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In Underland, Robert Macfarlane delivers an epic exploration of the Earth’s underworlds as they exist in myth, literature, memory, and the land itself. Traveling through the dizzying expanse of geologic time—from prehistoric art in Norwegian sea caves, to the blue depths of the Greenland ice cap, to a deep-sunk "hiding place" where nuclear waste will be stored for 100,000 In Underland, Robert Macfarlane delivers an epic exploration of the Earth’s underworlds as they exist in myth, literature, memory, and the land itself. Traveling through the dizzying expanse of geologic time—from prehistoric art in Norwegian sea caves, to the blue depths of the Greenland ice cap, to a deep-sunk "hiding place" where nuclear waste will be stored for 100,000 years to come—Underland takes us on an extraordinary journey into our relationship with darkness, burial, and what lies beneath the surface of both place and mind. Global in its geography and written with great lyricism, Underland speaks powerfully to our present moment. At once ancient and urgent, this is a book that will change the way you see the world.


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In Underland, Robert Macfarlane delivers an epic exploration of the Earth’s underworlds as they exist in myth, literature, memory, and the land itself. Traveling through the dizzying expanse of geologic time—from prehistoric art in Norwegian sea caves, to the blue depths of the Greenland ice cap, to a deep-sunk "hiding place" where nuclear waste will be stored for 100,000 In Underland, Robert Macfarlane delivers an epic exploration of the Earth’s underworlds as they exist in myth, literature, memory, and the land itself. Traveling through the dizzying expanse of geologic time—from prehistoric art in Norwegian sea caves, to the blue depths of the Greenland ice cap, to a deep-sunk "hiding place" where nuclear waste will be stored for 100,000 years to come—Underland takes us on an extraordinary journey into our relationship with darkness, burial, and what lies beneath the surface of both place and mind. Global in its geography and written with great lyricism, Underland speaks powerfully to our present moment. At once ancient and urgent, this is a book that will change the way you see the world.

30 review for Underland: A Deep Time Journey

  1. 5 out of 5

    Fiona

    I’m a seasoned armchair traveler, used to shadowing journeys that I know I’ll never do myself. One of my BFFs is always telling me ‘never say never’ and perhaps she’s right, except when it comes to this book, Underland. Hand on heart, I will never follow in Robert Macfarlane’s footsteps underground. I’m too claustrophobic. This book is many layered. A bridging theme to his many different journeys is our generation’s legacy to the future. In the words of Jonas Salk, “Are we being good ancestors?” I’m a seasoned armchair traveler, used to shadowing journeys that I know I’ll never do myself. One of my BFFs is always telling me ‘never say never’ and perhaps she’s right, except when it comes to this book, Underland. Hand on heart, I will never follow in Robert Macfarlane’s footsteps underground. I’m too claustrophobic. This book is many layered. A bridging theme to his many different journeys is our generation’s legacy to the future. In the words of Jonas Salk, “Are we being good ancestors?” No, we’re not, is the short answer and I think we all know that. There’s nowhere that it’s more apparent than on Greenland’s glaciers. The speed at which they’re melting should terrify us all. MacFarlane doesn’t just travel over the glaciers, he abseils into a moulin which is a hole made by meltwater that deep down will turn into a fast flowing river that melts the glacier from below. It is his journeys below ground that sent shivers down my spine. He describes his caving exploits in England so well that I found myself holding my breath with him as he squeezed through holes so narrow that he had to turn his head sideways to get through. How can people do that?! He journeys miles out under the North Sea through mining tunnels where equipment is left to rot because it’s impossible to get it back out. I felt just as claustrophobic when he writes about his ‘urban exploration’ experiences, squeezing through rabbit hole size spaces to gain access to mile after mile of tunnels beneath Paris. I didn’t know this was a thing and that there are groups of people all over the world participating in this ‘hobby’. As he wanders through a forest, he learns about the hidden life of all that grows there. A forest ‘might best be imagined as a super-organism’. A city of interactions - with trees, fungi and plants sharing, trading, befriending and supporting each other in a world that lies hidden under our feet - ‘a wood wide web’. This book is full of amazing journeys, thoughtful writing and guidance for the future, if anyone wants to listen. The ultimate lesson we should learn for our own peace of mind is ‘Find beauty, be still’. With thanks to NetGalley and Penguin Books UK for a review copy.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Jenna

    Second time attempting this, second time DNF'ing. I cannot stand this author's style nor can I stand the way he jumps all over the place. I am in a slim minority here and most people love it.... alas, I cannot take another page. I thought for sure this time, when I'm so desperately needing some nonfiction and not much else is available, I would get into this. Page 70 and my skin is crawling and my mind is screaming NO MORE. This is not very scientific though the author nods his head at science a Second time attempting this, second time DNF'ing. I cannot stand this author's style nor can I stand the way he jumps all over the place. I am in a slim minority here and most people love it.... alas, I cannot take another page. I thought for sure this time, when I'm so desperately needing some nonfiction and not much else is available, I would get into this. Page 70 and my skin is crawling and my mind is screaming NO MORE. This is not very scientific though the author nods his head at science and tosses in a few tidbits of information. However, if you're looking for facts minus flowery writing, mythology, and the author waxing poetic about his underground explorations all of which is repetitive... keep looking. You'll not find it in this book. Next!

  3. 4 out of 5

    Diane S ☔

    I will never again think of the world under my feet in quite the same way again. I new Chicago had an underground because I have been there and I had heard of the Parks catacombs, but had no clue about much in this book. Hidden ocesn,s, invisible cities, and people who make this type of exploration their lives quest. Plants and their symbiosis between other plants and with what lies under their feet. There is much included within this book, for me some more interesting than others. I love the hum I will never again think of the world under my feet in quite the same way again. I new Chicago had an underground because I have been there and I had heard of the Parks catacombs, but had no clue about much in this book. Hidden ocesn,s, invisible cities, and people who make this type of exploration their lives quest. Plants and their symbiosis between other plants and with what lies under their feet. There is much included within this book, for me some more interesting than others. I love the humble way this is written, an author who often feels out of his depth but is willing to learn as much as possible. I love the thought and have actually been in ruins of houses, barns, but I could not bear to go to many of the places he went. The areas he had to squeeze through. I shudder just thinking if it. The different ways the underground is used, scientists running experiments, a place to hide waste that is too dangerous to be stored any other way, and even partying, a underground culture. He also travels to many different places in the world and often compares different things in mythology to what he investigates. A good and solid look at what lies beneath. The narrator was Matthew Watterson and enjoyed his narrative ability.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Bianca

