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July-August 2013

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Russian Mineral Classics, volume 16, number 3, Mineralogical Almanac. Mineralogical Almanac, Moscow, Russia; Order from Terry Huizing, 130 pages; 2011; $50 (softbound).

I am going to do things backward for a change, and start with the conclusion: Russian Mineral Classics is itself a treasure, just like each of the mineral specimens depicted on its pages. It deserves a home in every fine mineral library.

The book was published as a special issue of the Mineralogical Almanac (volume 16, issue 3, 2011), inspired by the September 2011 Denver Gem and Mineral Show's having chosen Russian minerals as its theme, but this is definitely a book, not a magazine. Or perhaps it could be better defined as “a photo album with educational footnotes.” It is bilingual throughout, with all text and photo captions given in both English and Russian. Unlike many English-language mineral books published in foreign countries, however, the language is fluent and very readable, thanks to translation and language revision by Alexander Yakubchuk, Maria Alferova, John S. White, and Brian Jackson.

It begins with brief (six-page) introductory text by Dr. Igor Pekov giving an overview of important Russian localities and their history. The rest of the book is mostly superb photos of classic mineral specimens, plus a few helpful maps for those, like myself, unfamiliar with Russian geography (despite my Russian family name), in chapters organized geographically from west to east, starting with European Russia. This is followed by the Ural Mountains, then Siberia, and finally the Far East (the parts near Alaska and Japan). Each of these geographical sections leads with a one-page introduction and a one-page map. The rest is stunning photos of minerals, filling the pages and using specimens mostly from museums and private collections in Russia; thus, the majority of them have not been seen before in the Western world. Of course, there are all the fabulous Russian classics one would expect to see in a work such as this: platinum, diamonds, chrysoberyl, quartz, topaz, phenakite, uvarovite, and many more. Nevertheless, one must not overlook even the apparently mundane minerals—I thought a pyrite was rather ho-hum, until I noticed in the caption that those sharp crystals were ullmannites, not pyrites! The staurolite and glendonite did not impress me much, until I read the sizes on the captions! And rare-species collectors will see interesting photos, too, especially those from the Kola Peninsula.

It is difficult to find anything to criticize in a work that was obviously produced with so much care. The paper quality, photography, printing, and color rendition are all excellent. I did, however, find the page numbering to be rather confusing. Some pages are numbered, others display only the number of the photograph depicted, and some have no numbers at all, so if one is looking for a specific map, for example, one might have to hunt a bit. But one gets used to the system, and it does not detract much from the overall superb quality of the book. Some may have trouble with the small-sized print used in the photo captions, but at least that makes the writing inconspicuous enough to not affect the aesthetics of the photos.

The list of editors, photographers, collectors, curators, and supporters who collaborated to produce Russian Mineral Classics is too long to give everyone individual credit in this brief review, but suffice it to say that even that list makes interesting reading. And serious mineral collectors will recognize familiar names, both from the United States and Russia.

Anyone interested in the minerals of that unimaginably vast territory contained within the borders of the world's largest country, anyone who considers themself a worldwide collector of fine minerals, and any collector who plans to travel to Russia—even if only in their armchair—will be delighted with this book. Thanks to subsidies provided by Lomonosov State University, the Paris Tech Mineralogy Museum, the Greater Denver Area Gem and Mineral Council, and a select group of top specimen dealers who have artful ads placed at the back of the book, it has been possible to market Russian Mineral Classics for only $50, a very reasonable cost for such a high-quality book.

Atlas of Non-Silicate Minerals in Thin Section by Joan Carles Melgarejo and Robert F. Martin. Mineralogical Association of Canada (, special publication 7. 528 pages; 2011; $125 (hardcover). 

In an era when microbeam methods have dominated analytical work, it is gratifying to see a new publication extolling the utility of the polarized-light microscope. As the title implies, this full-color atlas represents a compilation of the optical properties of non-silicate minerals that may be encountered in rock thin sections. It is among a series of special publications released by the Mineralogical Association of Canada, and as with the other books in the series, it provides a cornerstone for geology and mineralogy.

This is not a book for the casual petrographer or mineral collector. Of the more than 4,000 known mineral species, a petrographer might encounter perhaps 200, with a far fewer number being routinely seen in thin section; thus, many of the more than 400 non-silicate species described in this book will rarely, if ever, be encountered by the typical user.

Given the rather exotic nature of many of the species described, one might wonder why the need for such a monumental compilation. The authors correctly point out that these “mineral curiosities” can be essential to our understanding of rock formation and petrogenesis and also to relevant economic applications. An example given is the recently reported occurrences of coesite and diamond in thin sections, the presence of which can be used to elucidate the subduction of supracrustal rocks. The authors also take note of the applications of polarized-light microscopy that are relevant to the other sciences but also, more importantly, to the use of the petrographic microscope in geological work as a necessary first step in selecting areas in a rock thin section for further study by other methods. This is a commendable endorsement that I fully agree with. I would only add, having seen numerous errors incurred by reliance on a single method of analysis, that the polarized-light microscope is also indispensable for confirming mineral identification by other techniques such as X-ray diffraction or electron microprobe.

