Stories in Stone: Travels Through Urban Geology

By Williams, David B.

ISBN 9780802716224

Price $26.00

Williams shows us why a white, fossil-rich limestone from Indiana became the only building stone to be used in all fifty states; how the construction of the granite Bunker Hill Monument in 1825 led to America's first commercial railroad; and why Carrara marble--the favorite sculpting material of Michelangelo--warped so much after only nineteen years on a Chicago skyscraper that all forty-four thousand panels of the stone had to be replaced. From Brooklyn to Philadephia, from limestone to travertine, "Stories in Stone "will inspire readers to realize that, even in the most modern metropolis, evidence of our planet's natural wonders can be found all around us in building stones that are far less ordinary than we might think at first glance. David B. Williams is the author of "The Seattle Street-Smart Naturalist "and "A Naturalist's Guide to Canyon Country." He has written for "Smithsonian," "Popular Mechanics," and "National Wildlife," and is a regular contributor to "Earth." He lives in Seattle. Not everybody expects to make geological finds along the sidewalks of a major city, but when natural history writer David B. Williams looks at the stone masonry, facades, and ornamentations of buildings, he sees a range of rocks equal to any assembled by plate tectonics. In "Stories in Stone," he introduces us to a three-and-a-half-billion-year-old rock called Morton gneiss that is the color of swirled pink-and-black taffy; a 1935 gas station made of petrified wood; and a fort in St. Augustine, Florida, that has withstood three hundred years of attacks and hurricanes, despite being made of a stone (coquina) that has the consistency of a granola bar.
"David B. Williams can see the invisible. He notices the lost dramas fossilized in brownstones and statues, in the doorsteps and roof slates we walk by every day. Only such an operatic theme as the enduring grandeur of stone could encompass in a single book everything from Martian meteorites to school blackboards to dinosaur tracks. Williams's epic story is rich in colorful eccentrics, from Michelangelo to Robinson Jeffers, but no character comes alive more vividly than the restless, creative Earth itself."--Michael Sims, author of "Apollo's Fire "and "Adam's Navel"
"From the Bunker Hill Monument in Boston to the Colosseum in Rome, David Williams distills gripping stories from building stone--of deep geologic time and the human quest for permanence and beauty."--Chet Raymo, author "The Path: A One-Mile Walk Through the Universe
""This is the best sort of book, one that makes you see the familiar in strange new light. Now that David Williams has warmed our stone facades with beautifully told stories, never again will I pass a brownstone without looking for its telltale flaws or walk the Granite City without thinking of the natural wonders that produced its stony poetry."--Jennifer Ackerman, author of "Sex Sleep Eat Drink Dream: A Day in the Life of Your Body
""By assigning human stories and values to stone in this fascinating book, David B. Williams links the living and the non-living. In the process, our homes and buildings come alive."--Robert M. Thorson, author of "Beyond Walden" and "Stone by Stone
""Williams' range of interest is wide, encompassing the evolution of geologic theory, commercial quarrying techniques, the suitability of Coquina stone for building forts, Minnesota Gneiss's comfortable marriage to Art Deco and the importance of Indiana limestone as a 'holder of American memory, ' thanks to its ubiquitous use in monuments and landmarks. Each line of inquiry coaxes out some expressive scientific, emotional or philosophical nugget from a piece of travertine, slate or, in one Pop Art extravaganza, a gas station made of petrified wood. Makes stone sing."--"Kirkus Reviews
""Stone buildings are symbols of urban denaturation, but in this engaging pop-geology excavation, Williams sees them as biological entities. That's literally true of the petrified-wood gasoline station in Colorado, the stately edifices made of Indiana limestone formed from the carbonate shells of ancient mollusks, and the fossil-strewn and dinosaur-tracked slabs of New York's ubiquitous brownstone facades. But Williams sets every kind of stone in an ecology, a habitat and a dramatic life cycle (Minnesota's celebrated Morton gneiss, he notes, owes its gorgeous black-and-pink swirlings to 3.5 billion years of fiery upheavals and catastrophic deluges). While telling these sagas, the author investigates the science of rock dating and techniques of quarrying, recounts the exploits of great geologists and the travails Michelangelo faced in transporting marble blocks from the quarry to his workshop, and ponders the often surprising structural and aesthetic character of different species of stone. (The coquina stone of St. Augustine's fortress is material for stopping cannonballs, even though it's as fragile as a Rice Krispies Treat.) Williams's lively mixture of hard science and piquant lore is sure to fire readers' curiosity about the built environment around us."--"Publishers Weekly"