I have given away more copies of Vancouver, City on the Edge: living with a dynamic geological landscape by John Clague and Bob Turner than I can easily count. I do this because it’s a well-written book accessible to anyone with a sense of curiosity, because it’s a very pretty book with wonderful illustrations by Richard Franklin, and because disasters are a sexy topic.
After the introduction is out of the way, the first real chapter dives into the concept of geologic time, plate tectonics and rock types. The science gets local starting with a truly beautiful cross section of Vancouver (pages 20-21) and a whirlwind summary of the past 200 million years of fire and ice (followed by more fire) that made Vancouver rocks the way they are. Each subsequent chapter is in themes of the hazards directly relevant to residents in the area: floods, landslides, earthquakes, and even water quality. The illustrations are clear, the photographs are well-annotated so you know what you’re looking at, and the green boxes in the margins direct curious hikers on how to get into the field and see actual examples of the geology under discussion. The book is most relevant to locals who know the Vancouver region, but is written so clearly that it can also serve as an introduction to different types of disasters that just happens to use Vancouver as its example.
For content, the only chapter I dislike is near the end, “Earth Resources,” a predictable and superficial acknowledgment of the role of geoscience in resource extraction that is jarringly out of pace to the rest of the book. Aside from a page-long description of the fallout from mining practices at Britannia Mine, this chapter feels off-topic from the overarching “disasters” theme. It is neither providing necessary background information to understand how the process of the past have created the hazards of the present (like the introductory chapters), nor does it directly relate to hazards relevant to locals (like the bulk of the book). The chapter feels like an add-on, breaking the flow of the story to try and squeeze in one last set of ideas that doesn’t quite fit.
My other objection is a minor irritation at chapter names. Calling the glossary “An introduction to ‘geologese,’ the wonderful language of geology,” feels pretentious after such a down-to-earth (hah!) text, and I see no reason to invent a new and ridiculous sounding word to acknowledge that geoscience, like all other disciplines, has technical terminology.
But these are minor critiques, paling beside the clarity of and relevance of the bulk of the book. I recommend to anyone who lives in the lower mainland, to anyone who thinks disasters are interesting, and to any science geek who wants a basic understanding of geoscience.