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Book Review – Devil in the Mountain Essay

The book, Devil in the Mountain explores and investigates the formation of the highest mountain ranges on our planet with specific reference to the Andes mountain range in South America. A team of geologists, led my Simon Lamb embark on a historic geological quest to uncover and solve the many mysteries that plague the formation of such mountain ranges. On their epic journey they unravel many clues that have aided in the understanding of the functioning of volcanism and seismic activity in shaping and forming the contemporary world that we live in.

The Andes mountain range is associated with high amounts of mineral wealth, particularly in the form of silver. It is this mineral wealth that has, for generation’s sparked silver miners in the Andes to believe in the existence of a spirit that haunts the mountains, this spirit is commonly referred to as the Devil in the mountain and for centuries Andean silver miners have attempted to pacify this spirit by making generous offerings of silver. What made Simon Lamb and his team’s journey of discovery so amazing, were all the daunting challenges and harsh conditions that they had to face and experience.

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The extreme environmental conditions tested the mental and physical capabilities of the team to the limits and the fact that Bolivia, at the time, was on the verge of a civil war only added that extra element of fear and danger to the journey. However, it is the emergence of such challenges that only serve to revitalize the human spirit and encourage the abilities needed in order to overcome said challenges which can be seen by Lamb and his team who overcame many impossible challenges in their continual pursuit to uncover the geological secrets beneath the Earth’s surface.

On their expedition, the geologists make many fascinating and unprecedented discoveries which take them on an epic geological journey back in time to around 65 million years ago. These discoveries are essential in explaining the origin and structure of the Andes. Lamb discusses in detail two theories which have been used to explain how such mountain ranges are supported, one by George Airy, and the other by John Henry Pratt. According to George Airy, a deep root at the base of the crust supports the high-standing land mass at the surface.

The Pratt hypothesis, however, visualizes variation in density within the earth and he states that high topography is supported by low-density material beneath the mountain. In the end, Lamb concludes that one may require elements from both these theories in order to explain the high mountain topography. The age of the Andes can be estimated via the analysis of plant fossils and dateable volcanic ash. Lamb plays particular attention to vast areas of hard rock in Guyana and Brazil which act as stiffening ‘shanks’ in the crust which has influenced the height of the Andes .

The curved shape of the mountains has been attributed to the tectonics of subduction zones and paleomagnetic measurements. The book also explores the relationship between the Andes and the Himalayas. The Himalayas have been responsible for global cooling over the last few tens of millions of years, which has produced cold currents and deserts along the coast of Chile and Peru, these cold currents and deserts have resulted in an overall reduction in the deposition of “lubricating” sediment into the offshore subduction zone.

This reduction has therefore, resulted in greater friction between the plates and ultimately, the uplift of the Andes. The appearance of minerals and marine sediments on top of the mountains was a pivotal factor in leading Lamb and his team to the discovery that the plates were actually pushing up against each other which explains the uplift of the mountains as well as the occurrence of marine organisms at the top.

This theory is also used to explain the occurrence of dry river beds throughout the Andes which have been attributed to tectonic uplift. Throughout the book, Lambert and his team literally unearth and explain in great detail the formation of the Andes by merging geological theory and personal observation. Lamb’s amazing and captivating writing style is successful in capturing the attention of the reader and taking him/her on a geological journey of epic proportions.

Through his use of diction, Lamb succeeds enormously in transmitting the excitement of conducting science, and his love and passion for the environment is vigorously evident throughout the book. Such books should be made compulsory reading in our university education, particularly for earth sciences students, to let them know that there is more to life than just passing and getting a job, life is full of opportunities and questions that are destined to be answered and through Lamb we bear witness to a man who is compelled to get out there and make a difference.

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