moving era by era covers the geology of the Precambrian, Cambrian, Ordovician, Silurian, Devonian, Mississippian, Pennsylvanian, Mesozoic, and Cenozoic periods. The final section of this book looks at how humans have influenced the geology of Iowa, from using the water contained in ancient aquifers to the mining of mineral resources.

Eminently readable, Iowa's Geological Past will fascinate anyone with an interest in historical geology. While the information in this book concentrates on the geological processes that have occurred in Iowa, much of the information contained in this book also applies to much of North America. In addition, it not only covers the development of geological formations but also the distribution of minerals and fossils throughout the various strata.

Covering a period of about three billion years, this book, by its very nature, covers a great deal of material. However, Anderson writes in an easy-going style that reads more like a popular history narrative than a geology textbook. As such, general readers will find this book remarkably accessible. In addition, Iowa's Geological Past, is well illustrated, and intuitively organized, making the book a true joy to read and an ideal introduction for those new to historical geology. The extensive list of references included at the end of the book is an ideal jumping off point for anyone who is desirous of pursuing this topic in greater detail.

In writing this book, Anderson has taken a layer by layer approach. He starts with the oldest layer of rock, and little by little strips it away to reveal the next layer, and the next. Along the way he describes the geological processes that have shaped the land, and what the landscape might have looked like if you had a time-machine to take you back for a birds-eye view. Although the book technically ends at the end of the last great ice age, Anderson also provides a glimpse into how mankind has used and shaped the Iowan landscape over time.

From beginning to end, I found Iowa's Geological Past to be a fascinating book to read, and a valuable book to study. Not only will this book enthrall geologists and rockhounds, but also naturalists, paleontologists, and historians of every ilk.

Of special note for geologist and rockhounds: You will find that Iowa's Minerals, by Paul Garvin is an excellent companion book to use in conjunction with Iowa's Geological Past, when exploring and collecting Iowa's geologic resources.

Related Reviews:

  • Iowa's Minerals: Their Occurrence, Origins, Industries, and Lore, by Paul Garvin.
    Informative and engaging, Iowa's Minerals is a book that provides a detailed, yet a highly accessible overview of Iowa's minerals, along with information on collecting and identifying these varied minerals.

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