The Face of the Earth: Natural Landscapes, Science, and Culture

The Face of the Earth: Natural Landscapes, Science, and Culture

The Face of the Earth: Natural Landscapes, Science, and Culture

The Face of the Earth: Natural Landscapes, Science, and Culture

Synopsis

This lively book sweeps across dramatic and varied terrains--volcanoes and glaciers, billabongs and canyons, prairies and rain forests--to explore how humans have made sense of our planet's marvelous landscapes. In a rich weave of scientific, cultural, and personal stories, The Face of the Earth examines mirages and satellite images, swamp-dwelling heroes and Tibetan nomads, cave paintings and popular movies, investigating how we live with the great shaping forces of nature--from fire to changing climates and the intricacies of adaptation. The book illuminates subjects as diverse as the literary life of hollow Earth theories, the links between the Little Ice Age and Frankenstein's monster, and the spiritual allure of deserts and their scarce waters. Including vivid, on-the-spot accounts by scientists and writers in Saudi Arabia, Australia, Alaska, England, the Rocky Mountains, Antarctica, and elsewhere, The Face of the Earth charts the depth and complexity of our interdependence with the natural world.

Excerpt

This book is about natural landscapes and some of the great agents that have shaped them. It is equally about how we humans have worked to understand the world around us, both through the sciences and through the stories we produce as cultural beings. We will look at how human lives and cultures are (and always have been) intertwined with such things as tectonic forces, changing climates, the presence and absence of water, adaptation, and complexity.

Curiously, English does not have a good name for this subject or this attitude of inquiry, one that neither foregrounds nor ignores our own involvements, one that draws equally on knowledge from the sciences, the humanities, and the arts. Natural often means “not counting human”—but we too are natural, depending on earth, water, and sunlight to keep our animal bodies alive, subject to hunger and plenty, illness and health, heat and cold; and our emotional, spiritual, and cultural lives are inseparable from the world around us. Landscape may bring to mind something a gardener designs and maintains, or maybe the tradition of painting from which the word actually derives—a single view of the outdoors, cut out from the whole to be framed and represented by an artist’s hand. But in this book we use these terms simply to say that we are focusing on parts of the earth that are more given to us than shaped by us—“natural land”—and that we are the ones doing the seeing and understanding—“scapes.” We like the notion of “the face of the earth” because it also suggests this combination of the human and the . . .

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