    How does one even begin to review this book? I’m not even sure what to label it – it’s partly a travel/adventure book; it’s also a nature book, with lots of biology, geology, history, climate science and many other interesting things. From its first pages, it was obvious that McFarlane is a talented writer – in my view, he’s the best nature, landscape writer I’ve ever read. His descriptive language is incredibly evocative. He’s an excellent observer of his surroundings and pretty apt when it com How does one even begin to review this book? I’m not even sure what to label it – it’s partly a travel/adventure book; it’s also a nature book, with lots of biology, geology, history, climate science and many other interesting things. From its first pages, it was obvious that McFarlane is a talented writer – in my view, he’s the best nature, landscape writer I’ve ever read. His descriptive language is incredibly evocative. He’s an excellent observer of his surroundings and pretty apt when it comes to characterisations. This book seeps with passion – passion for nature, landscape, and knowledge. It was hard for me to resist its pull. McFarlane’s passion trickled into me, sort of by osmosis, via Matthew Waterson’s splendid narration (I think I’m in love ;-) ). Underland managed to be both high-brow and very accessible – a feat in itself. Thank goodness I came across it, it had been a while since I was that exhilarated by an author/book. Even the cover is stunning, it's one of my favourites. The audiobook gets 10/10.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Melanie

    I was wary of Underland at the beginning, as I normally reach for Macfarlane’s books when I cannot go exploring myself. Sort of a stand in adventure while bound to my desk for work or asthma keeping my indoors in winter. How would it work reading about him exploring terrain that I have absolutely no interest in exploring myself? Would I love it or would I be detached and disinterested? Right from the beginning, I was greeted by the high level of writing. It is a bit like meeting up with an old fr I was wary of Underland at the beginning, as I normally reach for Macfarlane’s books when I cannot go exploring myself. Sort of a stand in adventure while bound to my desk for work or asthma keeping my indoors in winter. How would it work reading about him exploring terrain that I have absolutely no interest in exploring myself? Would I love it or would I be detached and disinterested? Right from the beginning, I was greeted by the high level of writing. It is a bit like meeting up with an old friend, you sit down and pick up where you left off, even when it has been years. The writing is sublime. And the introduction to the Underlands is gentle, sharing his fascination, his motives for writing, he slowly guides us into the book. I loved visiting underground spaces in this way without the need for myself to get uncomfortable, wet or in a dangerous situation. Armchair travelling at its best. Not all journeys take you literally underground, some are just left you wondering what’s underfoot and I certainly took that with me on my walks last week on holiday in Scotland. Oddly, I thought most about his words after climbing the hill to an old Iron Age Hillfort, pondering what lay beneath me and what memories the stones held that I was standing on. I don’t think, I ever really gave that much thought to what is under my feet than that what lies before my eyes when out walking. And quite frankly that change in perspective was refreshing. It also got me thinking about my own place in the world, what legacy I will leave behind. What impact I can have to safeguard, to protect and to pass on. And this is where the real strength of any good book comes from: The moment you put it down, it still occupies your thoughts, you carry its wisdom with you and phrases pop into your head when you are doing other things. Certainly a book for me that I will revisit over and over again, preferably reading out passages to my husband, because the writing is just so wonderful. And we shall keep going out and find beauty and be still.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Rebecca

    This was a bit of a hodgepodge for me; that it’s exceptionally written goes without saying, but I’m not sure Macfarlane succeeds in bringing together all of his wildly different subterranean topics: mining, caving, burial chambers, the study of dark matter, radioactive waste, tree communication networks, Parisian catacombs, the mythical rivers of the underworld, prehistoric cave paintings, resistance to oil drilling, Greenland’s glaciers and Finland’s tunnels, and more. I felt crushed by the wei This was a bit of a hodgepodge for me; that it’s exceptionally written goes without saying, but I’m not sure Macfarlane succeeds in bringing together all of his wildly different subterranean topics: mining, caving, burial chambers, the study of dark matter, radioactive waste, tree communication networks, Parisian catacombs, the mythical rivers of the underworld, prehistoric cave paintings, resistance to oil drilling, Greenland’s glaciers and Finland’s tunnels, and more. I felt crushed by the weight of the prose by page 30 and skimmed the rest. Some lines I loved: “Time moves differently here in the underland. It thickens, pools, flows, rushes, slows.” “Philip Larkin famously proposed that what will survive of us is love. Wrong. What will survive of us is plastic, swine bones and lead-207, the stable isotope at the end of the uranium-235 decay chain.” “The same three [underground] tasks recur across cultures and epochs: to shelter what is precious, to yield what is valuable, and to dispose of what is harmful.” “We are often more tender to the dead than to the living, though it is the living who need our tenderness most.” [I was also sobered by his statement that most of us don’t know where we will be buried – a symptom of the nomadic nature of modern living.]

  7. 5 out of 5

    Bradley

    This is a strange duck of a book. Especially if it is a spelunking duck with a penchant for science and poetry. I want to say that it is a pretty interesting and diverse book on the concept of the underground, whether it is exploring deep caverns, crypts, deep dives, or mycelium networks in the forest. And it is! It's very, very interesting. Any kind of deep concept such as ice mining to discover the deep past, ways to put away nuclear waste products, catching rare nuclear particles... all of it This is a strange duck of a book. Especially if it is a spelunking duck with a penchant for science and poetry. I want to say that it is a pretty interesting and diverse book on the concept of the underground, whether it is exploring deep caverns, crypts, deep dives, or mycelium networks in the forest. And it is! It's very, very interesting. Any kind of deep concept such as ice mining to discover the deep past, ways to put away nuclear waste products, catching rare nuclear particles... all of it is included in the text. And what's more? This book of exploration is personal, awe-inspiring, creative as hell, and it reads almost like poetry. Hell. This book IS like poetry. Tons of connections are made between all these diverse elements and the language used is really, really pretty. So why didn't I give this a five-star rating just for its beauty? Because while it was pretty damn inspiring at the beginning, it wore me down and tired me out by the end. I think it would be a very nice book to read over a long stretch of time. A little each night as your mind is relaxing, letting go, getting weird and creative. Read it like poetry. A little at a time. Enjoy the language, the connections, and don't let it turn into a regular non-fiction title. Yes, there's some great science going on in here, but make no mistake... THIS IS POETRY.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Leah

    Unfortunately, the author's style isn't working for me, so I'm abandoning the book at 30%. I find it shallow (ironically), full of poorly evidenced observations on the human relationship to underground spaces which don't stand up to much thought. I chose it because I'd been told his writing is gorgeous, but I'm afraid I'm not seeing that. The descriptions on the whole are pedestrian, and I am so tired of being told about him shimmying through almost impossible tunnels - it would appear one narro Unfortunately, the author's style isn't working for me, so I'm abandoning the book at 30%. I find it shallow (ironically), full of poorly evidenced observations on the human relationship to underground spaces which don't stand up to much thought. I chose it because I'd been told his writing is gorgeous, but I'm afraid I'm not seeing that. The descriptions on the whole are pedestrian, and I am so tired of being told about him shimmying through almost impossible tunnels - it would appear one narrow underground tunnel is much like another. A mismatch here between author and reader, and I'm sure - in fact, I know from looking at other reviews - that it will work much better for other readers. This makes my one-star rating harsh, but it's a subjective rating of my lack of enjoyment rather than an objective judgement of the quality of the book.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Jerrie (redwritinghood)

