Colliding Continents:
A Geological Exploration of the Himalaya, Karakoram, and Tibet

Mike Searle

Oxford University Press 2013
A book review by Danny Yee © 2014
An accessible mix of science and travel writing, the structure of Colliding Continents is provided by a roughly chronological account of Searle's own fieldwork, covering a third of a century from a PhD on ophiolites in Oman and a first visit to the Himalaya in 1978. There's also a rough west-to-east geographical progression, with the earliest chapters dealing with the Karakoram and the later ones with Indochina and the 2004 Sumatra earthquake and its aftermath.

The geology stays focused on the questions at hand at the time, giving it an investigative feel, tracking the formulation and testing of different theories for the history of the region and the formation of its key geological features. This adds a little to the complexity but, to help overcome this, an introductory chapter explains the basics of plate tectonics in general and of the India-Asia collision in particular, while a final chapter brings everything together with an overview of the geological history of the Himalaya, the Karakoram and the Tibetan Plateau. It also helps that there are plenty of useful, high quality geological maps and diagrams — and twenty-five pages of appendices provide a guide to rock formation, metamorphism and dating, along with a scientific glossary.

The more general travel elements remain centred on Searle's trips and the science is never far away: even when taking "a short break" to visit Vietnam's Ha Long Bay he can't help commenting on the "karst islands composed of Permian-Carboniferous limestones". People do feature, but Searle doesn't push himself forward or present more than incidental biographical material, with the focus is on the immediate details of his hikes and climbs and trips. What digressions there are include quite a long "climbing history" of Everest and a brief account of the Maoist insurgency in Nepal. This is plentifully illustrated with splendid colour photographs, mostly of mountains and mountain ranges, but also of some broader landscapes and aerial views. (A minor complaint here is that more ordinary, non-geological maps would have helped the reader to understand the geography of the areas and to follow Searle's routes.)

Entertaining and informative, Colliding Continents is an easy read which should appeal to anyone with even a little interest in geology — given that, the attraction and fascination of the Himalaya and surrounds can surely be taken for granted.

August 2014

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%T Colliding Continents
%S A Geological Exploration of the Himalaya, Karakoram, and Tibet
%A Searle, Mike
%I Oxford University Press
%D 2013
%O hardcover, colour photographs, notes, references, index
%G ISBN-13 9780199653003
%P 438pp