Books: Romancing The Stones

John McPhee turns his 20 years of geological explorations into a spectacular rock opera

Exactly two decades ago as the knees stiffen, but a gnat's eyeblink in geologic time, a writer for the New Yorker hit on a notion for a Talk of the Town piece, one of those short, graceful, somewhat owlish essays that in those days were told with a royally editorial "we." John McPhee's excellent idea was to collar a geologist friend, visit the rock walls of a recent highway cut not far from Manhattan and relate what the newly naked stone told the geologist.

The project might have occupied part of a Saturday afternoon. Instead, as the author relates in the...

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