Underland -- Robert MacFarlane

Staff Pick

Macfarlane’s new book is profound in all senses of the word. In it he explores the “deep time” of caves, glaciers, and burial chambers as well as reflecting on the meaning of our most ancient myths and primal dreams. It’s no accident that the title rhymes with Wonderland: here are wonders galore, from the magnificent geological formations of limestone and karst to the earliest human art in Lascaux and Chauvet to the myriad surprises waiting in the Paris catacombs. Here also is the wonder of Macfarlane’s prose; rhythmic, dramatic, and fluent in the rich vocabulary of geology, glaciology, and their emotional analogs, Macfarlane is spellbinding as he describes the look, feel, and sound of extreme cold; the amazing variety of blues in a Greenland glacier; and the remarkable life cycle of stone, which, seen in deep time, “folds as strata, gouts as lava, floats as plates, shifts as shingles.” But if the underland is where we store “that which we love and wish to save,” it’s also where we hope to unburden ourselves of “that which we fear.” Macfarlane found as many nightmares as wonders in his travels; his accounts of underground avalanches and impossibly narrow stone gorges are chilling. But the greater dangers he uncovered—from anthrax spores released by melting permafrost to tons of radioactive nuclear waste—also threaten those of us who stay safely on the surface. Grappling with these and other symptoms of the Anthropocene, Macfarlane bumps up against the very limits of language. “The idea of the Anthropocene repeatedly strikes us dumb,” he admits. But by linking our destabilized present and uncertain, post-human future to our roots in the deepest past, be believes we might be able to find “a language of grief and…a language of hope” that will help us survive.

Underland: A Deep Time Journey Cover Image
ISBN: 9780393242140
Availability: Not On Our Shelves—Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: W. W. Norton & Company - June 4th, 2019

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