This book is divided into a multisection introduction (comprising chapter 1, pages 3–19), followed by chapters 2–17 (pages 21–509) that contain descriptions of the mineral species. I note with pleasure that the authors are well versed in historic and important literature, having cited in the introduction a seminal Michel-Lévy and Lacroix work that was published in 1888.

The tabulated species descriptions are organized in accordance with the Dana classification, whereby minerals are grouped on a structural basis (e.g., native elements, sulfides and sulfosalts, sulfates, phosphates, and so on). Each Dana group is preceded by an overview of the minerals within that group, consisting of a table of the species (including general formulae), followed by sections on occurrence, petrogenetic and metallogenic implications, environmental implications, industrial uses, and references. Descriptions of individual minerals are then presented. There is generally one page per species, but occasionally two when warranted by a long list of references or numerous thin-section photos. Each species is headed by its name, followed by formula, crystal system and space group, analysis (cations), unit cell parameters, and X-ray diffraction lines (limited to the most intense peaks). The following properties as observed in thin section are given, where relevant, for both plane- and crossed-polarized light: optical constants, habit, relief, color, pleochroism, cleavage, alteration, other characteristics, orientation, interference colors, extinction, twinning, zoning, elongation, and interference figure. In addition to photographs (with captions) taken in both plane- and crossed-polarized light, sections on distinguishing features and the mode of occurrence are presented for each mineral, as is a list of essential references.

Lastly, an Index of Minerals and an Index of Localities conclude the book; the locality index, organized alphabetically by country and mine name, allows easy cross-reference to the minerals documented in this work. A CD, containing files of all the printed photographs, is also included.

The atlas is very well organized and reader friendly, with highlighted mineral names and red subtitles that expedite rapid location of essential data; a body of up-to-date information is presented that is otherwise widely dispersed throughout the literature and would ordinarily be difficult to compile. The thin-section photomicrographs, with lucid captions, greatly add to the discussion. Locality information, which can be quite useful, is also given with the captions; such information is not usually provided in books on microscopical petrography. The paragraph on Distinguishing Features that accompanies each mineral description is very helpful for differentiating similar minerals, although in some cases I might have chosen different criteria.

Aside from some minor inconsistencies in punctuation or format and an occasional typographical error (which do not detract from the overall readability or impact of this publication), only a few errors of a more or less technical nature were noted. For example, anatase, under the interference figure section, shows an entry for r < v; dispersion in a tetragonal mineral is, of course, impossible. Some descriptions are a bit confusing, such as for cinnabar, which under the interference figure heading is listed as “uniaxial, very high.” The term very high could neither pertain to uniaxial character (there are no degrees of uniaxial character—it is either uniaxial or not) nor to dispersion (where it is irrelevant because cinnabar is a uniaxial mineral); this is likely a typographic error.

In places, somewhat unconventional terms and descriptions are used. An example is the description of the orientation of crystallographic axes and optic directions for uniaxial minerals; sometimes biaxial nomenclature (i.e., X = c or Z = c) is used to describe orientation, and other times not. Symbols for dispersion are also used inconsistently (e.g., brucite dispersion is given as r » v, rather than r > v, strong, as is done elsewhere).

There are a few instances where I would have preferred to see the data presented in a different format. For example, birefringence is qualitatively given as “beginning of second order,” “high orders,” and so forth, under the heading of interference colors. This is useful information for thin-section work, but the addition of quantitative birefringence (the arithmetical difference between the high and low indices of refraction) would provide more comprehensive data that could be helpful to the petrographer; although this value can easily be determined from the information provided, it is just simpler to have it readily at hand. Indices of refraction and 2V (optic angle) are generally provided as discrete values, not as a range of values as is common in most other literature. For a given mineral, most data fall within a relatively narrow range, and, in my opinion, presenting a restricted range of data (i.e., a range of values within which the majority of a given species fall), rather than a single value, might be more useful to the analyst. However, this manner of data presentation is not especially consequential in the study of thin sections where the index of refraction cannot be precisely determined (in contrast to the use of immersion methods with comminuted mineral grain mounts).

Because of the wide range of published data, differences among publications are to be expected, and indeed some variations were noted between this and other works; for example, the anomalous optic angle (2V) for corundum and the nature of the {110} cleavage for cerussite contrast with that given in other literature.

The photos have a decided pale brown to tan coloration, and the overall exposure is also often somewhat dark. Having said this, I note that in my experience it is very difficult to achieve exact color rendition and density of photomicrographs during the printing process. These problems are also evidenced in the CD photo files, although, as expected, resolution in these digital files is much better than in the printed version.