    Wonderful book! The writing is fantastic. It’s lovingly descriptive and deeply contemplative. The author explores the spaces deep within the Earth for what they say about the Earth’s long past and what it might mean for our future. His descriptions of exploring arctic ice and what the deepest levels may have locked within them was my favorite part. It makes me want to go there, even though I know I wouldn’t last 30 minutes in that weather.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Kathleen

    British nature writer Macfarlane has written an enthralling exploration of the Earth below us. He has structured the book around three uses that humans have had: “to shelter what is precious, to yield what is valuable, and to dispose of what is harmful”. Along the way, the reader gets to experience claustrophobia that flows from Macfarlane’s experiences like when he and a fellow spelunker enter a ruckle (an underground subsidence of boulders prone to shifting and toppling) in the Mendips, a quar British nature writer Macfarlane has written an enthralling exploration of the Earth below us. He has structured the book around three uses that humans have had: “to shelter what is precious, to yield what is valuable, and to dispose of what is harmful”. Along the way, the reader gets to experience claustrophobia that flows from Macfarlane’s experiences like when he and a fellow spelunker enter a ruckle (an underground subsidence of boulders prone to shifting and toppling) in the Mendips, a quarried limestone range in England pocketed with ancient burial chambers. Or there is the time he nearly becomes stuck in a narrow vertical shaft while exploring the catacombs under the streets of Paris. This book is the culmination of 10 years of research/exploration and is designed to raise important issues: the relationship of man with his landscape, the instability of time and place, and most important, the impermanence of humans. He witnesses an example of the consequences of climate change when he sees a huge ice pyramid crashing off the Knud Rasmussen Glacier in Greenland. He believes that a warming planet is now beyond our control. What will we leave behind us? Plastiglomerate (plastic trash that melts when exposed to heat and wraps around grit and sand) and lead-207, the stable isotope at the end of the uranium-235 decay chain. Enjoy Macfarlane’s beautifully written book highlighting the waning Anthropocene age. Highly recommend.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Hugh

    Robert Macfarlane is always interesting, and this is probably his best book since The Old Ways. His definition of underland is a loose one, encompassing woodland and glaciers as well as caves. His journeys are personal and idiosyncratic, and there is plenty of speculation on deep time and how the anthropocene age might be viewed by whatever succeeds us in the long term future. Many historical themes are touched on, from primitive cave art in France and Norway to wartime atrocities in what is now Robert Macfarlane is always interesting, and this is probably his best book since The Old Ways. His definition of underland is a loose one, encompassing woodland and glaciers as well as caves. His journeys are personal and idiosyncratic, and there is plenty of speculation on deep time and how the anthropocene age might be viewed by whatever succeeds us in the long term future. Many historical themes are touched on, from primitive cave art in France and Norway to wartime atrocities in what is now the Italian/Slovenian border. Inevitably with such a disparate collection, not all of the subjects are equally interesting, but Macfarlane's enthusiasms are infectious.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Michael Finocchiaro

    MacFarlane's book about the Underland is a great companion to similar books about trees and nature aboveground (The Overstory came to mind as I read it). It is a non-fiction book taking us on a series of underground journeys primarily in Europe but also in Greenland where we explore caves and learn about geology and speleology. In fact, the passages when he is going through impossibly claustrophobic places in no light were quite stressful to read. I feel that this is an important book which talk MacFarlane's book about the Underland is a great companion to similar books about trees and nature aboveground (The Overstory came to mind as I read it). It is a non-fiction book taking us on a series of underground journeys primarily in Europe but also in Greenland where we explore caves and learn about geology and speleology. In fact, the passages when he is going through impossibly claustrophobic places in no light were quite stressful to read. I feel that this is an important book which talks about ecological change and global warming with factual analysis and yet without beating it over your head. It also serves as a sociological text about our relationship to the planet and makes more convincing arguments than say, the vapid Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, about how we can be more responsible in caring for the world around us. A few cool quotes (sorry, no page numbers due to a limitation in the Libby app :-/) I really enjoyed this one: We all carry trace fossils within us - the marks that the dead and missed leave behind. Handwriting on an envelope; the wear on a wooden step left by a footfall; the memory of a familiar gesture by someone gone, repeated so often that it has worn its own groove in both air and mind: these are trace fossils too. Sometimes, in fact, all that is left behind by loss is trace - and sometimes empty volume can be easier to hold in the heart than presence itself. This one is from his trip to Greenland which was particularly insightful and mesmerizing and it almost gives me vertigo to think about: The colour of deep ice is blue, a blue unlike any other in the world - the blue of time. The blue of time is glimpsed in the depths of crevasses. The blue of time is glimpsed at the calving faces of glaciers, where bergs of 100,000-year-old ice surge to the surface of fjords from far below the water level. The blue of time is so beautiful that it pulls body and mind towards it. Truly a fascinating literary voyage, I can highly recommend Underland!

  13. 4 out of 5

    Nigel

    In brief - Without question the best/most interesting Macfarlane book I have read. 4.5/5 and happily rounded up. In full I am a fan of Robert Macfarlane's work and have read a number of his books over the past few years. All the previous books I've read have been largely about life in the open. This one takes a very different direction and goes Underland. In common with previous books it looks at its subject in differing places, times and ways. The range of Underland topics that he manages to cov In brief - Without question the best/most interesting Macfarlane book I have read. 4.5/5 and happily rounded up. In full I am a fan of Robert Macfarlane's work and have read a number of his books over the past few years. All the previous books I've read have been largely about life in the open. This one takes a very different direction and goes Underland. In common with previous books it looks at its subject in differing places, times and ways. The range of Underland topics that he manages to cover is diverse, fascinating and thought provoking at times. I would argue that you need to savour a Robert Macfarlane book . I actually took a couple of months to read this, dipping in when I felt the inclination. In the case of this book in particular, and his others sometimes, they take you to strange places often known mainly to the author. For example the chapter on the Wood Wide Web I found simply fascinating. It was a subject I had little knowledge at all of and I found that it touched something in me. The Paris catacombs I knew slightly more about. Or at least I thought I did! Once I read the chapter I knew far more. Within the chapters there are often comments that are almost "asides". Again these made me sit up and take notice. I would offer as examples the comments on the hunger stones in the river Elbe or the life of drain workers in India - marvellous. The writing is rich, interesting and vivid in the main. It is not a book to rush. If you want to skip a bit fine but do be careful. There are gems in amongst the main headings. Taking the Karst and underground (sorry - underland) river near Trieste there are notes/stories/thoughts about cave exploration, rationale for doing so, mythology, flora and fauna, and dark tales of war among other things just as an example. I will confess that not every chapter fascinated me however the ones that did left me reflective and pleased that I had gained some new knowledge of this world we live on. I loved some of the ideas that came across to me in this book. When in Greenland he offers the idea that ice has a memory for thousands of years for example. During the course of this book he meets with/stays with/explores with some deeply fascinating people. There is a rich warmth of humanity in this even if sometimes the stories take us to far darker places. After Greenland Macfarlane goes to Finland to see the Hiding Place. This is a storage facility being built deep underground and intended to last for 100,000 years. It is for the storage of nuclear waste. Interesting enough you might say. However, in the way that this author seems to be able to do so easily, he couples this with the Kalevala, an epic folk poem from Finland. This poem dates back a long time however Macfarlane draws out somewhat surprising similarities between this two quite different topics. Obviously (!) he also looks at the subject of other nuclear storage facilities as well together with that topic as a whole. In turn this leads to the subject of language systems and how to communicate with people who will not be born for many centuries. It is remarkable just how readable and interesting he can make such diverse subjects. In a sense this is a difficult book to review. My journey Underland over the period of a couple on months will not be the same as anyone else's probably. The parts that touched me may not touch others in the same way. Certainly some people will look at this book and simply wonder why. However if the idea of this interests you maybe you should look at trying it. If you have read previous books by Robert Macfarlane it is possible that, like me, you will consider this his best richest book yet. Note - I received an advance digital copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for a fair review http://viewson.org.uk/non-fiction/und...

