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Good Reads  Natural History  Regional Natural History  Natural History of the Polar Regions

A Wilder Time Notes from a Geologist at the Edge of the Greenland Ice

Nature Writing
By: William E Glassley(Author)
224 pages, 9 b/w photos and b/w illustrations
A lyrical exploration of Greenland's geological secrets and the powerful experience of immersing yourself in its wilderness.
A Wilder Time
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  • A Wilder Time ISBN: 9781942658344 Paperback Mar 2018 In stock
    £9.50 £12.99
Price: £9.50
About this book Customer reviews Biography Related titles Recommended titles

About this book

Greenland, one of the last truly wild places, contains a treasure trove of information on Earth's early history embedded in its pristine landscape. Over numerous seasons, William E. Glassley and two fellow geologists traveled there to collect samples and observe rock formations for evidence to prove a contested theory that plate tectonics, the movement of Earth's crust over its molten core, is a much more ancient process than some believed. As their research drove the scientists ever farther into regions barely explored by humans for millennia – if ever – Glassley encountered wondrous creatures and natural phenomena that gave him unexpected insight into the origins of myth, the virtues and boundaries of science, and the importance of seeking the wilderness within.

An invitation to experience a breathtaking place and the fascinating science behind its creation, A Wilder Time is nature writing at its best.

Customer Reviews (1)

  • A rhapsodic tribute to Greenland
    By Leon (NHBS Catalogue Editor) 11 Jul 2018 Written for Paperback

    I have only ever seen Greenland once while flying over it on my way to a conference in Alaska. But geologist William E. Glassley has spent several field seasons together with two fellow geologists working in this rugged landscape, uncovering its geological secrets. This slim volume describes their work, but more prominently, it is a rhapsodic tribute to Earth’s wild places and the transformative experience of finding yourself far away from civilisation. I had not heard of Bellevue Literary Press before, but they aim to publish books at the intersection of art and science, and I would argue this book fits the bill well.

    A Wilder Time documents Glassley’s work tracing down some of the oldest rocks on the planet. Plate tectonics has become an accepted idea by now (see for example The Tectonic Plates are Moving! for an introduction), although it has been an uphill struggle (see for example Four Revolutions in the Earth Sciences: From Heresy to Truth). There is, however, continued debate how far back in time this process started, and also how it started. We have reliable evidence of plate tectonics for the last 900 million years (see also Supercontinent: Ten Billion Years in the Life of Our Planet), but the older evidence for plate tectonics is equivocal. Greenland has some of the oldest rocks on the planet that are still easily accessible (as in: not somewhere being munched up or melted down in the planet’s interior) and some of the rock samples that Glassley has collected from Greenland are some 3400 million years old. Glassley and his colleagues have collected evidence of ancient mountain building episodes going back some 1900 million years, which would push back the dates for active plate tectonics by a large measure.

    However, this story of geological discovery takes a backseat to Glassley’s reflections on his fieldwork in Greenland. Studying the rocks in-situ and collecting samples requires week-long expeditions into the unspoiled wilderness of the Greenland coastline, well above the Arctic Circle. Dropped off by helicopter, Glassley and co. set up camp in a grandiose landscape of fjords, calving glaciers, and moss-studded rocks that, by and large, has never experienced human presence.

    Glassley turns out to be an inspirational guide, his time spent there heeding an inner call to connect with the wilderness in a way not possible in our everyday lives. Though a cynic like myself would normally be quick to dismiss this as soppy hippie sentiments, roll my eyes, and mutter something under my breath about my dislike for New Age movements, I am not. In my own way, I am no stranger to feeling part of something indescribably larger and older than myself that spending time outdoors can bring about. And, regrettably, I don’t do it as much or as often as would be good for me. Thank goodness Glassley is here to transport me to the vast vistas offered by Greenland.

    Whether coming eye to eye with a speeding falcon, being overwhelmed by the thin layer of scents spread by tundra vegetation when lying down trying to spot ptarmigans, or observing a river of fish slowly moving through a fjord, Glassley’s prose has a poetic quality to it at times. But the landscape is not always hospitable. Ice caves can collapse, the tides in the narrow fjords rise and fall precipitously on a daily basis, fresh meltwater creates unseen currents, and gales can suddenly pick up.

    With a scientist’s sense of humility and eye for detail, Glassley documents the awe-inspiring experience of spending weeks in this kind of landscape. When he describes some of the amazing geological formations, I wish photos would have been included. The writing can get technical here in places, with a glossary at the end of the book explaining only selected terms. Even so, he successfully conveys both their importance and their beauty.

