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Underland: A Deep Time Journey PDF, ePub eBook From the best-selling, award-winning author of Landmarks and The Old Ways, a haunting voyage into the planet’s past and future. Hailed as "the great nature writer of this generation" (Wall Street Journal), Robert Macfarlane is the celebrated author of books about the intersections of the human and the natural realms. In Underland, he delivers his masterpiece: an epic explor From the best-selling, award-winning author of Landmarks and The Old Ways, a haunting voyage into the planet’s past and future. Hailed as "the great nature writer of this generation" (Wall Street Journal), Robert Macfarlane is the celebrated author of books about the intersections of the human and the natural realms. In Underland, he delivers his masterpiece: an epic exploration of the Earth’s underworlds as they exist in myth, literature, memory, and the land itself. In this highly anticipated sequel to his international bestseller The Old Ways, Macfarlane takes us on an extraordinary journey into our relationship with darkness, burial, and what lies beneath the surface of both place and mind. Traveling through “deep time”—the dizzying expanses of geologic time that stretch away from the present—he moves from the birth of the universe to a post-human future, from the prehistoric art of Norwegian sea caves to the blue depths of the Greenland ice cap, from Bronze Age funeral chambers to the catacomb labyrinth below Paris, and from the underground fungal networks through which trees communicate to a deep-sunk “hiding place” where nuclear waste will be stored for 100,000 years to come. “Woven through Macfarlane’s own travels are the unforgettable stories of descents into the underland made across history by explorers, artists, cavers, divers, mourners, dreamers, and murderers, all of whom have been drawn for different reasons to seek what Cormac McCarthy calls “the awful darkness within the world.” Global in its geography and written with great lyricism and power, Underland speaks powerfully to our present moment. Taking a deep-time view of our planet, Macfarlane here asks a vital and unsettling question: “Are we being good ancestors to the future Earth?” Underland marks a new turn in Macfarlane’s long-term mapping of the relations of landscape and the human heart. From its remarkable opening pages to its deeply moving conclusion, it is a journey into wonder, loss, fear, and hope. 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

    Melanie (Mel's Bookland Adventures)

    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.

  3. 5 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...

  4. 4 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 the 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.

  5. 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.]

  6. 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!

  7. 4 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Lee

    An excellent continuation of MacFarlane’s mapping of both real and psycho-geographic spaces, this time sub-terranean. Adds wonderfully to what will ultimately be a completely unique interactive history. Hard to imagine what might be next but very much looking forward to it. Thanks to NetGalley for an advance reading copy, in exchange for an honest review.

  11. 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.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Alex Sarll