  14. 5 out of 5

    Barry Pierce

    don't fuck with caves!!! don't fuck with caves!!!

  15. 5 out of 5

    Eric Anderson

    It can be so easy to get caught in the here and now of life when most of it consists of a routine path between home and work. I’ve certainly found that where day after day I take the same trains while passing by the same trees and buildings. After a while I barely notice them because I’m so fixated on looking at my phone or a book. But reading Robert Macfarlane’s “Underland” gives a radically new perspective on time and space as he describes his various journeys to subterranean landscapes. From It can be so easy to get caught in the here and now of life when most of it consists of a routine path between home and work. I’ve certainly found that where day after day I take the same trains while passing by the same trees and buildings. After a while I barely notice them because I’m so fixated on looking at my phone or a book. But reading Robert Macfarlane’s “Underland” gives a radically new perspective on time and space as he describes his various journeys to subterranean landscapes. From ancient caves in England and Norway to the bottom of glaciers near Greenland to the subterranean chambers of London and Paris, Macfarlane explores terrain that few people have tread but which has always existed under our feet. In doing so he explores the concept of deep time where he can see the marks of many past centuries inscribed upon the rocks and ice hidden here. This is where resources are extracted from, bodies are buried, waste is disposed of and treasure is hidden. It’s also where scientists can detect changes to the environment and archaeologists can study the oldest traces from human history. Macfarlane recounts his experiences in these places, sympathetically describes the colourful individuals who guide him through them and meaningfully reflects on our hidden relationship to these subterranean regions. Read my full review of Underland by Robert Macfarlane on LonesomeReader

  16. 5 out of 5

    Radiantflux

    69th book for 2019. Robert Macfarlane has rapidly become one of my favorite nature/travel writers. In his latest book, he takes the reader on a series of seemingly disconnected trips to the "underworld"; going amongst other places spelunking to discover hidden rives in Italy and Central Europe; exploring glacial caves in Greenland; paleolithic sites in Scandinavia and England; particle detectors located deep underground in salt mines under the English channel; nuclear burial sites and urban explo 69th book for 2019. Robert Macfarlane has rapidly become one of my favorite nature/travel writers. In his latest book, he takes the reader on a series of seemingly disconnected trips to the "underworld"; going amongst other places spelunking to discover hidden rives in Italy and Central Europe; exploring glacial caves in Greenland; paleolithic sites in Scandinavia and England; particle detectors located deep underground in salt mines under the English channel; nuclear burial sites and urban exploring with like-minded people in the Parisian catacombs. All of this is done with a sense of magic/mystery. Who else would do this while carrying a specially created orb of a friend's deepest regrets and fears, which he has instructions to bury in the deepest place he can find. A beautifully written book, meditating on the meaning of the Underworld as a place of death and hidden things, as a mirror to the surface world of light and life. 5-stars.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Lou

    Award-winning and bestselling author Robert Macfarlane is back with a stunning story of landscape, nature, people and place and the accompanying history. Mr Macfarlane captures your attention rapidly with the interesting, information-rich text describing places lots of people will have no knowledge of. The author manages the fine balance between introducing us to enough information so that we are intrigued and suitably engaged but not so much that you become bored and drift away. That's no easy Award-winning and bestselling author Robert Macfarlane is back with a stunning story of landscape, nature, people and place and the accompanying history. Mr Macfarlane captures your attention rapidly with the interesting, information-rich text describing places lots of people will have no knowledge of. The author manages the fine balance between introducing us to enough information so that we are intrigued and suitably engaged but not so much that you become bored and drift away. That's no easy feat. This time we follow him on an adventure to learn about those secret often unmapped places beneath our feet. I found it quite profound and nothing short of beguiling. Anyone who enjoyed Macfarlane's other nonfiction will find more the same to admire here. That said, I think this is his best and most informative book yet. It is also written in a fashion that seems accessible and understandable to everyone. The subterranean landscape he explores is so unique and fascinating and the folktales and mythology introduced make this a mysterious read. This is science and nature reporting at its very best. Many thanks to Hamish Hamilton for an ARC.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Krista