    A Wilder Time is an exceptionally captivating book, its brevity and small size working in its favour. Spend an afternoon with this book, I doubt you will regret it.
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William E. Glassley is a geologist at the University of California, Davis, and an emeritus researcher at Aarhus University, Denmark, focusing on the evolution of continents and the processes that energize them. He is the author of over seventy research articles and a textbook on geothermal energy. A Wilder Time is his first book for a general audience. He lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Nature Writing
By: William E Glassley(Author)
224 pages, 9 b/w photos and b/w illustrations
A lyrical exploration of Greenland's geological secrets and the powerful experience of immersing yourself in its wilderness.
Media reviews

"Glassley ponders the nature of perception and the human mind, describes the dramatic physical features of Greenland's makeup and recounts the thrilling adventures of his extended visits there."
Scientific American

"Transport[s] readers across the world and deep into the past, while suggesting a way forward into the future. For budding naturalists, armchair geologists, and anyone who loves a good expedition, this is an ideal read."
– Bookish

"Amazing. A Wilder Time is a book for those who love nature and have that longing desire to learn the unknown, all hidden along the walls of the fjords of Greenland."
– North of Oxford

"Writing with the same poetic precision, artistry, and soulful receptivity as Gretel Ehrlich and Barry Lopez, with the added impact of his rigorous scientist-in-the-field expertise, Glassley is spellbinding as he chronicles his exhilarating adventures."
– Booklist (starred review)

"Profound and moving [...] A superb tool for a better understanding of the natural world and why real science matters."
Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

"Poetic, enthusiastic [...] Combining the strengths of travel writing and lyrical memoir, Glassley translates his own 'incandescent experience of place' into a conservation message: 'We must share and celebrate the wild so that it might be saved.'"
Foreword Reviews (starred review)

"Thoughtful [...] Evincing humility in the midst of the great 'unshaped wild', Glassley exudes a palpable and infectious sense of wonder."
– Publishers Weekly

"While conveying the geological hypotheses, techniques of data collection, and adventures of his expeditions to Greenland with his two Danish colleagues, William E. Glassley also brings startling sensory precision to his descriptions. The velvety feeling of moss, the taste of lichen, the alternating rhythms of terror and fluidity in schools of fish through which a predatory sculpin cruises – such experiences bring what might have seemed a stark world of rock and ice alive. This delicacy of perception is the vehicle through which not only the scientific quest but also the profound mystery of our living Earth saturates this memorable book."
– John Elder, coeditor of The Norton Book of Nature Writing and author of Picking Up the Flute

"Glassley exhibits an uncanny ability to put us in the midst of Greenland's vast silence, where he takes us deep into the planet's soul. It is an important and well-told adventure that opens us to life's grand expanse and begs us to follow in spite of the brevity of our existence."
John Francis, author of Planetwalker and The Ragged Edge of Silence

"A Wilder Time is a wonderful mix of science and poetry. It delves into the kind of spiritual effect that wilderness has on those privileged to work in it and how it changes the way we experience and understand our surroundings and our lives. The science, including the geological controversy at the heart of the book, is lucidly explained, and readers will be absorbed by the story Glassley tells as well as his many vividly described encounters with nature. Next time someone asks me why I am a geologist, I will just hand them this book."
William L. Griffin, professor of geology at Macquarie University

"While conducting research probing deep time and the origin of continents, Glassley discovered a further source of fascination: the Arctic wilderness of Greenland. In A Wilder Time, he shares his encounters with unvarnished nature still free – for now – from the corruptions and constructs of human settlement. With openness, clarity, and a keen eye for detail, he weaves adventure, research, astonished awe, and thoughtful reflection into an absorbing account of his sojourns."
– Martha Hickman Hild, author of Geology of Newfoundland: Field Guide

"Very few people have spent as much time as Glassley in such deep wilderness. So it would behoove us to pay attention even if he had not brought back such a fascinating, lovely, and useful set of observations. This is a remarkable book."
Bill McKibben, author of The End of Nature and Oil and Honey

"In this extraordinary narrative, Glassley, a geologist, describes his intimate relationship with Greenland's ancient rocks in such a fashion that the reader who knows nothing about geology is hooked; that reader feels like he's not only been transported to the rockribbed coast of West Greenland, but is also bent down and studying its rocks right along with Glassley. At the same time, the book reminds us of the degree to which climate change is damaging the planet [...] Urgently recommended!"
Lawrence Millman, author of Last Places and At the End of the World

"As geologists, we may be rational scientists, but expeditions to remote places touch something deep in us that moves us to also be poets. Glassley has turned his experiences in Greenland into searingly beautiful descriptions of a wild landscape and the ways in which that landscape moves and changes him. Every sentence is evocative, connoting curiosity, awe, and respect in equal measure. A Wilder Time is a paean on the importance of wilderness to the human spirit and a saddening reminder of what we lose when we divorce ourselves from contact with wild places. Glassley's voice will stay with me the way the works of Loren Eiseley, Edward Abbey, Rachel Carson, and Aldo Leopold have stayed with me over the decades."
Jane Selverstone, professor emerita in the Department of Earth & Planetary Sciences at the University of New Mexico

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