The aforementioned issues do not substantively detract from this impressive atlas, and overall, considering the vast amount of information presented, the reliability of the data is remarkable. I conclude by noting that coauthor Robert Martin had been telling me about the publication of this book for almost more years than I can remember. After a seemingly interminable delay, I can unequivocally state that the wait was well worth the end result! The cost, given the overall quality of the publication and the extensive number of color photographs, is quite nominal. This is indeed an exhaustive compilation that merits consideration for the bookshelf of the serious mineralogist or petrographer, and I am definitely looking forward to seeing the forthcoming silicate volume in print.

Atlas of Non-Silicate Minerals in Thin Section by Joan Carles Melgarejo and Robert F. Martin. Mineralogical Association of Canada (, special publication 7. 528 pages; 2011; $125 (hardcover).

Regular readers of Rocks & Minerals will know that Robert J. Lauf has recently published a series of Collector's Guides to various minerals or mineral groups, all in the same format and all priced at $19.99. This is the latest in the series, and its contents follow the same general order: an introduction, taxonomy of the group, their formation, and then the minerals themselves. Lauf writes well and obviously has done an enormous amount of research. The crystal structure drawings are particularly impressive, and the photographs, which occupy probably 75 percent of the book, are mostly adequate in that they tend to illustrate well the points made in the text. There is no statement indicating that all of the photos are by Lauf, but the notation “RJL,” followed by a number after nearly all of the captions, suggests this is so. The book would have been improved if Lauf had used better photographs in some cases from other sources. In spite of this, novice collectors will find this an excellent introduction to the silica mineral group, particularly quartz.

There are, however, other deficiencies. The first thing that I do when I pick up a new book is page through it looking mostly at the photographs and their captions. I was appalled, therefore, to see the mineral name lepidocrocite appear both in captions and in related text. It is obvious to me that Lauf is not a reader of Rocks & Minerals, else he would have been aware of my column in which I feel I had effectively demonstrated that lepidocrocite has never been found as an inclusion in quartz. I was further annoyed by his use of euhedral for freestanding quartz crystals, as I had also published in Rocks & Minerals a column in which I had forcefully argued that the term is misused in that context. In any case, this did not put me in a positive mood, so the reader might take this into consideration when reading the following.

On page 16, in the discussion of quartz twinning, Lauf makes frequent reference to the z-axis. I have to say that I am completely unfamiliar with referring to the c-axis of quartz as the z-axis. Frondel, whose classic work Lauf frequently references, does not use z for the c-axis; in fact in Frondel and elsewhere z is used instead for the negative rhombohedron face, something that is bound to be confusing to anyone reading this book. Nowhere does Lauf even mention that z is the vertical axis of threefold symmetry. On page 20 he shows a crystal drawing of β-cristobalite “normal to the z-axis …”; β-cristobalite is cubic—it does not have a unique or z-axis. The same may be said for moganite, which is monoclinic, and stishovite, which is tetragonal. Quartz, the dominant mineral of the silica group, is actually discussed in two different places: first under “Crystal Structure and Morphology” and then, toward the end of the book, in the “Minerals” section. In neither of these sections is the reader introduced to β-quartz or β-quartz, yet these terms are used in the book, either in the text or in a photo caption, which is the case with β-quartz. One final criticism, on page 84 in a paragraph beginning with “The process by which agates form,” Lauf proceeds to attribute agate formation solely to volcanic rocks, yet several pages later he discusses agatized coral. This criticism could have been avoided if he had written “One process by which agates form.”

Apart from these criticisms the book is a commendable effort, and much of it will to be interesting to mineral collectors, at least those who are attempting to broaden their understanding of these extraordinary objects.

101 American Geo-Sites You've Gotta See by Albert B. Dickas. Mountain Press, PO Box 2399, Missoula, MT 59806. 2012; 264 pages; $24 plus shipping and handling (softbound). 

The book 101 American Geo-Sites is a well-done compilation of what Albert B. Dickas considers to be some of the most interesting and instructive geologic locales in America. Each “geo-site” has been chosen with the careful consideration of a former professor who has devoted his life to geologic education and the exploration for natural resources. No state has been slighted, for there is at least one site in each state; collectively, these “field-trip” stops paint a surprisingly complete picture of America's complex geologic history.

