Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Roadside Geology of Massachusetts by James Skehan

Looking for a primer on the rocks and geology of the Bay State? The Roadside Geology of Massachusetts by James Skehan might be the book that you want. It provides an introduction to the state's geology and provides several different driving tours and guides that showcase that geology all throughout the state.

I like the entire Roadside Geology series and this book is no exception. It gives you a nice mix of fairly detailed geologic information while remaining readable for the average person without a lot of knowledge in geology. There's plenty of information on the entire state and once you're past the introduction, I like the way that the geology is described via the various driving trips in the state. That gives you a chance to read the book and then head out on the road and see the examples in living color.


There are four main sections to the Roadside Geology of Massachusetts with an introduction, a discussion of the eastern seaboard terrains, the central lowlands and the Berkshire Mountain area.

The introduction gives you an overall look at the region's geology along with an introduction to geologic time, the region's glacial history and fossils that are preserved in rocks.

The section on the eastern seaboard continues that introduction discussing the various "terranes" that make up the eastern portion of Massachusetts. Each one is given a short discussion along with the glacial history of the area. Following those sections, there are several different road guides to the eastern part of the state including the eastern portion of the Massachusetts Turnpike, Interstates 95, 93, 195 and 495, along with Routes 2, 3, 12, 24 and 128. That pretty much covers all the major roadways in the eastern portion of Massachusetts and are roads that I drive all the time, so it was interesting to read about the area's geology and then be out in the car and see the various examples that were discussed in the book.

The central lowlands section opens with a discussion of plate tectonics, looks at the Merrimack Terrane and talks about rift basins that formed in the Mesozoic era, along with the more recent glacial history of the area. There aren't as many major roadways in this portion of the state, but there are driving tours for the central portion of the Massachusetts Turnpike, all of Interstate 91 and portions of Routes 2, 9 and 32.

The Berkshire section only has two initial discussions, one on the Laurentian Terranes of the area and the second on the glacial history of the area. Following those, the road trips include the western portion of the Turnpike, US Route 7 and Routes 2 and 9.

In addition to those main sections, there's also a small glossary that defines key geologic terms along with a list for further reading and an index to help you find sections of the book more quickly.

The book is illustrated with black and white photographs, drawings and geologic maps. The photos are helpful, but the clear and easy to read maps and drawings probably help the most, as they better illustrate a lot of the concepts. The photos you'll be able to see as you drive, it's the ideas you really want to understand while you're reading.

Readability and Interestingness

While I have read through this book as a whole, I find it to be a much better resource to read here and there when I know that I'm going to be heading out to a certain portion of the state. I take the book and look up the road trips for that area and then read through them. This gives me an idea of what to expect when driving and what to be keeping my eyes open for.

I have found parts of the book a bit oversimplified, but I do have something of a geology background, so I do think for the average person, this book does a great job and introducing some fairly detailed and complicated concepts without overwhelming anyone or oversimplifying the information too much.

I've had this book for a number of years and still leaf through it from time to time, so I don't think it'll be the kind of book that just sits on your shelf after you've read it once. If you live or travel in the area, you'll want to browse through the various driving trips to see if you can catch something new on your travels.

Final Thoughts

Being a geology guy, I'm interested in what makes up my state and while the Roadside Geology of Massachusetts doesn't hit everything, I think it's a good resource for anyone interested in the Commonwealth's geology. You'll get introductions to a bunch of different concepts and ideas along with driving guides to a number of the State's roadways so you can actually get out and see the geology with your own eyes.

If you like geology and you're curious about Massachusetts, I'd get yourself a copy of the Roadside Geology of Massachusetts.

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