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Basin and Range by John McPhee

By Marion Vermazen

Every list of suggested reading to learn about Nevada includes John McPhee’s book Basin and Range. Basin and Range is about Nevada’s landscape and geology along interstate 80.

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People who’ve never been to Nevada often assume that Nevada is one big flat dessert. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Driving across Nevada you pass mountain range after mountain range separated by flat basins. It is a stunning landscape. Mcphee describes how this landscape was formed and how geologists came to understand it. Duke and I recently took another road trip exploring northern Nevada. I finished reading Basin and Range on the trip. It was fun to see some of the formations McPhee describes and to understand what we were seeing. Basin and Range is about geology, the history of geology and the history of Nevada.

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McPhee is a fantastic writer. His descriptions are lyrical and his science is engaging and understandable. Many years ago I read his book The Control of Nature. In it he describes our attempts to control mud slides in southern California and Lava flows in Iceland. That book has stayed in my mind as very few books do. Basin and Range was as compelling and memorable.

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