    The same three tasks recur across cultures and epochs: to shelter what is precious, to yield what is valuable, and to dispose of what is harmful. Shelter (memories, precious matter, messages, fragile lives). Yield (information, wealth, metaphors, minerals, visions). Dispose (waste, trauma, poison, secrets). In the underland we have long placed that which we fear and wish to lose, and that which we love and wish to save. Underland is the first book I’ve read by Robert Macfarlane – a celebrated Bri The same three tasks recur across cultures and epochs: to shelter what is precious, to yield what is valuable, and to dispose of what is harmful. Shelter (memories, precious matter, messages, fragile lives). Yield (information, wealth, metaphors, minerals, visions). Dispose (waste, trauma, poison, secrets). In the underland we have long placed that which we fear and wish to lose, and that which we love and wish to save. Underland is the first book I’ve read by Robert Macfarlane – a celebrated British nature writer and literary critic who currently teaches in the Faculty of English at Cambridge – so I didn’t quite know what to expect from what looked like a sciencey exploration of the world beneath our feet. I understand now that Macfarlane’s career has concerned a “long-term mapping of the relations of landscape and the human heart” – making this book more sociological than geological – and once I learned to pivot my expectations, I grew to admire Underland for what it is: a poetic adventure-travelogue about underground spaces and the people tied to them. Macfarlane’s lyrical language borders on indulgent at times, and he writes from a decidedly progressive-campus point-of-view, but I found his adventures to be both fascinating and thrilling, and his thesis (This is among the best things we can try to do: to be good ancestors) to be sound. I look forward to reading Macfarlane’s earlier works. The way into the underland is through the riven trunk of an old ash tree... Macfarlane travelled widely, over the course of a decade, exploring mines and glaciers and caves and catacombs. In every place, he stayed with engaging characters (and Macfarlane has a true gift for capturing people in a few strokes), and with every experience, he was able to relate the voids under our feet with the oldest tales and metaphors in human culture (from Persephone, Orpheus, and the Minotaur, to Alice tumbling down through the rabbithole, we humans seem to have long been fascinated and repelled by the deep dark). Whether pulling himself through a narrow passage of rock (that necessitated turning his face to the side in order to squeeeeze through) or solo-climbing through a snow-covered pass to find a remote cave (against the emphatic advice of his local Norwegian host), Macfarlane relates some heart-thumping tales of adventure (that always turned my mind to the wife and children waiting for him back home in England). But while Macfarlane quotes freely (and interestingly) from research, literature, and poetry, he sometimes lost me when his own clear prose sprouted purple wings: I lie down to lead, I follow the thread, and each tiny room in the ruckle opens onto the next as it should, in turn, in order. I pass through the last of the gaps, and as I lift myself into the entry shaft I feel the snap of the black stone’s jaws at the empty air below my toes, and then I am out of the swallet and into the hollow, and warm air is rolling around me, and my bones grow again in the storm of light and ferns furl their green over and into me and moss thrives on my skin and leaves teem in my eyes, and Sean and I sit laughing, knowing for those few moments that to understand light you need first to have been buried in the deep-down dark. (Another rhetorical indulgence that annoyed: “What was it that Barry Lopez called these old routes of movement and migration within the landscape? Corridors of breath. That was it.” I liked the references but not the faux self-interrogation on the page. I suppose it’s all a matter of taste; it’s not to mine.) And as for the progressive politics: Speaking with the mycologist Merlin Sheldrake about the recently discovered “wood wide web” of fungi-enabled, underground resource sharing between trees in a forest, Sheldrake notes, “Politically, I’m obviously inclined to dislike the language of biological free-marketry far more than the socialist version.” Obviously. Macfarlane travels to Norway and meets an anti-offshore-oil-drilling activist, and this bear of a fisherman, Bjørnar Nicolaisen, takes the author out on his gas-powered fishing boat to discuss the evils of oil extraction. Macfarlane joins “urban explorers” as they breeze past No Entry signs and locked gates (even trespassing into a control room at the Tower of London) and notes sympathetically, “At its more political fringes, urban exploration mandates itself as a radical act of disobedience and liberation: a protest against state constraints on freedom within the city.” And while the trespassing itself made me squirmy, Macfarlane has different concerns: There are aspects of urban exploration that leave me deeply uneasy, and cannot be fended off by indemnifying gestures of self-awareness on the part of its practitioners. I dislike its air of hipster entitlement, its inattention towards those people whose working lives involve the construction, operation and maintenance – rather than the exploration – of these hidden structures of the city. I am sceptical of the dandified nature of its photographic culture, which seems chiefly to refocus the problems of Caspar David Fredrich’s iconic 1818 painting Wanderer above a Sea of Fog. And I feel uneasy at the opportunities urban exploration holds for insensitivity to those people who have no choice but to exist in contexts of dereliction and ruin. (And again this might come down to taste and temperament: the more one agrees with these viewpoints, the less they might break the flow of reading.) In the end, the very best parts of Underland were the death-defying adventures and the people that Macfarlane met along the way. He didn’t just descend into the Abyss of Trebiciano, climbing down a precarious ladder for two hours to reach an underground river, he did it in the company of a seventy-year-old pipe-smoking gate-keeper whose most frequent reply to any enquiry was, “Allora”. Macfarlane didn’t just follow some map to explore the far reaches of the Parisian Catacombs, he followed a young woman with scarlet lipstick, a quick stride, and an encyclopedic knowledge of that “invisible city”. This ultimately, and compellingly, is a book about the connections between people and underground geographies; a fascination we humans seem to have shared across time: I think of the black and red hand-prints left on the cave walls at Chauvet, of the red figures of the dancers with their outstretched arms, of the spray-can hand stencil on the catacomb wall in Paris, of Helen reaching a hand down to haul me out of the moulin. I think of the many people I have encountered in and through the underland who have been committed to shared human work rather than retreat and isolation. Many of them have been mappers, really, of networks of mutual relation, endeavoring to stitch their thinking into unfamiliar scales of time and space, seeking not the scattered jewels of personal epiphany but rather to enlarge the possible means by which people might move and think together across landscapes, in responsible knowledge of deep past, deep future and the inhuman earth. I may have some quibbles with the writing, and it may not have been the book I expected to read, but there is much in Underland that intrigued and enchanted me. I definitely will be picking up more from this author.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Overbylass

    I've only read three books by the author so far and will try more over time .I try so hard to be team Macfarlane .The books are praised so highly that I want in on it all -but I always feel I'm not wanted. I feel excluded , that somehow the books know I was born working class , educated at a hideous Middlesbrough 80s comprehensive and then ,as a result, onto a mediocre 'college' for a degree. They seem to always tell me that this is not your world ...you'll never go to these places, with these c I've only read three books by the author so far and will try more over time .I try so hard to be team Macfarlane .The books are praised so highly that I want in on it all -but I always feel I'm not wanted. I feel excluded , that somehow the books know I was born working class , educated at a hideous Middlesbrough 80s comprehensive and then ,as a result, onto a mediocre 'college' for a degree. They seem to always tell me that this is not your world ...you'll never go to these places, with these contacts and friends. Is it a chip on my shoulder ,or the writing style ,that is born of a good education and all the benefits that brings? I love nature writing and I can see there are some beautifully written pieces in this book , it always feels a bit 'Boys Own' ish. Like the books of old where 'the knowledge' was passed from private school teachers to their charges ,to go forth and explore the world and tell the plebs about it. I can't fully explain what I mean, due to my rubbish education! I just don't feel I belong in this genre of nature writing. Maybe the writer needs to come up to Middlesbrough/NE ,for a change ?

  20. 4 out of 5

    jeremy

    one of the most compelling, vivid, thought-provoking, magnificent, and richly composed non-fiction books i've read in some time, robert macfarlane's underland: a deep time journey traverses the european continent, exploring subterranean locales both natural and man-made (and, er, man-caused). with his poetic command of language, keen observational gifts, and worldly perspective, macfarlane's writing is frequently breathtaking. seamlessly blending scientific inquiry, nature writing, travelogue, ad one of the most compelling, vivid, thought-provoking, magnificent, and richly composed non-fiction books i've read in some time, robert macfarlane's underland: a deep time journey traverses the european continent, exploring subterranean locales both natural and man-made (and, er, man-caused). with his poetic command of language, keen observational gifts, and worldly perspective, macfarlane's writing is frequently breathtaking. seamlessly blending scientific inquiry, nature writing, travelogue, adventure tale, reportage, history, and requiem for our anthropocenic age, underland delves deeply — both literally and figuratively. macfarlane's new book is a remarkable exploration of natural wonder at some of the earth's most inaccessible and outlying (underlying!) places. macfarlane's enthusiasm and awe are contagious, as is his evident sorrow for what our species has collectively wrought and brought to bear on ecosystems near and far. perceptive, reflective, and educative, underland is unequivocally one of the year's must-read books; a masterful, exceptional work. we should resist inertial thinking; indeed, we should urge its opposite — deep time as a radical perspective, provoking us to action not apathy. for to think in deep time can be a means not of escaping our troubled present, but rather of re-imagining it; countermanding its quick greeds and furies with older, slower stories of making and unmaking. at its best, a deep time awareness might help us see ourselves as part of a web of gift, inheritance and legacy stretching over millions of years past and millions to come, bringing us to consider what we are leaving behind for the epochs and beings that will follow us. when viewed in deep time, things come alive that seemed inert. new responsibilities declare themselves. a conviviality of being leaps to mind and eye. the world becomes eerily various and vibrant again. ice breathes. rock has tides. mountains ebb and flow. stone pulses. we live on a restless earth.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Trish

