Into the Heart of Our World
Pegasus Books, $27.95
More than 150 years ago, Jules Verne imagined a fantastic voyage into Earth’s depths. In reality, the planet’s innards are no less remarkable than the Jurassic–period monsters and subterranean labyrinths that Verne envisioned: Iron crystals stretch 20 kilometers long, colossal plumes of liquefied rock surge toward the surface and fragments of ancient seafloors lie entombed in the mantle.
In his latest book, astronomer and writer David Whitehouse takes readers on a scientific journey to the center of the Earth. The trip explores the latest discoveries about what lies beneath our feet and what mysteries remain unsolved (SN: 9/19/15, p. 18). Whitehouse intertwines these facts with compelling retellings of research expeditions and throwbacks to Verne’s classic tale.
While the characters in Verne’s novel descended through an Icelandic volcano, real-life earth scientists have a trickier time getting up close and personal with their research subject, Whitehouse notes. The deepest humans have ever traveled is about four kilometers below ground, in a gold mine in South Africa — not even a thousandth of the way to Earth’s center. Humans will reach the stars before the center of the Earth, Whitehouse predicts.
Luckily, scientists have a bag of tricks for looking deeper into the planet. Researchers glean information from earthquakes, diamonds and even rumbles from nuclear bomb tests. That research has revealed the complex and sometimes downright bizarre makeup of Earth’s interior, including an inner, inner core (SN: 1/23/16, p. 8), and the geophysical mechanisms that drive plate tectonics. Collecting these clues helps scientists better understand humankind’s unique place in the cosmos, Whitehouse contends. Earth’s life-protecting magnetic field and climate-controlling plate tectonics mean that “we are as much children of the core as we are the offspring of air and water,” he writes.
The breadth of Whitehouse’s journey — from crust to core and beyond — results in the book’s biggest weakness. With so much ground to cover (and underground, too), the book frequently moves on to its next topic before everything has been explored in full detail. In this sense, Into the Heart of Our World is a great introduction to the mysteries of Earth’s depths that will leave readers clamoring for a more in-depth trip into the planet.