Geologist Marcia Bjornerud’s latest book,, can easily capture your inner philosopher, scientist, activist, and writer. When I received this book from Princeton University Press, I was immediately intrigued by the book’s cover. I’ve always been fascinated by ideas that necessarily mix up life’s ingredients into creative nature stories, and this book does just that. The choice of title and cover design (with its elegant series of mineralogy lithographs) offers clues to the layered Earth-story within: unwrapping the scientific ways of knowing our home’s deep planetary history; how we humans have come to discover these stories; how knowing them can re-educate us and thus drive us to become better citizens as part of the whole community of life
Bjornerud’s title, , intrigued me as a grander understanding of our current temporal limitations. The subtitle, “Thinking Like a Geologist Can Help Save the World,” shares how looking into the deep time of Earth’s rocks breaks open an opportunity for us to become more aware of the damage we have done while concurrently offering hope. Bjornerud offers tips on re-imagining how we can comprehend our humanness on this planet by coming to re-know ourselves as Earthlings. Marcia Bjornerud’s Earth story elaborates this interweaving of a deep past with a deeper future and explores how we might expand our human sense of temporal directions in order to arrive at some meaningful place of resilience.
In , you breathed great life into this magical story of rocks; that’s a big feat in our flashy, fast-paced, capitalist culture.
In most people’s minds rocks are dumb, mute, and dull perhaps. So I tried to bring them back to life and share the stories that they have to tell us.
In a way, your book is a storytelling of Earth—Earth’s past but also its now. You say in your book, “The dramatic narratives of the geologic past are perfectly suited to the human appetite for storytelling.” Why do you think that? What is it that makes for such good storytelling?
I’m positioning the idea of storytelling in contrast to the physical, pure sciences of physics and chemistry, which are of course important fields—and I am partly trained myself as a physicist. But what’s lacking in them is this sense of narrative arc. The triumph of physics is that it has distilled out these universal, timeless laws and rules. But if something is timeless, there’s no story to really tell. There’s no character development.
Earth as a whole system has had a very interesting series of personalities, in a sense. It’s had a childhood, an adolescence, a middle-age. It’s seen cataclysm and wonderful, bountiful times as well. So that’s what I mean. That there are stories in the natural world, and they match our appetite for seeing how things unfold. I think that’s the way to draw people in: Tell these Earth stories, develop some kind of relationship with the protagonist, and they’re hooked.