A “mesmerizing, genre-melding work of history, memoir, anthropology, travel, and time travel” (New York Review of Books) that reveals the force of absence at the core of contemporary life.

Gaps in the geological record, physical evidence of breaks in time, unconformities are also holes in history that create fissures in feeling, knowledge, memory, and understanding.


“This is an astonishing book. High octane but precise (Raffles understands that poetry is not “poetic” but exact), both copious and profound.” Kathleeen Jamie, The New Statesman

Winner of the 2023 J.I. Staley Prize from The School for Advanced Research
A New York Times Critics Pick
A Kirkus Reviews Best Book of 2020
A Literary Hub Favorite Book of 2020

A journey across eons and continents, The Book of Unconformities is also a journey through stone: Neolithic stone circles, Icelandic lava, mica from a Nazi concentration camp, petrified whale blubber in Svalbard, the marble prized by Manhattan’s Lenape, and a huge Greenlandic meteorite that arrived in New York City along with six Inuit adventurers in 1897.

A spellbinding time travelogue…. Raffles’s dense, associative, essayistic style mirrors geological transformation, compressing and folding chronologies like strata in metamorphic rock.


Julian Lucas, Harper’s Magazine

What makes the book’s incantatory lists, quick peregrinations in time, and archival research all cohere is Raffles’s fierce commitment to looking, looking closer, and looking again. The result reads like the product of decades of compression, like the rocks he studies…. In his questing, compassionate reaching across the discontinuities of geologic ages and individual lives, Raffles gives us a voice that can, for a time, hold it all together.


Jonathan Mingle, The New York Review of Books

What intuition the book requires, what detective work—and what magic tricks it performs. Stones speak, lost time leaves a literal record and, strangest of all, the consolation the writer seeks in the permanence of rocks, in their vast history, he finds instead in their vulnerability, caprice and still-unfolding story.


Parul Sehgal, The New York Times

In a high-voltage jolt of insight, Mr. Raffles converts what might seem a dry scientific concept into a potent literary metaphor to help anyone whose sense of time has been fractured by loss…. The Book of Unconformities is so rich in erudition and prose-poetry that I read it like a glutton, tearing off big bites of lost time until I was sated.


Robert M. Thorson, The Wall Street Journal

Raffles, an anthropologist, fashions a set of narratives that blur boundaries and disciplines through digression and exquisitely long sentences that render the world, as in W.G. Sebald’s novels, simultaneously clarified and enshrouded. It is a masterpiece.


Stephen Sparks, Literary Hub

Panoptical and sparkling…. The text shimmers with rangy curiosity, precise pictorial descriptions, well-narrated history, a sympathetic eye for the natural world, and a deft, light scholarly touch. The mood is as unpredictable as next week’s weather, as Raffles remains keenly attuned to the politics and personalities that move the action along.


Kirkus Reviews (starred)

In our Anthropocene era, no recent work has done more to position anthropology as a discipline that weaves together human aspirations and follies and their links to the planetary resources that make all life possible.


From the Staley Prize selection committee’s award citation

Raffles is serenely indifferent to the imperatives and ordinary satisfactions of conventional storytelling. Character, coherence, a legible and meaningful structure—these are not his concerns. The organization of the book feels profoundly random. There are no attempts to suture together the various stories, no attempts to enact something “learned” by the author. The photographs accompanying the text are dim and blotchy, and Raffles favors slabs of prose unbroken by punctuation. I intend all this as praise.


Parul Sehgal, The New York Times

A feat of immense academic labour that never feels laboured…. The Book of Unconformities resists cataloguing as a methodology and resists being catalogued.


Dan Dixon, Australian Book Review

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