Book review: GeoBritannica: Geological landscapes and the British peoples, by Mike Leeder and Joy Lawlor

Jon Trevelyan (UK)

This is a very ambitious work. The authors discuss the geology of Britain as a “geological legacy”, that is, they believe it is “an inheritance bequeathed to 11 millennia or so of its post-glacial inhabitants”. Therefore, the book covers the geological foundations of its landscape and its raw materials; and how both of these have been used by society and individuals in the visual arts and literature, as well as for mining, quarrying and architecture.

As such, the authors discuss how the British people are connected to where they live through a shared heritage and what they suggest is an instinctive insight into the British landscape. While geologists have dissected and tried to understand the science of the island’s geology and geomorphology, non-scientists (and probably, in truth, also the geologist themselves) are connected to each other and to where they live by an emotional appreciation of the landscapes, and the rocks they consist of. This includes how artists have incorporated their appreciation of landscape and rock into their works, whether in pictures, sculptures, poems or other works of literature.

It is set out in seven parts. Part one presents the main themes, and part two deals with the geological background and how the varied geology of the British Isles is known. Part three deals with the geological history of Britain in some detail (and requires a basic understanding of geological terms); and parts four and five cover the rich supplies of raw materials that have been exploited over the centuries and how these have been used (both industrially and culturally) to produce what is now Britain. Part six moves away from the scientific towards the emotional and spiritual; and part seven provides 17 short chapters on different geological regions as defined by the authors.

While the book clearly consists of the personal views of the authors – one a retired academic geologist (Mike Leeder) and one a retired art teacher (Joy Lawlor) – it certainly presents a challenging, but inviting, view of the British Isles as more than just the sum of its geological and geomorphological parts, but as intrinsic to what Britain and its people are. It is well-worth a read.

GeoBritannica: Geological landscapes and the British peoples by Mike Leeder and Joy Lawlor, Dunedin Academic Press Ltd, Edinburgh (2016). 281 pp., hardback, ISBN: 978-1-7804505-0-4

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