    Macfarlane's latest book is his weirdest and most magical, his most political, and definitely his darkest. Maybe also his best. It's a coming to terms with the Anthropocene that is aware of the issues with that term, and which at times feels like it would be more at home with Donna Haraway's alternate coinage of the Cthulhucene – not least when a melting glacier exposes something ancient and horrifying which for a moment resembles a black pyramid. Alan Garner gets a mention early on, but that's Macfarlane's latest book is his weirdest and most magical, his most political, and definitely his darkest. Maybe also his best. It's a coming to terms with the Anthropocene that is aware of the issues with that term, and which at times feels like it would be more at home with Donna Haraway's alternate coinage of the Cthulhucene – not least when a melting glacier exposes something ancient and horrifying which for a moment resembles a black pyramid. Alan Garner gets a mention early on, but that's for his early work, whereas the excursions into deep places and deep time here reminded me more of the haunting, fragmentary Boneland. Also of A Land, come to that, though with Jacquetta Hawkes' faith in a kind of permanence sorely shaken by recent discoveries. Elsewhere, as his voyages into the underdark strip Rob of light, voice, verticality, turning at times into literal dungeon crawls (at one point he's wriggling along like a snake), I was reminded of Veins of the Earth – though while some of the explorations detailed here may not have been strictly legal, (spoilers) Macfarlane doesn't actually end up resorting to cannibalism as everyone in that book seems doomed to do. Or not that he admits here, anyway. For a final reference point, the occasional litanies of ancient interments around the world, complete with reminders that these utterly alien people cared about their dead too, made me wonder if the crazy sod weren't trying to pull off a global Urne-Buriall, and strangest of all, more or less succeeding; Underland left me at times with a similar sense of deep horror at the fragility of the moment, mingled with a strange and almost serene acceptance, in a way few books other than Urne-Buriall ever have. Albeit always with the awareness that, where Browne's memento mori was in a sense on an individual scale, nowadays it feels more like the Reaper is limbering up for a trolley dash. The theme, in case you hadn't gathered from my free-associated rhapsody there, is the subterranean, the hidden worlds beneath our feet. This can mean anything from tooling around in tunnels under the seabed in a Transit van with a game old geezer called Neil, to the search for dark matter carried out in a hushed space honestly known as a Time Projection Chamber. There's an underground party which really is underground, a gathering for a literal subculture in Paris. Occasionally these interactions strike the false note of a TV documentary where the presenter affects wide-eyed innocence as they ask an expert to explain something the presenter obviously already knows – I find it very difficult to believe that Rob doesn't recognise a Mithraeum when he sees one. But for the most part they capture what an alert and affable soul he is, happy to talk to and learn from anyone. And elsewhere the mind-boggling is clearly genuine, as when he tramps Epping Forest with the brilliantly named Merlin Sheldrake, whose sincere opinion is, never mind Marvel, fungus is the real superhero*. Sheldrake makes a strong case for this, too, though it'd be one of those revisionist takes which emphasise the sheer weirdness and inhumanity of superheroes. The more one learns about fungus, the way it transmits messages not just fungus-to-fungus but between trees of different species, the way that not only the boundaries of species but the edges of an individual organism get muddied, the more Jeff Vandermeer reads like he's writing kitchen sink realism. And that's before we even get to the notion of earth tides. It's strange how a book about the ground can leave one feeling so absolutely the opposite of grounded. Over and over we come back to the notion of things buried coming to light again as the Earth shifts, ever more so as we throw its natural rhythms out of alignment – so ancient anthrax is resurfacing as the ice melts, old hunger stones as the lakes fall, and chemical weapons from our recent past come back thanks to the subtler but no less destructive chemical damage we've done to the atmosphere with all that CO2. Sometimes in the later chapters, I felt the sections about land which had until recently been under ice might be a bit of a cheat, but the family resemblance just about holds it together, and it all comes round at the last to a wonderful section about the deep storage facilities for nuclear waste, intended to warn off investigation even after our cultures, languages, maybe species have gone – all of it tied here to some truly ingenious, insidious thoughts on the Kalevala. I say 'at the last'; a lovely epilogue follows, and even in the backmatter there's a bit more lurking, including one brilliant twist hidden in the Acknowledgments. Two last thoughts: I don't entirely buy the etymological speculation that even the name 'humanity' derives from 'humando', burial; it's wonderfully poetic, but seems a needless extra complication when we can already derive it from 'humus', earth, which ties in to so many creation myths anyway. I love that a book this mythic and thoughtful and even hortatory can also be summed up with a Fast Show punchline, given that each of the author's voyages finds him in a hole, with an owl. *Coincidentally, the one time I played the old Marvel RPG, I made a character with fungus abilities. He was far too powerful for balance, and only debatably viable as hero rather than villain. And this was so long ago that we were still being told fungi were plants, so you can imagine how much more terrifying he'd be in light of recent scholarship. (Netgalley ARC. Also, I've known Rob on and off since school. But, you know, you read someone's first book because they're a mate; you don't keep reading up to the seventh unless they're eminently readable)

  13. 5 out of 5

    Penny

    Definitely a 5 star read -absolutely brilliant and my book of 2019 so far.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Bruce Katz

