January 16, 2019

Timefulness Over Mindfulness

“At midnight, the glittering crystal ball will drop in Times Square. Revelers around the world will straggle home, nod off, and greet the new year with a dullness caused by sleep deprivation, overstimulation and inebriation. This behavior suggests that we give higher priority to the final few hours of the past than the first few hours of the future—perhaps because endings are more concrete than beginnings, and regrets sharper than resolutions.

Geologists don’t think this way, particularly Marcia Bjornerud, author of “Timefulness,” a profound meditation on the richness, depth and entanglements of geologic time. Her brief book on a big subject puts the ball drop in proper perspective by reminding us that the Gregorian calendar is anachronistic and by elegantly condensing the landmark tomes of geology, from James Hutton’s “Theory of the Earth” (1788) to John McPhee’s “Annals of the Former World” (1998).

Ms. Bjornerud, a professor at Lawrence University, writes in the first person, warmly humanizing her chilly subject with the highs and lows of her remote field work (Arctic Svalbard), her personal epiphanies (regretfully smashing a crystal) and the intellectual thorns in her side (biblical creationists). She writes for the general reader interested in earth science who’s willing to invest some intellectual effort to get a good return.”

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