Essential Geology Books


What books should a small geological library contain? Is there a subset of the thousands of titles available that could serve as a reasonable overview of modern geological thought? This list is an attempt to come up with a reasonably short list of basic books. It attempts to balance the need for detail with breadth of coverage. Although the list contains mostly technical books, some of the best popularizations are also included.

Although I recognize that the real science resides in the journals, technical publications, conference proceedings, and abstracts of presentations, the volume of this material so tremendous that no short list of essential materials seems feasible. However, the collection listed below would be considerably improved by addition of recent volumes of the Annual Review of Earth and Planetary Sciences, published annually since 1973 by Annual Reviews, Inc. These compilations contain summaries of current thinking on a diverse range of topics relevant to Earth Science. Some of the articles are outstanding and the more recent volumes help to supplement and update the science that has made it into the textbooks. Beyond these, the collection would need to expand into the major geological journals and the publications of the major geological societies and the government geological surveys.

Due to my ignorance of foreign languages, the titles are limited to those written in English.

As of this writing, the List of important publications in geology at Wikipedia provides many useful references, however, it is extremely incomplete, as well as containing some items that seem overly specialized. It would probably be helpful to keep an eye on the Wikipedia list to see how it develops over time.

The most essential works are prefixed with an asterisk. These should be in all libraries.


Allègre, Claude J. (2008). Isotope Geology: Cambridge University Press, 512 p. ISBN: 0521862280.

Barnes, John W. and Lisle, Richard J. (2004) Basic Geological Mapping: Wiley, 4th edition, 196 p. ISBN: 047084986X.

*Bates, Robert L., and Jackson, Julia A. (1984). Dictionary of Geological Terms: Anchor Books, 571 p. ISBN: 0385181019. A fine compilation of the most common geological terms. A very useful complement to the basic textbooks.

Benn, Douglas I, and Evans, David J.A. (2010). Glaciers and Glaciation: Oxford University Press, 2nd edition, 816 p. ISBN: 0340905794.

Benton, Michael J., and Harper, David A.T. (2009). Introduction to Paleobiology and the Fossil Record: Wiley-Blackwell, 2nd edition, 608 p. ISBN: 1405186469.

Bird, Eric,  2008, Coastal Geomorphology: An Introduction: Wiley, 2nd edition, 436 p. ISBN: 0470517301.

Birkeland, Peter (1999). Soils and Geomorphology: Oxford University Press, 3rd edition, 448 p. ISBN: 0195078861.

Blatt, Harvey, Tracy, Robert , and Owens, Brent (2005). Petrology: Igneous, Sedimentary, and Metamorphic: W.H. Freeman, 3rd edition, 530 p. ISBN: 0716737434.

Bloom, Arthur (1995). Geomorphology: A Systematic Analysis of Late Cenozoic Landforms: Waveland Press, 3rd edtion, 482 p. ISBN: 1577663543.

Boggs, S. Jr. (2005). Principles of Sedimentology and Stratigraphy, Prentice Hall, 4th edition, 688 p. ISBN: 0131547283.

Bolt, Bruce A. (2006). Earthquakes: W.H. Freeman, 5th edition, 320 p. ISBN: 0716775484.

Brownlow, Arthur H. (1995). Geochemistry: Prentice Hall, 2nd edition, 580 p. ISBN: 0133982726.

*Bryson, Bill (2004). A Short History of Nearly Everything: Broadway Books, 544 p. ISBN: 076790818X. An amazingly concise and readable summary of scientific knowledge written in a very accessible style.

Davis, George H. and Reynolds, S.J. (1996). The Structural Geology of Rocks and Regions. Wiley, 2nd edition, 800 p. ISBN: 0471526215.

Decker, Robert, and Decker, Barbara (2005). Volcanoes: W.H. Freeman, 4th edition, 320 p. ISBN: 0716789299.

Deer, W.A., Howie, R.A., and Zussman, J. (1996). An Introduction to the Rock-Forming Minerals: Prentice Hall, 2nd edition, 712 p. ISBN: 0582300940.

Dingman, S. Lawrence (2008). Physical Hydrology: Waveland Press, 2nd edition, 656 p. ISBN: 1577665619.

