Deep Oakland: How Geology Shaped a City

Andrew Alden, Laura Cunningham

Book cover for Deep Oakland: How Geology Shaped a City
Book cover for Deep Oakland: How Geology Shaped a City

Deep Oakland: How Geology Shaped a City

Deep Oakland: How Geology Shaped a City

Andrew Alden, Laura Cunningham

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A San Francisco Chronicle Bestseller

Read the rocks as only a geologist can, with this deep drill-down into Oakland's geological history and its impacts on the city's urban present.

"This book has turned me into a newcomer to my own city, but has also changed the way I will view any landscape. I can think of few greater gifts than that."--Jenny Odell, author of How to Do Nothing

"Spending time with Andrew Alden is like giving yourself x-ray eyes." --Roman Mars, host and creator of 99% Invisible

Beneath Oakland's streets and underfoot of every scurrying creature atop them, rocks roil, shift, crash, and collide in an ever-churning seismological saga. Playing out since time immemorial, the deep geology of this city has chiseled and carved its landforms and the lives of everyone--from the Ohlone to the settlers to the transients and transplants--who has called this singular place home.

In Deep Oakland, geologist Andrew Alden excavates the ancient story of Oakland's geologic underbelly and reveals how its silt, soil, and subterranean sinews are intimately entwined with its human history--and future. Poised atop a world-famous fault line now slumbering, Alden charts how these quaking rocks gave rise to the hills and the flats; how ice-age sand dunes gave root to the city's eponymous oak forests; how the Jurassic volcanoes of Leona Heights gave way to mining boom times; how Lake Merritt has swelled and disappeared a dozen times over the course of its million-year lifespan; and how each epochal shift has created the terrain cradling Oaklanders today. With Alden as our guide--and with illustrations by Laura Cunningham, author of A State of Change--we see that just as Oakland is a human crossroads, a convergence of cultures from the world over, so too is the bedrock below, carried here from parts still incompletely known.

About the Author

Andrew Alden is a geologist and geoscience writer who has worked for the US Geological Survey and reported for KQED and Bay Nature. Long fascinated with rocks and landscapes, Alden found inspiration for his debut book, Deep Oakland, in the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, which, as he writes, "ripped the city open and revealed to us its heart and character." Through his writing Alden raises awareness for what he calls the deep present: the appreciation of the ancient underpinnings that shape the modern-day surroundings of daily life. His website is

Critical Reviews

"[Alden] details the ways the city's development has been shaped by its geological underpinnings [...] The author also warns of latent natural threats to the metropolis, including earthquakes and the depletion of the aquifers that supply the city's water. [...] Bay Area denizens will get the most out of this." --Publishers Weekly

"Alden suggests geology defines not only cities, but if attended to, geology reveals people as they once were and shapes who they might become." --East Bay Express

"Geologist Alden unearths the dramatic story that took place--and is currently developing--in the soil below Oakland. As plates shift, the surface buckles, creating not only topographical idiosyncrasies but also social and cultural ramifications. Tracing the city's terrain from prehistory to the present, this book offers an investigation into place, a meditation on how inextricably connected humanity is to the natural world." --Alta Journal

"Looking not only at the geology but at the history and cultural influences that shaped the city of Oakland, geoscience writer Andrew Alden displays his fascination with science and his attachment to the area. [...] This book should appeal to geologists and especially to the local reader familiar with the Oakland area who can trace the described geological sites and recall its history through this excellent guide." --Manhattan Book Review

"Deep Oakland is about so much more than just rocks. Bringing to life the incredible processes that continue to shape the East Bay, Alden's treatment of geology also remains alive to its overlaps with the social and the cultural. This book has turned me into a newcomer to my own city, but has also changed the way I will view any landscape. I can think of few greater gifts than that." --Jenny Odell, author of How to Do Nothing and Saving Time

"Spending time with Andrew Alden is like giving yourself x-ray eyes. Deep Oakland unearths incredible insights into this land we love." --Roman Mars, coauthor of The 99% Invisible City: A Field Guide to the Hidden World of Everyday Design

"Andrew Alden has written a love song to Oakland, the people, the history, and the geology. Deftly telling the multimillion year story of the landscape, he reveals the dynamic and beautiful world under and around Oakland's streets and hills in elegant and passionate prose. His stories will open the eyes of newcomers and long-term residents, grounding them in the city's past and present, as well as offering reasons to plan for the future." --David B. Williams, author of Stories in Stone: Travels through Urban Geology

"In this vivid account of Oakland's exceptionally rich geology, Andrew Alden weaves together historical and geological tales in elegant non-technical language that will tempt you to explore Oakland's beautiful landscape from the Bay margins to the crest of the hills." --Doris Sloan, author of Geology of the San Francisco Bay Region

"Alden's new book is chock-full of fascinating historical as well as geological lore about a city that too often lives in the shadow of its more glamorous neighbor. The book is a masterful rejoinder to Gertrude Stein's famous quip about the city of Oakland. Not only is there a there there, but it has deep and fascinating roots." --Susan Hough, author of The Great Quake Debate: The Crusader, the Skeptic, and the Rise of Modern Seismology

Publishing Information

Publisher: Heyday Books
Pub date: 2023-05-02
Length: 256 pages

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