    I'm not sure how to adequately review a book like this, it is so unlike anything else I've read -- or that I can recall. I came upon it via an excerpt in the New Yorker. That piece consisted of Macfarlane's descent into the tunnels, caves, and subterranean galleries that lie beneath Paris. This chapter by itself was worth the price of admission. Macfarlane's book is primarily a travelogue of what lies beneath us -- not (or not primarily) from a geologist's perspective but through the eyes of a p I'm not sure how to adequately review a book like this, it is so unlike anything else I've read -- or that I can recall. I came upon it via an excerpt in the New Yorker. That piece consisted of Macfarlane's descent into the tunnels, caves, and subterranean galleries that lie beneath Paris. This chapter by itself was worth the price of admission. Macfarlane's book is primarily a travelogue of what lies beneath us -- not (or not primarily) from a geologist's perspective but through the eyes of a poet-adventurer-raconteur. The author courageously goes places most people would never dare go (certainly I wouldn't!), even if they knew that such places exist. I had heard about what lies beneath Paris but none of the other places Macfarlane takes us to: tunnels and caves deep beneath the ocean where scientists study subatomic particles; remote coastal caves in far northern Norway where unknown ancient hands left marks of their presence untold centuries ago; deep, deep fissures in southern Europe where an ancient cult made up largely of Roman legionaires sought the intercession of their god; another hole where partisans on both sides of a conflict brutally disposed of their enemies; deadly, unearthly blue holes in glaciers; underground rivers; "weaponized peaks"; and more. Macfarlane is a profoundly gifted writer capable of bringing his adventures into vivid life. I found myself cringing many times, unconsciously making my body as small as possible, as he talked about having to squeeze through the smallest of openings deep in the earth. There was no question that he made it through, of course -- I held the book in my hand, yes? -- but I nevetheless became claustrophobic. I could actually feel my pulse beginning to speed up. Macfarlane's travels take us through vertical space and what he calls "deep time," a concept he capture in some measure through his prose: Time feels differently reckoned afer the mine: further deepened, further folded. My sense of nature feels differently reckoned too: further disturbed, further entangled. Somewhere to my east, men are at work a mile below the moors, half a mile under the sea, cutting tunnels through the salt-ghost of an ocean to harvest its energy for crops yet ungrown. A Time Projection Chamber is waiting for signals from Cygnus, the Swan, that might tell something of the birth of the universe, 13.8 billion years earlier. A labyrinth of drift is slowly closing up, lizrd-machines and Ford Transits are being sealed into their tombs of salt -- and throug it all is passing a particle wind of WIMPs and neutrinos, to which this world is as mere mist and silk. Poetic vision is woven throughout the book. I marked too many memorable passages to even think of reproducing here. Let this one serve as a representative in its luxurious imagery, shifting cadences, and breadth: The Adige [River] is a silver-gray snake, steaming in the heat. Its currents speak as lazy spirals. Steam coils up from the meanders where the sun boils it. Two storks beat their way westwards. Hops and honeysuckle in the hedgerows. Graffiti on thewalls. A man pedaling a dusty road on a bicycle too small for him, so that his knees poke out at sharp angles. Brown earth and a snse of the sea out of sight to the east, there in the sharpening of the light. Paragraphs like this take us as close to being there by his side as it is possible for language to do. Along the way we meet many memorable characters, my favorite of which is a scientist marvelously named Merlin whose childhood superheroes weren't Marvel characters, they were lichens and fingi. Fungi and lichen annihilate our categories of gender. They reshape our ideas of community and cooperation. They utterly liquidate our notions of time. Lichens can crumble rocks into dust with terrifying acids. Fungi can exude massively powerful enzymes outside their bodies that dissolve soil. They're the biggest organisms in the world and among the oldest. They're world-makers and world-breakers. What's more superhero than that? The spirits of adventure and discovery permeate "Underland," but even more so do anxiety and anger about what the human species is doing to the planet. Macfarlane mentions how global warming has exposed long buried corpses, including animals infected by anthrax that jumped into a nearby human community. He talks about the difficulty of storing depleted uranium and efforts to securely bury seeds against the time when countless species will have gone extinct. Discussing what geological strata tell us about the planet's history, he pointedly asks "what signatures our species will leave in the strata." A long, dismaying list of detritus and contaminants ends with this: "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." (Later in the book, Macfarlane will channel TS Eliot when he says of his visit to a spent uranium storage facilty, "This is the way the world ends, this is the way the world ends, this is the way the world ends -- not with a bang but a visitors' center.") It is utterly impossible to describe the richness of "Underland." Its itinerary take us from Paris to moors in England, Madrid, Greenland, Norway; its gaze takes in countless shades of life, large and small, familiar and not. Speaking of which: Barely a page goes by in the book where the reader not discover some word s/he has never before encountered. Or a new meaning of a familiar word: I knew the word "moulin" as a mill. It is also the name of terrifyingly deep holes in glacial ice. Or place-names that instantly thrill the heart (this one, at least): Cairngorms. Vestfjorden. Troll's Eye. The Moskstraumen Maestrom. Enough. Read it. But take your time. I'm quite certain I deprived myself of the full effect of the book by reading it too quickly. I was reluctant to part company with Macfarlane, even for a short while. But he would have been there waiting patiently for me to rejoin him.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Laura