    This is hard to rate or even describe. My GR friend Paul gifted me a book by this author some time ago and until now I haven't found the time to tackle it. Then my constant buddy-reader found this (not knowing the author was already on my radar) and asked if we'd read it together now as the topic more or less fit with what we've read this month already. Let me be clear from the start: the book is NOT bad. However, the book is exhausting. It's not that I didn't understand what the author was saying This is hard to rate or even describe. My GR friend Paul gifted me a book by this author some time ago and until now I haven't found the time to tackle it. Then my constant buddy-reader found this (not knowing the author was already on my radar) and asked if we'd read it together now as the topic more or less fit with what we've read this month already. Let me be clear from the start: the book is NOT bad. However, the book is exhausting. It's not that I didn't understand what the author was saying or describing. The beginning had me marvelling at his lyrical writing style as it made the book almost poetical. However, it didn't take long until the beautiful writing had me put the book down very often because I just couldn't go on anymore. The book is a little like a travelogue and a little like a geological and cultural history book. And yet, it's also neither of those. The reader is taken on a journey through time and across the earth, sometimes in anecdotes of the author's own travels, sometimes in recountings of what darkness and underground have meant and still do mean to humans in general (mining, burial chambers, dark matter, radioactive waste, tree communication networks, the catacombs in Paris, the rivers of the underworld in several mythologies, prehistoric cave paintings, oil drilling and more). Like I said: the story was interesting and relevant - it's how the story is told that threw me. I felt crushed by it and almost claustrophobic. In short, there is a difference between a demanding and an exhausting read and this, unfortunately, turned out to be the latter for me. Probably one of those weird "it's-not-you-it's-me" cases. Or maybe it's just the timing. Really a shame as the start was promising and so was the topic. Might have to give this another chance at some other point in time.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Paul

    Mankind has long looked to the heavens seeking fortune, inspiration and direction. Numerous cultures have all considered the underworld to be a place where a river carried the dead away from the surface, where death abounded, hell, hades and other places were thought to exist. It was somewhere to be avoided. Yet, people have worked underground for thousands of years, tracing and extracting the minerals and ores in the ground, However, it is not something that most people do on a regular basis in Mankind has long looked to the heavens seeking fortune, inspiration and direction. Numerous cultures have all considered the underworld to be a place where a river carried the dead away from the surface, where death abounded, hell, hades and other places were thought to exist. It was somewhere to be avoided. Yet, people have worked underground for thousands of years, tracing and extracting the minerals and ores in the ground, However, it is not something that most people do on a regular basis in the UK now our mining industry is gone. We do head beneath the surface though as millions of people think nothing about going on the tube under London and other capital cities to get to work. However, very few get to go to where Macfarlane is heading. His journeys into the nether regions of our planet will take him to the catacombs of Paris where his guide knows the numerous passages so well that she doesn’t need a map. Squeezing through tiny gaps, pulling his bag behind him, he will not see the sun for a week. He will venture deep underground in Finland visiting a nuclear waste site. Here they are burying copper and steel tube holding waste uranium, that will have to be buried for thousands of years and sealed behind a million tonnes of rock. The engineer’s joke that they might find the last lot that was buried in the rock they were blasting. People have been entering caves since time immemorial, some caves are easy to enter, though not straightforward to reach and they reveal art that is millennia old. The caves he visits to see this amazing art are not always the easiest to find, and it is not always the easiest thing to see on the walls as he discovers. Each cave he enters challenges his perception of the underground landscape, having to descend vertically in almost pitch back, wading through underground rivers that might flood with no warning. He sees first hand how the same forces that shape our coasts and mountains, also transform the Underland. Most memorable is an underground chamber where there are dunes of black sands. In Greenland, he climbs mountains and abseils down a moraine in a glacier and it is as cold and frightening as I’d expect. Secrets from under London with Bradley Garret from the London Consolidation Crew are revealed as they head to places that they really shouldn’t be going. Underneath forests are more than just roots, as Macfarlane understands how trees talk to each other through the Wood Wide Web. One of the deepest points he reaches is to see the place where they look at the stars… The way into the Underland is through the riven trunk of an old ash tree… It is through these and the other locations he takes us, that we get to hear the stories of these places that never see the sun. As will all of Macfarlane’s books, there is a wider message that he is talking about in what has been called the Anthropocene and that is about the damage that we are doing to this, our only planet. The reason he can abseil down the moraine on the glacier is because of global warming and the implications for humanity should the repositories hold the nuclear waste leak or rupture do not even bear thinking about. If you have read any of his previous books then this is a must read. It is not as uplifting as those books as it is much darker given the places he visits and the subject matter but that doesn’t make it any less thrilling. It is not one to read if you suffer from claustrophobia. I like the way that he can link seemingly unrelated subjects from classical history to modern day physics with that common thread of being under the ground. Macfarlane has a way with words that carry you as he heads deep Underland to see our past and glimpse our future. I have been anticipating this for over a year now and it was well worth the wait. If there was one tiny flaw, I would have liked to have seen some photos included of the places he visits.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Dax

    I started out marking interesting facts with post-it notes, but I quickly realized that just about every page would require more than a couple of them, so I quickly gave that system up and enjoyed the ride. 'Underland' is a fascinating read; full of wonderful details and facts that were new to me. Macfarlane is an adventurous guy, and his trips detailed in this book actually had a physical impact on me as I read. The caving, the urban exploring, the glacial descent, the catacomb claustrophobia; I started out marking interesting facts with post-it notes, but I quickly realized that just about every page would require more than a couple of them, so I quickly gave that system up and enjoyed the ride. 'Underland' is a fascinating read; full of wonderful details and facts that were new to me. Macfarlane is an adventurous guy, and his trips detailed in this book actually had a physical impact on me as I read. The caving, the urban exploring, the glacial descent, the catacomb claustrophobia; reading about these experiences left me breathless, sent my skin tingling, made me wide-eyed. It's rare to have a physical reaction to what you are reading, and it speaks to Macfarlane's prose as well as his travels. It's an impressive combination and deserves nothing less than five stars.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Connie G