Dougal, Jerram, and Petford, Nick (2011). The Field Description of Igneous Rocks: Wiley-Blackwell, 2nd edition, 264 p. ISBN: 0470022361.

Drever, James I. (1997). The Geochemistry of Natural Waters: Surface and Groundwater Environments: Prentice Hall, 3rd edition, 436 p. ISBN: 0132727900.

Dunne, Thomas, and Leopold, Luna B. (1978). Water in Environmental Planning: W.H. Freeman, 818 p. ISBN: 0716700794.

Fetter, C.W. (2000). Applied Hydrogeology: Prentice Hall, 4th edition, 598 p. ISBN: 0130882399.

*Fortey, Richard (2005). Earth: An Intimate History: Vintage Books, 448 p. ISBN: 0375706208. An accessible overview of  the history of our planet and the history of geology. Shows how plate tectonics is the unifying theme in much of Earth history.

*Fortey, Richard, (2009). Fossils: The History of Life: Sterling, 256 p. ISBN: 1402762542

Fowler, C.M.R. The Solid Earth: An Introduction to Global Geophysics: Cambridge University Press, 2nd edition, 704 p. ISBN: 0521893070.

Fry, Norman (1991). The Field Description of Metamorphic Rocks: Wiley-Blackwell, 128 p. ISBN: 0471932213.

*Glen, William (1982). The Road to Jaramillo: Critical Years of the Revolution in Earth Science: Stanford University Press, 480 p. ISBN: 0804711194.

*Goudie, Andrew, The Human Impact on the Natural Environment: Past, Present, and Future: Wiley-Blackwell, 6th edition, 376 p. ISBN: 140512704X.

Goudie, Andrew, and Cuff, David (2008). The Oxford Companion to Global Change: Oxford University Press, 720 p. ISBN: 0195324889.

*Gould, Stephen Jay, 1987, The Abyss of Time: Myth and Metaphor in the Discovery of Geologic Time: Harvard University Press, 222 p. ISBN: 0674891996.

Gradstein, Felix N., Ogg, James G., and Smith, Alan G. (2005). A Geologic Time Scale: 2004: Cambridge University Press, 610 p. ISBN: 0521786738.

Greene, Mott T. (1985) Geology in the Nineteenth Century: Changing Views of a Changing World: Cornell History of Science Series, Cornell University Press, 328 p. ISBN: 0801492955

* Grotzinger, John, and Jordan, T.H. (2010). Understanding Earth: Freeman & Co, 6th edition, 672 p. ISBN: 1429219513. A well written text on the nature of the Earth and the processes that have shaped it.

Hallam, Arthur (1990). Great Geological Controversies: Oxford University Press, 2nd edition, 256 p. ISBN:  0198582196.

Jackson, J. A. (1997). Glossary of Geology: American Geological Institute. 4th edition, 604 p. ISBN 0922152349.

Kearey, Phillip, Klepeis, Keith A., and Vine, Frederick J. (2009). Global Tectonics: Wiley-Blackwell, 3rd edition, 1405107774.

Kearey, Phillip, Brooks, Michael, and Hill, Ian (2002). An Introduction to Geophysical Exploration: Wiley-Blackwell, 3rd edition, 272 p. ISBN: 0632049294.

*Klein, Cornelis, and Dutrow, Barbara (2007). Manual of Mineral Science (Manual of Mineralogy): Wiley, 23rd edition, 716 p. ISBN: 0471721573.

Knighton, David (1997). Fluvial Forms and Processes: A New Perspective: Hodder Arnold, revised edition, 400 p. ISBN: 0340663138.

Lillesand, Thomas, Kiefer, Ralph W., and Chipman, Jonathan (2007). Remote Sensing and Image Interpretation: Wiley-Blackwell, 6th edition, 804 p. ISBN: 0470052457.

Lyell, Charles (1830 to 1833). Principles of Geology: An Attempt to Explain the Former Changes of the Earth’s Surface, by Reference to Causes Now in Operation, 3 volumes. There are various later editions, but the first edition is probably of most significance as an influential work in the development of geologic thought. I have the reprint from the Cambridge University Press. A one-volume abridged version of the first edition is available from Penguin Books (ISBN: 014043528X).