    From BBC Radio 4 - Book of the week: In his eagerly awaited new book, Robert Macfarlane muses on the worlds beneath our feet. Abridged for radio by Katrin Williams. In this the Anthropocene Age, life underground is ecologically and delicately poised... And then he recalls a vivid cave journey in the Mendips, with his friend Sean - "The entry is awkward, a body-bending downwards wriggle before a drop..." Read by the author Producer Duncan Minshull https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m000...

  16. 4 out of 5

    Adrian White

    I thought at first this suffered under the weight of philosophy and the search for a means of expressing what it is to be a human in this world. But once the author got in his stride (ha-ha!) I enjoyed this every bit as much as The Wild Places. And yes, it did make me wonder at what it is to be a human in this world - a world we seem intent on destroying.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Glen

    I won this book in a goodreads drawing. A nature writer writes about caves and other underground topics. Spelunking seems fun, but dangerous, much like skydiving. Lots of ruminating and speculating. Fascinating, but several times we see how science is not all about facts and figures and duplicating results, but rather about scientists, and their ideas and emotions.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Thebooktrail

    Visit some of the locations - there's many underground! I always enjoy the books Robert Macfarlane writes but this one is my favourite. Ever since I read Alice in Wonderland, I have wanted to go underground and see what’s beneath our feet. I read a lot about the underground in crime fiction but that’s another kind altogether so I was particularly keen to get stuck in with this. Robert certainly has a nice and assured style to his writing that exudes his passion and love of what he’s writing about. Visit some of the locations - there's many underground! I always enjoy the books Robert Macfarlane writes but this one is my favourite. Ever since I read Alice in Wonderland, I have wanted to go underground and see what’s beneath our feet. I read a lot about the underground in crime fiction but that’s another kind altogether so I was particularly keen to get stuck in with this. Robert certainly has a nice and assured style to his writing that exudes his passion and love of what he’s writing about. He takes you with him every step of the way and it’s a wonderful journey. There were so many fine places to visit! Catacombs, glaciers, nuclear waste sites, caves and more besides. This is a very unique travel guide that’s for sure. It’s amazing what you learn without realising you’re doing it. I feel more intelligent for reading this but also more curious and more interested in what lies beneath my feet. I’ve been to a few places in the book but it’s the Catacombs in Paris that chilled me the most. Skulls and skeletons along caverns and in caves ..a spooky site but a one stepped in heritage and history. It’s certainly made me want to travel to more of the places he talks about. He’s an excellent guide and there is a sense of calm, chill and claustrophobia along the way. He examines the need for travel, for exploration, for people’s fascination with caves and burials, exploration underground. There’s so much packed in yet it never feels like a fact book. Far from it – it’s as if Robert has taken you on a very personal an interesting guide.. Brilliant. I loved it. It’s unique, refreshing and utterly captivating.

  19. 4 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.

  20. 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 not your world ...you'll never go to these places, with these cont 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 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 ?

  21. 4 out of 5

    Karen

    I want to read everything this author has written....

