Book Overview – John Cater – Rock Doctor: Adventures of a Field Geologist before 9/11

Book Overview Overview John Cater Rock Doctor Adventures of a Field Geologist before 9 11 PetroStrat Banner

If you think the life of a geologist is boring, then we hope this article will change your mind! John Cater (Reservoir Geologist here at PetroStrat) has had an interesting and eventful life as a field geologist spanning nearly four decades. The world was a very different place in the 1980s and 1990s. In a time before mobile phones, GPS and 24/7 social media coverage he was exploring the Middle East and Asia.

Recently he published a book which reflects on his adventures, filled with tales of lucky escapes and fascinating insight into his experiences in some of the world’s most inaccessible locations. Rather than write a review of the book, we prepared a little Q&A session.

A quick Q&A session with John Cater

What made you decide to become a geologist? 

At my school we were given a choice between Geology and Latin at O level. The original no-brainer! I got into dinosaurs and such as a kid and dreamed of weird landscapes populated by fantastical creatures – I was never that impressed by rocks, as such. I remember reading a novel about a two-fisted geologist fighting lumberjacks in Canada and living in a tent- that may have helped too.

What is your favourite rock, and why?

I think, rocks are mostly pretty dull to look at – it’s what they tell us about the past that’s interesting. Maybe the most influential and impressive single rock I can think of is the Penon de Ifach in southern Spain, a 100m-scale block of limestone that slid into the sea one day 15 million years ago. Seeing that and recognising it for what it is sparked my research into ancient gravity flows for my PhD; much of my later career has involved similar (but smaller) sorts of rocks.

What made you decide to publish a book?

I wanted my kids and friends to be able to read about what I’ve been up to, given that it’s been a fairly unusual career. My Dad drove a boat for the Commandos in WW2 but there are frustratingly few records of what he actually got up to, so I thought it would be good if I could leave a better record than his.

Out of all the amazing countries you have conducted field research in, what are your top three and why?

Well… this is very subjective, of course. I really liked Oman, mostly for its fantastic scenery and geology – much of the land was scraped up off the deep ocean floor and piled up to create the coastal mountains – but also for the (apparently) very tolerant attitudes of the various tribal and religious groups living there. Nepal too, for similar reasons, although the tolerance has broken down a lot recently. Spectacular mountains and steaming swamps… I travelled from Kathmandu to the Indian border by helicopter once, stopping mid-way so the pilot could buy oranges from his favourite farm. And Syria was gorgeous, once. My wife visited us in the field there before we were married. Much of what we got up to was illegal, but you’ll have to read the book for details!

You must have explored some amazing landscapes, and seen some amazing natural beauty. Can you share with us one of your favourite moments, something special that you often think back on with fondness?

That has to be the splendour of the Annapurna Range at dawn – I still use the photo for my LinkedIn and Facebook profiles. We were there during the monsoon, when clouds hid the hills every day. That dawn the sky was clear for half an hour, the majestic peaks of Dhaulagiri and Machhapuchhre glistening pink in the sunrise for a few magical moments before mists rose and hid it all once again. A real blessing.

Do you have any advice for aspiring early-career geologists who dream of a future of bright adventures and expeditions?

Go to Uni and get into academia as a researcher. Top academics can choose where to visit at somebody else’s expense. I was lucky enough to be paid by oil companies to explore the wilderness, but these days that’s not very common. University professors do much better, and they employ younger people as research assistants (you’d need a degree to quality). South America seems the best bet nowadays, rather than the areas I went to , many of which have been ruined by war.

Abstract of “Rock Doctor: Adventures of a Field Geologist before 9/1″(from rear of book)

This is the tale of fifteen humorous, heart-breaking years, of the journey of a lifetime, from Tibetan India to the Anti-Lebanon Mountains of Syria. 

A tale of oil exploration, with love, humility and the companionship of some of the world’s hardiest nomads discovered along the way. It is the story of some pioneering and sometimes misguided journeys through the amazing world of the Middle East and Indo-Pakistan, before the political upheavals of the 21st Century. 

A world where it was still possible to play a drum solo in a Sufi temple, share a goat with Pathan tribesmen, guide a helicopter down on a Turkish threshing ground, eat sheep’s brains at 16,000 feet and crawl though Roman sewers on the abandoned edge of an apocalyptic war. 

The crying shame is that nearly all of this story is no longer possible. Above all this is a true story, to remind people of what can be, even if we can never rebuild what was.

Order your copy of “Rock Doctor” from Amazon

Book Overview Overview John Cater Rock Doctor Adventures of a Field Geologist before 9 11 PetroStrat

This ebook, and print copies, are available on Amazon – Buy “Rock Doctor: Adventures of a Field Geologist before 9/11”. Print copies are also available from Troubador Publishing Online Shop.

Further Reading

You may also like...


Get PetroStrat monthly news updates and general interest articles direct to your inbox!

Your email will never be shared, and you can unsubscribe at any time


Our next newsletter will arrive in your inbox at the end of the month, we hope you enjoy it!