Principles of Geochemistry, Third Edition
Brian Mason

It may seem a bit strange to be offering a review of a textbook published in 1966, but I enjoyed this one quite a bit in spite of its age. It’s a copy I picked up for a couple of quatloos at the local library used book bookstore, in anticipation of needing reading matter while recovering from my shoulder surgery.

It helps that the basic thermodynamic principles of chemistry were already well established in 1966. So were many of the basic principles of the subfield of geochemistry. What was most lacking fifty years ago (I suspect) was the extensive tables of thermodynamic data you’d find in a modern geochemistry book, and the emphasis on computer codes and computation. Instead, the author must of necessity emphasize phenomenology, which is actually a strength for a beginning or casual reader.

Instead of formulas for free energy, you get tables of ionic radii and predicted coordination numbers, with extensive discussion of how these play out in practice for most elements. Oh, I imagine you’d get that in a modern textbook as well (and I intend to find out; I’m certainly planning to get something more up to date when the budget permits.) But when it’s the best you have to offer, you give it your best efforts.

My own understanding of geochemistry, prior to reading this book, centered on the silica tetrahedron and its organization into the familiar families of silicate minerals. That’s certainly important and fundamental, and it was all there in this book. But there was also a long discussion of the importance of ionic radius, coordination number, and the perspective in which most minerals are seen as frameworks of oxygen ions that present sites for cations. I wasn’t ignorant of that perspective, but this book brought me much more up to speed on the concepts involved, and in how they affect ionic substitution. Aluminum mineralogy made a lot more sense to me when I saw the importance of aluminum’s ability to take up either fourfold or sixfold coordination with oxygen ions, for example.

Naturally, there are idiosyncrasies in a book this old. Continental drift gets a single mention as a “possibility” arising from the weakness of the aesthenosphere; I’m guessing that was actually rather forward-looking in 1966. You don’t have tables of formulas for free energy of important minerals, which I suspect would be rather important in a modern work. Isotope geochemistry gets a relatively brief mention, as a relatively new and exciting field; I suspect a modern book would devote whole chapters to it. (I know my igneous and metamorphic petrology textbook, revised just a few years ago, does.)

Still, it’s a surprisingly good read and I was glad to have it while stuck at home with a cut-up shoulder.

Shoulder update: It still hurts, though not usually when kept still. It hurts worst when I try the internal and external rotation exercises; I was warned these were the hardest and this has proved true. The table stretches are almost painless now. Both my physical therapist and I are a bit worried with how sore my good shoulder is getting, from taking up the strain. I tried a couple of hours at work last week; after two hours of one-handed typing, my “good” arm felt hammered. I now have enough use of my left arm to do more or less normal typing, but it’s still very tiring. I did a couple of hours earlier this week, may try a couple more Thursday, but am not really planning to try returning to work anything close to full time until I’m out of the cradle, which will be mid-July.

And I’m already feeling a bit sore from typing this much, so I’ll have to quit for now.

 

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