Summary and book reviews of Underland by Robert Macfarlane

Underland

A Deep Time Journey

by Robert Macfarlane

Underland by Robert Macfarlane X
Underland by Robert Macfarlane
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  • Published:
    Jun 2019, 384 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Norah Piehl
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About this Book

Book Summary

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.

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Macfarlane profiles people who champion earth's remotest regions and, as he lyrically describes, the wonders that can be found everywhere on Earth—not only at its highest summits but also in its most mysterious and unknowable depths.   (Reviewed by Norah Piehl).

Full Review Members Only (691 words).

Media Reviews

The New York Times
An excellent book—fearless and subtle, empathic and strange.

Publishers Weekly (starred review)
An eye-opening, lyrical, and even moving exploration.

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
A treasure all its own. Anyone who cares to ponder the world beneath our feet will find this to be an essential text.

Booklist (starred review)
Astonishing…A powerful, epic journey for anyone wondering about the world below and all around us and, perhaps more important, for those who aren’t.

Library Journal (starred review)
A sterling book.

Author Blurb Philip Pullman
Robert Macfarlane's writing reminds us of the astonishing variety of things you can see when you go at walking speed, and of how strange and rich the world is.

Author Blurb Diane Ackerman
Beautifully written and wise, this haunting book is a treasure by one of earth's keenest celebrants. Its unique spell is irresistible.

Author Blurb Francisco Cantú
Robert Macfarlane has long provided us with some of the most distinctive and sensitive thinking about how humans understand and experience the terrestrial world. In turning his attention to the subterranean in Underland, he has delivered his most urgent, universal, and expansive book yet

Author Blurb Philip Gourevitch
Robert Macfarlane writes of his astonishing subterranean explorations with such wondrous, indelible power that you remember what he sees as if you saw it yourself. Underland is a profound reckoning with humankind's self-imperiled position in nature's eternal order. At once thrilling and soulful, raw and erudite, it is a book of revelations.

Author Blurb Lauren Groff
Underland is a devastating act of witness, a clear, cogent, lyrical examination of the darknesses invisible beneath our feet, both geographical and eschatological; it is blazingly vivid about the terror and grandeur of both the natural world and the consequences of human destructiveness upon the Earth. But the book's great power comes from Robert Macfarlane's deliberate turn away from despair and a simple narrative of human evildoing, and toward a more deliberate, loving, and luminous sense of awe.

Author Blurb Rebecca Solnit
I began this book with the thrill of realizing that Robert Macfarlane has over the years and books charted the heights and breadth of human travel before plumbing the depths in this exquisite book about what lies beneath. I ended it with wonder at his ability to evoke so vividly places to which I and probably you will never go, and the sense of vast scale they restore to us at a time when it can feel like the world has shrunken around us.

Author Blurb Andrea Wulf
Robert Macfarlane is a magician with words. In Underland he shows us how to see in the dark. His writing is like a vortex…once caught, you're pulled deeper and deeper with each page.

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Beyond the Book

Extraordinary Underground Vistas

Underland

I am incredibly claustrophobic, so reading Robert Macfarlane's Underland didn't make me particularly inclined to follow in his footsteps. But some readers may be inspired by the places he describes so vividly and want to do a little underland exploring of their own. Many of them are so remote (or dangerous, or illegal) that they'd be inaccessible for all but the most intrepid explorers; but if you do find yourself longing to head below the earth, here are some dramatic and fascinating underground places you can more easily visit:

  • The Hundred Mammoths Cave in France: Near Rouffignac in southwestern France, more than 150 drawings and engravings of mammoths—plus sixty-five other animals, from horses to rhinos—line the ...

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