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92Y's Read By

Aug 29, 2021

Sophie Herron on their selection:

Last July, I read John McPhee’s Basin and Range for the first time and was immediately captured by the slim volume—its structure, its fluid sentences, the breadth and depth of its probity and its wry and ever-present humor. The titular basin and range is an area between Utah and California, but the book is as much about geology itself, both the movement of rock and the movement of minds that have studied it. In 1785, a Scottish geologist, James Hutton, presented to the Royal Society a new theory: that landmasses were formed over an indescribable amount of time, and that the evidence of these changes were in the different formations of rocks—where one era of rock met another. I’ve chosen to read McPhee’s accounting of Hutton’s search for this geological evidence; a narrative in which McPhee coins the term “deep time,”—a piece of history writing which, it seems to me, enfolds the transcendent experience of humanity’s tiny place in time and, concurrently, love for the work of discovery, communication, and of changing minds. It has stayed with me in the moments of excruciating ephemerality and eternity in the past year. Sometimes both at once. I hope, as a final episode for Read By, it serves for you, also, as a microscope that explodes.

Basin and Range, by John McPhee

Music: "Shift of Currents" by Blue Dot Sessions // CC BY-NC 2.0