    "The same three tasks recur across cultures and epochs: to shelter what is precious, to yield what is valuable, and to dispose of what is harmful." Robert Macfarlane takes us on a subterranean journey with the excitement of an adventurer, and the scientific eye of a naturalist. He has a sense of wonder and awe when he sees the beauty of nature. Macfarlane also weaves in stories from the occult, mythology and literature (such as Dante's "Inferno") to illustrate that people's fascination with the u "The same three tasks recur across cultures and epochs: to shelter what is precious, to yield what is valuable, and to dispose of what is harmful." Robert Macfarlane takes us on a subterranean journey with the excitement of an adventurer, and the scientific eye of a naturalist. He has a sense of wonder and awe when he sees the beauty of nature. Macfarlane also weaves in stories from the occult, mythology and literature (such as Dante's "Inferno") to illustrate that people's fascination with the underworld is not new. Macfarlane goes back into deep time exploring underground caves, glaciers in the Arctic, and mines under the North Sea whose geologic structures were formed before humans walked on Earth. He follows a river that rages through underground areas in the Alps. He visits the Epping Forest (at the edge of London) to learn about the underground network of fungi that enables trees to communicate with each other. Sinkholes and caves hide bodies of victims of war. Macfarland goes to France to view primitive cave art. He also explores the catacombs filled with bones in Paris. There is a subterranean city under Paris where "cataphiles" traverse narrow passages, leading them into large decorated rooms of stone for socializing with their friends. When we think of energy, underground spaces filled with coal, oil, and natural gas come to mind. Subterranean spaces are built to store the radioactive waste from nuclear power plants. How can we label and warn future generations of the dangers that exist in these radioactive areas when languages may be totally different in the future? Macfarlane is an adventurer, putting himself in danger as he squeezes through narrow tunnels and explores melting glaciers. But each adventure tells us something about the geologic, natural, or cultural history of the world. We're living in an era where humans are accelerating the pace of geologic and environmental changes. "Underland: A Deep Time Journey" reminds us of the importance of being mindful ancestors to the generations following us.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Peter

    This was not for me. I like reading non-fiction books and accept that their language may be less elaborate, as long as the facts and their analysis are presented in a logic and well substantiated way. This book, however, is a fusion of facts, thoughts and feelings of the author, spoken language and anegdotes. I hardly learned anything from it and did not enjoy reading it. I gave up after roughly a third.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Fiona

    I’m a seasoned armchair traveler, used to shadowing journeys that I know I’ll never do myself. One of my BFFs is always telling me ‘never say never’ and perhaps she’s right, except when it comes to this book, Underland. Hand on heart, I will never follow in Robert Macfarlane’s footsteps underground. I’m too claustrophobic. This book is many layered. A bridging theme to his many different journeys is our generation’s legacy to the future. In the words of Jonas Salk, “Are we being good ancestors?” I’m a seasoned armchair traveler, used to shadowing journeys that I know I’ll never do myself. One of my BFFs is always telling me ‘never say never’ and perhaps she’s right, except when it comes to this book, Underland. Hand on heart, I will never follow in Robert Macfarlane’s footsteps underground. I’m too claustrophobic. This book is many layered. A bridging theme to his many different journeys is our generation’s legacy to the future. In the words of Jonas Salk, “Are we being good ancestors?” No, we’re not, is the short answer and I think we all know that. There’s nowhere that it’s more apparent than on Greenland’s glaciers. The speed at which they’re melting should terrify us all. MacFarlane doesn’t just travel over the glaciers, he abseils into a moulin which is a hole made my meltwater that deep down will turn into a fast flowing river that melts the glacier from below. It is his journeys below ground that sent shivers down my spine. He describes his caving exploits in England so well that I found myself holding my breath with him as he squeezed through holes so narrow that he had to turn his head sideways to get through. How can people do that?! He journeys miles out under the North Sea through mining tunnels where equipment is left to rot because it’s impossible to get it back out. I felt just as claustrophobic when he writes about his ‘urban exploration’ experiences, squeezing through rabbit hole size spaces to gain access to mile after mile of tunnels beneath Paris. I didn’t know this was a thing and that there are groups of people all over the world participating in this ‘hobby’. As he wanders through a forest, he learns about the hidden life of all that grows there. A forest ‘might best be imagined as a super-organism’. A city of interactions - with trees, fungi and plants sharing, trading, befriending and supporting each other in a world that lies hidden under our feet - ‘a wood wide web’. This book is full of amazing journeys, thoughtful writing and guidance for the future, if anyone wants to listen. The ultimate lesson we should learn for our own peace of mind is ‘Find beauty, be still’. With thanks to NetGalley and Penguin Books UK for a review copy. PS Somehow my review has been posted twice and the book marked as read twice. Gremlins!

  27. 5 out of 5

    David Kenvyn

    I have to be honest. I bought this book because I was looking for something to read on a long train journey. The cover illustration is of interlocking branches over a sunset. Neither the title “Underland” nor the sub-title “A Deep Time Journey” gave any real indication of what the book was about. And there was a tagline about entering the Underland through the riven trunk of an old ash tree. Everything suggested that it was a fantasy novel, and that it would be a fun read on a very long train jo I have to be honest. I bought this book because I was looking for something to read on a long train journey. The cover illustration is of interlocking branches over a sunset. Neither the title “Underland” nor the sub-title “A Deep Time Journey” gave any real indication of what the book was about. And there was a tagline about entering the Underland through the riven trunk of an old ash tree. Everything suggested that it was a fantasy novel, and that it would be a fun read on a very long train journey. It is not a fantasy novel. It is a book about the author descending into the depths of the earth in various parts of the northern hemisphere to find out what is under the ground on which we tread. It is a very long book. I had one very simple problem with it. I did not see the point. This was partly because it was very difficult for me to see the connection between the various, different sections of the book, apart from the fact that each section dealt with something that is beneath our feet if we are standing in a particular part of the world. One of the questions that this book raises is a simple one: Why do we go under the land? What is our purpose? This is why the book is a deep time journey because it goes back far beyond the historical record to our first emergence as what Desmond Morris, in a famous book, called “The Naked Ape”. We went into caves for shelter from the weather and for protection from predators. Then we began to bury our dead. So, this book sets itself the task of exploring the Earth’s underworlds as they exist in myth, literature, memory and fact. The author explores the Underland of Europe and Greenland, visiting caves in the Mendips, a mine in Boulby in Yorkshire, Epping Forest, the catacombs of Paris, an underground river in the Carso in Italy, the Slovenian Highlands, the Lofoten Islands in Norway, glaciers in Greenland and a nuclear waste storage facility in Finland. Some of these underlands are natural, some of them are man-made. All of them require the author to be shown around by people who are experts in that particular terrain. It is difficult to see what the link between these places is, apart from the author’s obsession with going beneath the surface of the earth to find out what is underneath. Perhaps that is the only link. Perhaps I am missing something. The book is well-written. Each episode is described well. Some of the stories make you wonder about the sanity of humans. Why do people go into the catacombs of Paris (essentially sewers) so that they can party? Why do people risk their lives to find out exactly where an underground river flows between its disappearance and re-emergence? Why do people abseil into the cracks in glaciers? The answer is, because they can. But I am left with an essential question about this book. Why was it written? And I confess that I do not know the answer.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Jamie

