Oakland Geologist Drills Into East Bay History from the Ground Down in New Book

In Deep Oakland, Andrew Alden excavates the ancient story of Oakland’s geologic underbelly, revealing how its subterranean sinews are intimately entwined with its human history—and future

ON-SALE: MAY 2, 2023

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: Resisting the Attention Economy

BERKELEY, CALIF. — When we look at the history of a city, rarely do we see it from the “ground down,” says Andrew Alden—but it’s there that the story of any place truly begins. In Deep Oakland: How Geology Shaped A City, Alden surveys with winking insight and contagious enthusiasm the distinctive terrain of Oakland, California, revealing how quaking rocks, alluvial fans, and bubbling magma have formed the lands and the lives of everyone who has tread upon them since time immemorial.

“Geology is how the Earth works—how planets work,” writes Alden, and in this illustrated guide—featuring 11 pen and ink maps by Laura Cunningham—visitors to planet Oakland can see this corner of the world as never before, from the “shimmering heart” of Lake Merritt to the slumbering volcano at the city’s edge. 

Like its modern-day demography, Oakland boasts unparalleled diversity in its bedrock, being home to more kinds of rock than any other city in the U.S. To these rocks Oakland owes its one-of-a-kind landscape: a belt of coastal flats arrayed in front of a range of high hills over a million years old perched atop the tremulous, creeping Hayward Fault that has shaken, shunted, and shifted the East Bay into its present-day configuration. With a true local’s delight, Alden plunges readers into this cosmic backstory of some of the Town’s most beloved pockets—the wineglass valley of Claremont Canyon, the rocky melange of Mountain View Cemetery, and the soulful stream valley of Indian Gulch, to name a few—showing us how what lies beneath has carved out what we abovegrounders see today.

Throughout, Alden traces how Oakland’s layered natural history has formed and been formed by all who have stepped upon it, from the oak-grove-dwelling Ohlone to the 19th-century squatters who incorporated the town, to today’s urban melting pot. Bearing the vatic scale of geologic time in mind, Alden encourages his readers to think, like the Town’s first peoples did, seven generations ahead and imagine how human action may shape this city’s landscape in the next half-century to come.

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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 is one of the foremost experts on Oakland’s natural history and 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

Advance Praise for Deep Oakland

“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

“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

“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