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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.
- ISBN-13: 9780393242140
- ISBN-10: 0393242145
- Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company
- Publish Date: June 2019
- Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.4 x 1.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds
- Page Count: 496
We reach for the stars and keep our eyes to the skies, but how often do we look below our feet and wonder what lies below the grass or sidewalks we tread on every day? What intricate networks lie just below our toes? Could we ever glimpse them? What could we learn by journeying through them?
In the mesmerizing Underland: A Deep Time Journey, Robert Macfarlane enthusiastically conducts us on such a journey, descending into solid rock to a repository designed to store nuclear waste in Finland, swimming down through sea caves in the Arctic and crawling into the “invisible cities” below Paris.
In Paris, for example, he and fellow claustro-philes follow a map that offers advice about passageways (“Low, quite low, very low, tight, flooded, impracticable, impassable . . .”), also naming places along the underground paths in the depths below (Crossroads of the Dead, the Chamber of Phantoms, the Chamber of Oysters). In England, Macfarlane traverses caves, learning “undersight” as he crawls through narrow spaces, “face forced into wet gravel.” Macfarlane also reveals the fascinating existence of what he calls “the wood wide web,” an intricate and mysterious network that joins below the ground to make forest communities. He introduces readers to Canadian forest ecologist Suzanne Simard, who has discovered that an underground network of “mycorrhizal fungal species” links trees to other trees.
Blending classic stories of descent into the underworld—the Epic of Gilgamesh and the Aeneid, for example—with his own lucid stories of his experiences in geologic time, Macfarlane poetically concludes that “darkness might be a medium of vision, and descent may be a movement toward revelation rather than deprivation.” He discovers that every culture places into the underland “that which we fear and wish to lose, and that which we love and wish to save.” As Macfarlane descends through some of these narrow passages in search of enlightenment, we often hold our breath and feel our hearts racing, but when he emerges we see with him the beauty of the world beneath our feet.