Rocks and Minerals. – Review

Rocks and Minerals. – Review – book review

Joel E. Arem

Rocks and Minerals, 5th ed., Peterson Field Guides, by Frederick H. Pough. Houghton Mifflin, New York. 396 pages; 1996; $18 (softbound).

If ever a mineral book could be considered “venerable,” this one is surely it! My sturdy little copy of the third edition, dated 1960 (the book appeared in 1953 with a second edition in 1955) and boasting 349 pages, has the same black-and-white illustrations inside the covers (front and back) as today’s 396-page edition. The general layout of the book is the same; the tables of contents are virtually identical. But here the similarities end.

A lot of the introductory material has been rewritten and is now a bit “friendlier” and more readable. Many of the differences are subtle. For example, in 1960 the discussion of amphiboles indicates that for species identification purposes “optical mineralogists can distinguish the individuals by their appearance under the microscope.” But in 1996, in addition to the use of the microscope, we have physicists “scanning lines in an x-ray powder pattern.” In 1960 we had idocrase (vesuvianite), whereas the change in nomenclature preference is reflected in the 1996 edition as vesuvianite (idocrase). The new edition also adds the important vesuvianite locality at Asbestos, Quebec, which was absent in the 1960 book. This illustrates the care and attention that has been paid in making the latest incarnation of Pough’s field guide accurate and current.

The 1996 book contains a page on plate tectonics, a branch of geological study that was just being developed in 1960 and is now the mainstream of current theory about planetary dynamics.

Another significant change is in the illustrations, which have been greatly enhanced by the addition of many new pictures by Jeff Scovil. All of the 385 illustrations are in color and are generally superior to the photos in prior editions, but unfortunately the reproduction quality is variable. Plate 16, for example, has a surplus of red, and so we find bright red chalcopyrite crystals that should be yellow, purplish crystals of pyrrhotite that should be bronze-hued, and reddish millerite needles that should be golden-yellow. The other plates seem to have fared better–their reproduction is crisp, and colors are generally accurate.

Pough’s field guides have been a fixture on nearly every mineral collector’s bookshelf for decades and are almost as much abbreviated textbooks as field guides. The latest edition is attractive, compact, packed with good data, and reasonably priced. Buy it even if you have previous editions.

You might also take a look at the Peterson First Guide: Rocks and Minerals by Pough (1991). This little (7 1/4 x 3 3/4 inches) 128-page paperback is a slim version of the field guide and is, in my opinion, far more useful and accessible for younger readers and beginning collectors. The introductory material is brief and to the point, and the photos are both larger than and superior to the photos in Pough’s field guide. At $4.95 it is a real bargain.

Joel E. Arem Laytonsville, Maryland

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