  22. 5 out of 5

    Katie/Doing Dewey

    Summary: A beautiful, thought-provoking meditation on nature. The only connection between sections of this book is that each has to do with things found underground. The author physically explores some incredible underground spaces. He simultaneously explores the way humans have interacted with the world beneath our feet and the sorts of meanings we've attached to what we find there. This is some of the best nature writing I've ever read. The author's style of descriptions really worked for me. Hi Summary: A beautiful, thought-provoking meditation on nature. The only connection between sections of this book is that each has to do with things found underground. The author physically explores some incredible underground spaces. He simultaneously explores the way humans have interacted with the world beneath our feet and the sorts of meanings we've attached to what we find there. This is some of the best nature writing I've ever read. The author's style of descriptions really worked for me. His short, sentence fragments capture impressions and portions of scenes. I found this much easier to process than more holistic descriptions. It felt like I was really there with my gaze bouncing around the scene. His use of this technique occasionally felt repetitive, but it worked so well for me that I didn't mind. I think the rapid fire of these sentences also made his experiences feel more immediate. I don't think this style will be for everyone, but it was a perfect fit for me. I liked the mix of historical information with the author's own experiences. From the London underground to the interior of glaciers, he had some incredible adventures while writing this book! The author also used his exploration of nature to talk about more abstract concepts: love and community; what it means to be human and our relationship with nature; mortality and motivation. This made for a book that felt worth taking my time with, even though I typically struggle to slow myself down. I loved how much it made me think. It also brought a real sense of wonder and seriousness to the consideration of even common parts of nature. Reading it was a delightful experience.This review was originally posted on Doing Dewey

  23. 5 out of 5

    Nick Swarbrick

    Inviting quotation and questions in every section, this is a jewel of a book, an amazing, beautiful, technical and inspiring travelogue in which the author invites us to explore historically significant sites under the surface of the Earth or places connected to that Under-Land. I’ve finished it late at night and am deeply, deeply moved: just to say this was worth taking time over, weighing every scene from the oppressive catacombs of Paris to the cave paintings of Norway - and beyond: history we Inviting quotation and questions in every section, this is a jewel of a book, an amazing, beautiful, technical and inspiring travelogue in which the author invites us to explore historically significant sites under the surface of the Earth or places connected to that Under-Land. I’ve finished it late at night and am deeply, deeply moved: just to say this was worth taking time over, weighing every scene from the oppressive catacombs of Paris to the cave paintings of Norway - and beyond: history we observe leads to history we create; Macfarlane takes us from mechanics of mining to plastic pollution; hand prints from the Neolithic connect with waste disposal: this varied and heartfelt set of places we visit with him is full of awe, warning, danger, beauty. It could almost be a scripture for our times - so much so I’ve blogged some of my favourite passages here: https://nicktomjoestory.news.blog/201... and here https://nicktomjoestory.news.blog/201... but as a taster or reminder: not a replacement. I’m going to avoid comment on the final scene, a touching return to the familiar landscapes we met in his earlier The Wild Places, to end with a line on global morality in the Anthropocene from Macfarlane in his meditation on his penultimate visit, to the ultimate storage site for toxic nuclear waste: “Maybe this is among the best things we can try to do: [...] to be good ancestors.”

  24. 5 out of 5

    Laura Hoffman Brauman

    This was utterly fascinating. Macfarlane looks at various natural and manmade underground things -- caves, underground rivers, the catacombs of Paris, moulins (basically like a waterfall into the center of a glacier), and more. You get the science, the history, archeology, mythology -- it's such a comprehensive and interwoven look and the things that are hidden as well as at the things we hide. Macfarlane is an incredible writer and I've already picked up one of his other works. Highly recommend This was utterly fascinating. Macfarlane looks at various natural and manmade underground things -- caves, underground rivers, the catacombs of Paris, moulins (basically like a waterfall into the center of a glacier), and more. You get the science, the history, archeology, mythology -- it's such a comprehensive and interwoven look and the things that are hidden as well as at the things we hide. Macfarlane is an incredible writer and I've already picked up one of his other works. Highly recommend this to anyone who likes nonfiction that is completely engrossing.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Karina

    Utterly stunning writing, and for me, his finest book to date.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Michael

