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 Reviews of Recently Published Books

The Geological History of the British Isles, Arlene Hunter & Glynda Easterbrook, Open University.
Elvin Thurston

That this book is published by the Open University is a recommendation in itself; students intensely criticise and search for errors in the textbooks that they are asked to read, and demand clarity. Consequently a textbook for the summer school basic geology course, SXR260, authored by one of the course tutors and revised in time for sale to the public, is bound to be good. This is certainly true of this book. It has been improved with even better diagrams since I took the course and now includes at least some material relevant to East Anglia! However, for local experts, its wide coverage of one of the most diverse geological areas of the world is bound to make it a bit superficial in places. But at the same time it’s comprehensive coverage makes it an excellent primer for anyone wishing to learn the essentials of British Geology. It stays clear of controversy and all its explanations are tried and tested. Diagrams and coloured photographs are plentiful and clear, and there are frequent references to palaeogeography and climate with some good maps. Incidentally many of the photographs are taken on OU field trips in the north of England; all persons wearing yellow safety helmets are students!

Being originally intended for students the readers are invited to test themselves at strategic points in the text. But if you are awake and consciously trying to learn you should find the questions fairly easy.

But it is not intended for raw beginners, being originally aimed at readers in their first year of a degree course. So if you feel lacking in sufficient background knowledge I recommend “Geoscience-Understanding Geological Proceses” by Dee Edwards and Chris King; the ready availability of a dictionary such are “Dictionary of Earth Science” by would also be helpful.
I can recommend this book unreservedly; £18.95 from Amazon.com

Jones, A P., Tucker, M E., & Hart, J K (eds) 1999. The Description and Analysis of Quaternary Stratigraphic Field Sections. Technical Guide No 7, Quaternary Research Association. London. ISBN 0-907780-47-4 [£10.80]

Evans, D J A and Benn, D I (eds) 2004. A Practical Guide to the Study of Glacial Sediments. Arnold. London. ISBN 0-340-75959-3 [£19.99]
Robin Stevenson

Both these books offer guidelines and recommendations to those wishing to undertake research on Quaternary sediments. How much use are they likely to be to amateurs?

The first three chapters in Jones, Tucker & Hart and the first seven chapters of Evans & Benn, deal fairly briefly with topics such as facies, stratigraphy, and the characteristics of sediments – which seems curious, given the ready availability of texts devoted solely to these topics. One might have expected their target audience – students and researchers – to be familiar with this sort of thing already.

Basic field techniques such as graphic logging are covered adequately, Evans & Benn devoting more time to them basics than Jones et al – who clearly assume a higher level of pre-existing knowledge; accordingly some of their text consists of little more than numbered checklists of what to do. Evans & Benn offer better value for the complete beginner, but even they do not always cover topics adequately. I defy anyone to determine the dip of a clast a-axis using their photograph (Fig. 5.5), which shows a compass perched on top of a clast, rather than being clearly aligned parallel to any planar surface. (The Geological Society of London handbook series, including Basic Geological Mapping, by Barnes (1981), and The Field Description of Sedimentary Rocks, by Tucker (1982), even though not aimed specifically at Quaternary sediments, cover many of these basic techniques equally well.)

Evans & Benn cover a number of advanced topics that are not mentioned in Jones Tucker & Hart, such as geochemical techniques, environmental magnetism and engineering properties. These chapters certainly help to raise awareness of the potential usefulness of the techniques, but would not be of much practical use in actually trying to use the instruments involved. Extensive further reading of the references provided would be required; but, in any case, access to such specialised equipment is unlikely to be available to amateurs. Rather than having spent so long covering basic sedimentology and stratigraphy, it might have been more useful to explain some advanced topics, such as the use of stereo nets and eigen values, in more detail.

Jones, Tucker & Hart, having dealt with the basics in a preliminary section, then illustrate these by reference to a series of detailed case studies. Evans & Benn also illustrate principles by reference to case studies, although these are integrated into the text. In both cases extensive use is made of photographs and diagrams; these are generally of good quality. Evans & Benn, however, also have a useful section of colour photographs illustrating structures, textures etc. at the back of the book.

Both these books are about the same length – so, which represents the ‘Best Buy’? Evans & Benn deal in more detail with the basics of sedimentology, and explain the basic techniques in rather more detail. They also introduce topics that, although unlikely to be available to an amateur geologist, would at least enable them to read professional papers with a greater level of understanding. On the other hand, Jones Tucker and Hart do have some nice case studies, one of which is based on Happisburgh. The opportunity to go out, book in hand, and see what the professionals have made of it, is very useful! And, at half the price, it leaves one with more petrol in the tank, to go out and do fieldwork.

For a real beginner I would say than Evans & Benn represents the best buy; for someone a bit further along the road, Jones et al might prove more stimulating.

References.
Barnes J W. 1981. Basic Geological Mapping. Milton Keynes: Open University Press.
Tucker M. 1982. The Field description of Sedimentary Rocks. Chichester: John Wiley.