Beginning with a foreword, acknowledgements, and an 18-page introduction that is particularly important for its brief review of the cogent aspects of geology relevant to the selected sites, the book contains a summary of both relative and absolute age dating, plate tectonic theory, and geologic history. From here we jump into the 101 sites, arranged alphabetically by state. Each locality is presented in only two information-packed pages, beginning with a locality title or name, the site's latitude and longitude, and a short heading that enlightens the reader with respect to the site's importance. Selecting at random, for example, geo-site 47 is the Ashfall Fossil Beds, Nebraska—chosen for “Miocene Epoch Fossilization … mass death and quick preservation at a favorite water hole.” Other chapters cover Mississippi's Petrified Forest; Alabama's Wetumpka Meteor Crater; Devil's Postpile, California; the Interstate 70 Road-Cut Interpretive Area, just west of Denver; Kilauea Volcano, Hawaii; Schoodic Point, Maine, the Delaware Water Gap, Pennsylvania; South Killdeer Mountain, North Dakota; White Sands, New Mexico; Roche-A-Cri, Wisconsin; and on and on. As one ends the site chapters, which conclude with Specimen Ridge, Wyoming, there is almost the same feeling of exhaustion experienced at the close of a whirlwind field trip. After a brief rest, we find that the book closes with a useful glossary, references that are keyed to specific chapters, and an index.

This is yet another in a continuing series of excellent Mountain Press publications. Although there is little here for the mineral collector, there are good paleontology- and petrology-oriented sites scattered throughout. The book is an interesting read and a useful reference for any geologically inclined traveler. The illustrations, each of high quality, have been taken from a variety of sources and include geologic maps, cross sections, block diagrams, and specimen and site photographs. The overall presentation is excellent with tight binding, slick high-quality paper, and sharp illustration reproduction. The book is well edited and certainly fulfills Dickas's obvious mission of geologic breadth and importance of site selection. The technical information is accurate and up-to-date.

I strongly recommend this book to readers wishing to know more about the most geologically unusual or important places within their own and neighboring states, as well as those planning longer trips into areas lesser known to them. In short, 101 American Geo-Sites might well define the route you take on your next trip, leading you from one interesting location to the next, many of which you would have never selected had it not been for this rather unusual book.

Fifty Minerals that Changed the Course of History by Eric Chaline. Firefly Books, 66 Leek Crescent, Richmond Hill, ON L4B 1H1, Canada. 2012; 224 pages; $29.95 plus shipping and handling (hardbound).

Fifty Minerals that Changed the Course of History is an interesting and somewhat unusual book. It deals with the impact of certain materials, some of which are in fact minerals, on the “industrial, cultural, commercial, and scientific” development of humankind. It is not a history book, although it is rife with insightful sections highlighting the importance of each material that Eric Chaline has chosen to discuss. Collectively it presents a fascinating picture, albeit somewhat disorganized, of man's interaction with raw materials and how they have moved us forward to the point at which we find ourselves today. It is the third book in a series, the first two being Fifty Plants that Changed the Course of History and Fifty Animals that Changed the Course of History.

After a brief introduction, the book presents fifty short chapters, each devoted to a “mineral.” The “minerals” are arranged alphabetically by the Latin or a Latin-like derivation of their English name, beginning with diamond (adamas) and ending with zinc (zink). Although Chaline points out that he is using the term mineral in the broadest sense, that is quite a stretch. Included in the fifty chapters are those devoted to such “minerals” as sand, plutonium, steel, pumice, slate, petroleum, coal, and jade. Metals such as uranium, tungsten, potassium, and aluminum that are components of many minerals yet are not known in significant natural occurrences are also included. Other chapters dealing with materials acceptable as minerals to collectors and mineralogists include gold, silver, copper, platinum, graphite, gypsum, quartz, sulfur, and talc. Each of the chapters is a well-constructed essay on its subject material. Interesting and at times anecdotal information is crafted into a good overall picture of the mineral's impact on human development. A description of physical and chemical properties so characteristic of most mineral-oriented books is almost completely missing and, frankly, would have detracted from the author's intent and presentation. Each chapter is illustrated with a wide variety of historical and technical photographs, sketches, and paintings, each of which complements the text in some meaningful way. The book closes with suggested further reading, an index, and image credits.

This is not a traditional book on minerals or mineral collecting, and I take great issue with the title, for it will clearly mislead the collector. There is little here for the mineral enthusiast other than a scattering of specimen photographs, some of which have odd, less than pleasing captions. For example, the caption for a group of colorless quartz crystals reads “Polymorph—Quartz takes many different forms, including semi-precious crystalline minerals.” The next caption, which is for a nice group of amethyst crystals, says simply “Drinker's Tale—Amethyst goblets were believed to prevent drunkenness.”

Despite the obvious criticisms of title, organization, and captions, there is a degree of intellectual sophistication here. I would have loved to have had this book as suggested outside reading for my first chemistry class. It presents a clear picture of the importance of chemistry, chemical compounds, and, yes, even some minerals in the evolution of science and technology, and it is done in an interesting and very readable manner. The book's presentation is good with tight binding, heavy paper, and careful editing.

Although I cannot recommend it for the mineral collector's library, Fifty Minerals that Changed the Course of History would make an excellent gift for any student with an interest in the natural sciences or engineering.


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