    I’m not sure what to make of this book. Based on the title I thought it was going to be about geology, but it is more a meditation on geology, and everything else that happens beneath the surface of the earth, such as mining, caving, ancient cave art, plant roots, catacombs, and nuclear waste storage facilities. It also ventures farther afield, sometimes going on tangents that are not really related to the book’s main theme, such as the author’s time with a Norwegian fisherman, and a hiking trip I’m not sure what to make of this book. Based on the title I thought it was going to be about geology, but it is more a meditation on geology, and everything else that happens beneath the surface of the earth, such as mining, caving, ancient cave art, plant roots, catacombs, and nuclear waste storage facilities. It also ventures farther afield, sometimes going on tangents that are not really related to the book’s main theme, such as the author’s time with a Norwegian fisherman, and a hiking trip to Greenland where the connection to the book is that he spent a few minutes abseiling into a meltwater ice cave in a glacier. The book is less “What kind of rocks are those?” and more “How do those rocks make you feel? Think about that while I describe laying on the ground and meditating on the connectedness of time and space with all living things.” Hmm, okay. It’s not that the book was boring, but I was looking for science, and what science there is in the book is wrapped up in a sort of New Age squishiness. Macfarlane gets deeply, emotionally engaged in his subjects, as in “Far to the north-east a patch of blue shows in the clouds, and for a few seconds there is a glitter of light out on the water below. For those seconds I love that blue with all my heart, dream-dive deep into it, drown in its hue.” He has an engaging writing style, and his travels to far off places are interesting reading. I particularly liked the chapter that takes place in the Dolomite mountains of north-east Italy, along what was the Austro-Italian front in World War I where the two armies fought the twelve battles of the Isonzo. He visited the remains of fortifications carved out of the mountains, and made a descent into a vast chamber with an underground river. It reminded me of lines from Coleridge’s Kubla Khan, “Where Alph, the sacred river, ran/Through caverns measureless to man/Down to a sunless sea.” He met interesting people on his trips, and has a talent for capturing the essentials of a person with just a few sentences, whether it is a young researcher on a quasi-religious search for signs of dark matter at the bottom of a salt mine, a Parisian tunnel rat with an encyclopedic knowledge of the passageways below the city, or cave explorers who seem to have a death-wish as they push farther and deeper into darkness and danger. Even that Norwegian fisherman comes across as a force of nature, fiercely protective of his waters and warmly embracing life and family. As would be expected in a book about underground things, there are meditations on death, including burial practices, and the deaths of people who ventured into the deep and never returned. Sometimes we bury things to get rid of them, but sometimes we bury to hide and protect. “Into the underland we have long placed that which we fear and wish to lose, and that which we love and wish to save.” The book does a good job discussing how modern societies approach the problem of disposing of nuclear waste, which in many cases will still be deadly to the end of civilization and beyond. A great deal of thought has gone into how to convey the concept of lethal danger thousands of years in the future, when our current languages and symbols will no longer have meaning. Some efforts could end up being counter-productive, in that they might be interpreted not as warnings but as inducements to search for buried treasure. However we end up hiding it out of sight, there is a lot to be hidden, and the amount increases all the time. “Over a quarter of a million tons of high-level nuclear waste in need of final storage is presently thought to exist globally, with around 12,000 tons being added to that figure annually.” Macfarlane also make an interesting observation in describing the power of nuclear fuel, “A single pellet of enriched uranium one centimeter in diameter and one centimeter long will typically release the same amount of energy as a ton of coal.” His descriptions of his trips are interesting, and there is some pretty good science in this book, but science was not its intended purpose. It is more of a travelogue, with character sketches and detailed observations about the land above and below ground, notes on the environment, and humankind’s place in the great web of time and life. If you are looking for a book about geology or earth science, look elsewhere.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Katie Long

    MacFarlane lets us tag along as he explores the vast world beneath our feet (the catacombs of France, ancient cemeteries, mines where dark matter is studied, Bronze age Norwegian cave art, etc..) complete with the many engaging characters who inhabit and explore this world. His enthusiasm for the beauty of these parts of the earth, that so few of us will ever see, makes this a real pleasure.

  30. 4 out of 5

    aPriL does feral sometimes

    Robert Macfarlane, the author of 'Underland', is both a spelunker and a mountain climber - at least, if he wasn't before, he certainly is now. 'Underland' is the first book by Macfarlane I have read, but he has written others. His other Nature books were also about places, common tourist sites and not, but all above ground. This book concentrates on below ground places. Who knew there would be so much to see, visit and explore under the surface of Earth and under cities? Who knew people have bee Robert Macfarlane, the author of 'Underland', is both a spelunker and a mountain climber - at least, if he wasn't before, he certainly is now. 'Underland' is the first book by Macfarlane I have read, but he has written others. His other Nature books were also about places, common tourist sites and not, but all above ground. This book concentrates on below ground places. Who knew there would be so much to see, visit and explore under the surface of Earth and under cities? Who knew people have been doing walkabouts and living - as well as burying unusual things - underground for millennia, and that there is so much worth seeing underground? The author visited: Mendips, Somerset Boulby, Yorkshire Epping Forest, London Underground Paris Underground London The Carso, Italy Slovenian Highlands Lofotens, Norway Andøya, Norway Kulusuk, Greenland Knud Rasmussen Glacier, Greenland Olkiluoto, Finland In each location, Macfarlane contacted a guide - an engineer, a hobbyist, a scientist, a political activist, a fisherman, a farmer, etc. - who was known by many to have experience of the local cave, underground river system, man-made tunnel system, company mine, nearby ocean depths, or a bridge interior or glacier. On some of the journeys, because the underground maze was owned by a mining company or other business or government agencies, he was given a tour by an official employee with professional knowledge. In other trips, his guide wanted to be referred to with a pseudonym. Some of the Underland locations the author explored are illegal to traverse or closed off by government officials to the public. All of the locations were dangerous to differing degrees. While some sites were designed and built by professional engineers and had workers about daily, others were caves and tunnel systems carved out by the natural actions of earth movement or an ancient wearing down interaction of rock and water/wind/air/microbes. Some sites were abandoned and forgotten places from long ago, such as what lies beneath many cities, or they were ancient burial sites accidentally rediscovered despite being overgrown by grass and trees and covered over by hundreds of years of dirt or new construction. Besides the chapters telling of the author's personal visits to famous and infamous sites - with some locations involving weeks-long camping and hiking and incredible physical danger - he also includes short introductory chapters to his travels of vignettes telling of some similar underground sites discovered by others (some under VERY unfortunate circumstances). ‘Underland' is a gorgeously written general science book! Robert Macfarlane's writing sings with beauty; it is probably inspired by both native talent and his personal hands-on explorations of Nature. The same sentence is often both elegiac and celebratory of the joys in exploring Earth's caves, underground tunnels, ocean depths and the undersides of glaciers. The author also frequently combines appropriate and some well-known literary references and historical facts into his elegant prose. What an absolute delight this book was to read! I originally borrowed it from the library, but I realized soon 'Underland' is a keeper. I bought it! However, like many masters of genius poetical prose, sometimes the author gets too enthusiastic about the sound of his own voice! There was some overblown and repetitious rapture, here and there. Never mind. Every once a blue moon, because a book was so incredibly interesting to me, and so much of the referenced research, history and lore was so new for me, I want to actually follow up on many of the author's sources for further reading! This book is one of those. There is an extensive Notes section, a Bibliography, an Index and Acknowledgements.

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