MacKenzie, W.S. and Guilford, C., (1980). Atlas of Rock-Forming Minerals in Thin Section: Wiley, 98 p. ISBN: 0470269219.

McBirney, Alexander R. (2006). Igneous Petrology: Jones & Bartlett Publishers, 3rd edition, 550 p. ISBN: 0763734489.

McClay, Ken R. (2004). The Mapping of Geological Structures: Wiley-Blackwell, 2nd edition, 224 p. ISBN: 0471497606.

McMahon, Nancy D., Finlayson, Brian L., Gippel, Christopher J., and Nathan, Rory J. (2004). Stream Hydrology: An Introduction for Ecologists: Wiley-Blackwell, 2nd edition, 444 p. ISBN: 0470843586.

*McPhee, John (2000). Annals of the Former World: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 712 p. ISBN: 0374518734.

Moon, Charles J., Whateley, Michael K.G., and Evans, Anthony M. (2006). Introduction to Mineral Exploration: Blackwell Publishing, 2nd edition, 481 p. ISBN: 1405113170.

Parsons, Anthony J., and Abrahams, Athol J., eds., 2009, Geomorphology of Desert Environments: Springer, 2nd edition, 834 p. ISBN: 1402057180.

Passchier, Cees W. and Trouw, R.A.J. (1998). Microtectonics: Springer Verlag, 2nd edition, 366 p. ISBN : 3540640037.

Philpotts, Anthony; Ague, Jay (2009), Principles of Igneous and Metamorphic Petrology: Cambridge University Press, 2nd edition, 686 p. ISBN 978-0521880060.

Playfair, John (1802). Illustrations of the Huttonian Theory of the Earth. Originally printed in Edinburgh for Cadell and Davies, London, and W. Creech, Edinburgh. My copy is a Dover reprint.

*Prothero, Donald R. Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why it Matters: Columbia University Press, 408 p. ISBN: 0231139624.

Prothero, Donald R., and Schwab, Fred (2003). Sedimentary Geology: W.H. Freeman, 2nd edition, 600 p. ISBN: 0716739054.

Raymond, Loren A. (2007). Petrology: The Study of Igneous, Sedimentary, and Metamorphic Rocks: Waveland Press, 2nd edition, 736 p. ISBN: 1577665201.

Raymond, Loren A. (2010). Petrography: Hand Specimen and Thin Section Petrography: Waveland Press, 3rd edition, ISBN: 1577666658.

Robb, Laurence. (2005), Introduction to Ore-Forming Processes: Blackwell Science Ltd., 373 p. ISBN:0632063785.

Rudwick, Martin J.S. (1985). The Meaning of Fossils: Episodes in the History of Paleontology: University of Chicago Press, 2nd edition, 304 p. ISBN: 0226731030.

Seibold, Eugen., and Berger, W. H. (2010). The Sea Floor: An Introduction to Marine Geology: Springer, 3rd edition, 356 p. ISBN: 3642082203.

Selley, Richard C. (1997). Elements of Petroleum Geology: Academic Press, 2nd edition, 470 p. ISBN: 0126363706.

*Stanley, S.M. (2008). Earth System History, W.H. Freeman & Co, 3rd edition, 551 p. ISBN: 1429233494. An excellent geological history of the planet.

*Strahler, Alan H. (2010). Introducing Physical Geography: Wiley-Blackwell, 5th edition, 632 p. ISBN: 0470134680.

Tucker, Maurice, E. (2003). Sedimentary Rocks in the Field: Wiley-Blackwell, 3rd edition, 244 p. ISBN: 0470851236.

Turcotte, Donald L. and Schubert, Gerald (2001). Geodynamics: Cambridge University Press, 2nd edition, 528 p. ISBN: 0521666244.

Vernon, Ron H. and Clarke, Geoffrey (2008). Principles of Metamorphic Petrology: Cambridge University Press, 460 p. ISBN: 0521871786.

*Winchester, Simon, 2001, The Map that Changed the World: William Smith and the Birth of Modern Geology: Harper Perennial, 368 p. ISBN: 0061767905.

January 3, 2011

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