    Wow! This book will blow you away with the insight that it provides. I am still in awe of the wealth of information that I have gained. It gives me such a better appreciation of our world and what lies underneath the surface. Robert McFarlane has lived so many things I would have thought impossible. His drive and strength is amazing to have pushed himself to such extremes. Robert's experiences cover such wide variety of topics. I felt like I was familiar with many of the "scientific" terms but t Wow! This book will blow you away with the insight that it provides. I am still in awe of the wealth of information that I have gained. It gives me such a better appreciation of our world and what lies underneath the surface. Robert McFarlane has lived so many things I would have thought impossible. His drive and strength is amazing to have pushed himself to such extremes. Robert's experiences cover such wide variety of topics. I felt like I was familiar with many of the "scientific" terms but the story caused me to pause and look up meanings of some of British/Scottish words. As deep (no pun intended) as this book was, it was enjoyable while challenging. I am going to recall with fondness much of what I have learned. Job well done! Robert McFarlene is now on my reading list. An excellent discovery. I won this book in a GoodReads Giveaway.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Stephanie Crowe

    I have never thought a lot about the ground under my feet as it was not in my visual line of sight. Macfarlane has changed my thinking on the subject and has written an insightful and very book on what is underground. A fascinating look at the varied life under the earth’s surface. And there is so much history to be discovered there! Even though small spaces make me nervous, I loved this book! A great read!

  28. 4 out of 5

    John Wood

    Reading is a voyeuristic activity allowing you to "see" and vicariously experience some amazing things. Macfarlane lets us experience the world underneath the ground. We, arguably, know less about this realm than we do outer space. In this fascinating journey we experience multiple environments primarily caves but also mountains, deserts and glaciers. We learn so much about what is under us, starless rivers, myriad cave systems, glaciers, climate change ... It is a fascinating book, delivered in Reading is a voyeuristic activity allowing you to "see" and vicariously experience some amazing things. Macfarlane lets us experience the world underneath the ground. We, arguably, know less about this realm than we do outer space. In this fascinating journey we experience multiple environments primarily caves but also mountains, deserts and glaciers. We learn so much about what is under us, starless rivers, myriad cave systems, glaciers, climate change ... It is a fascinating book, delivered in an informative, easy-to-read style. I experienced and learned things that I wouldn't otherwise and it was so engaging that I experienced some vivid virtual claustrophobia reading of the super tight crawl with his backpack looped over his toes, just one death defying feat in the book.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Craig Werner

    Slightly disappointing, largely as a result of a mismatch between what I'd led to believe would be the focus of the book and what it actually is. I wanted something, literally, about the world underneath the surface of the earth. Macfarlane, who's a very good nature writer, delivered about 30% of that mixed with travel-oriented pieces and quite a bit about climate, which were fine but didn't say anything much I hadn't already encountered in Science or Nature, my go-to science magazines. Loved the Slightly disappointing, largely as a result of a mismatch between what I'd led to believe would be the focus of the book and what it actually is. I wanted something, literally, about the world underneath the surface of the earth. Macfarlane, who's a very good nature writer, delivered about 30% of that mixed with travel-oriented pieces and quite a bit about climate, which were fine but didn't say anything much I hadn't already encountered in Science or Nature, my go-to science magazines. Loved the section on the cave paintings and a few others, but at about the half way point started skimming. If you want what Underland actually is, as opposed to what its title announces, add a start.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Onceinabluemoon

    I love to listen to non fiction audiobooks, while reading you may find dry parts and be discouraged, but while listening your senses are heightened, not only seeing in you minds eye, but hearing and feeling. I live outdoors daily, books set in nature are enhanced while gardening and listening, as in trees supporting their ill brethren, how will we warn those to come of buried nuclear waste, or prehistoric artwork in caves. I don't ponder the down under much, felt like an archeologist today getti I love to listen to non fiction audiobooks, while reading you may find dry parts and be discouraged, but while listening your senses are heightened, not only seeing in you minds eye, but hearing and feeling. I live outdoors daily, books set in nature are enhanced while gardening and listening, as in trees supporting their ill brethren, how will we warn those to come of buried nuclear waste, or prehistoric artwork in caves. I don't ponder the down under much, felt like an archeologist today getting a grand view of the underworld.

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