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Underland: A Deep Time Journey (2019)

de Robert Macfarlane

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1,2984212,537 (4.12)80
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 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."… (més)
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Robert Macfarlane explores the question “Are we being good ancestors for our descendants on earth?” And he does so in the most interesting ways. This book is a blend of science, history, memoir, exploration, nature writing, and travelogue. It contains an amazing amount of information packed into a compelling narrative. We accompany the author as he descends into these subterranean regions such as underground caves, chambers, passages, crevices, catacombs, tunnels, and more. We meet scientists, fishermen, spelunkers, urban explorers, and environmentalists.

Macfarlane employs a structure of three “chambers:” Britain, Europe, and the North. Each chamber reflects a prominent theme: Seeing, Hiding, and Haunting. “Into the underland we have long placed that which we fear and wish to lose, and that which we love and wish to save.”

It is heavily focused on the Anthropocene, which he defines as “the new epoch of geological time in which human activity is considered such a powerful influence on the environment, climate and ecology of the planet that it will leave a long-term signature in the strata record.” It contains beautiful descriptions of our natural world, and it calls upon us to think of our world from the perspective of the far future, looking back, which he calls “deep time."

“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.”

One of my favorite segments is the description of his descent into the underground storage areas in Finland where used radioactive nuclear fuel rods are buried. Another is the description of the labyrinths beneath the city of Paris. I could feel a sense of claustrophobia each time he ventures into these underground spaces. In addition, he explores melt holes in glaciers, limestone caverns, painted caves

It is an extremely creative way to inspire people to think of how we are interacting with our environment. It is done from both an adventuresome and reflective viewpoint. It is a fine piece of writing. It is an extraordinary book.
( )
  Castlelass | Oct 30, 2022 |
I liked it. With no previous familiarity with Robert MacFarlane or any of his books, I picked this up inexpensively as an Audible daily special a few weeks ago. Often with an author who is new to me I will check out some Goodreads reviews, both good and bad, before buying, but in this case I was hooked by the title and publisher's summary.

Macfarlane clearly loves language as much as he loves nature. He plays with it, using adjectives as verbs and nouns as adjectives in an effort to communicate more vividly, and it works. He's gifted at describing places, experiences and natural phenomena. At times it may come across as a bit much, particularly when he uses superlatives to describe his experiences (they can't ALL be the best). But I quickly determined not to find fault, but just enjoy listening to his carefully chosen words. His writing is often brilliant, and I almost wish I had read it in print so that I could have noted some examples to share.

I've since read criticisms that his thinking is shallow and doesn't constitute an overall concept. For my part, I don't know how precise his "thesis" (if you can call it that) needs for the book to be a thought provoking call to the conscience of the world to be better stewards of our home. ( )
  BarbKBooks | Aug 15, 2022 |
I picked up this book because it had a lovely cover, and finally got round to reading it when it also partly inspired a Hannah Peel/Paraorchestra album (The Unfolding) that I was going to see live. Later it was chosen by my book group so I got to discuss it at greater length. I think its a beautiful book, which is mostly successful in exploring the theme of underground spaces, though I did get a bit tired of the snow/ice chapters towards the end that felt less diverse than the topics of the earlier chapters. I loved reading about the Epping Forest fungi/tree networks and the Paris Catacombs, but most of all I loved the chapter on searching for dark matter from deep in a mine.
It does drag a little in places but mostly is a fascinating exploration of places I have no desire to actually go to myself! ( )
  AlisonSakai | Jul 20, 2022 |
A survey of all things subterranean. If you enjoy adventure and nature with a literary bent, then this is the book for you.

I found this playlist on youtube of some of the places mentioned within the book: https://youtu.be/JcymfCTXRhE. ( )
  auldhouse | Mar 28, 2022 |
The Publisher Says: 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.

LITTLE FREE LIBRARY ACQUISITION...AND BACK IT GOES, TOO.

My Review
: I don't think this is as wonderful as most of y'all do. It isn't awful, certainly, though I was heading in the "two-stars-get-it-away-from-me" direction at the end of Third Chamber (p248). I left it on my TBR pile for a couple years after the white-hooded guy with the film gets irradiated.

Part Three—Haunting (The North) was, unexpectedly, a much different reading experience. It's still too long, it's way too ornately wrought for its subject matter...Robert Mulvaney and his "haven't sailed the east (British) coast unless you've grounded" shtik almost got the book put down again...but there is a simple and essential heartbeat of passion for the planet that came through to me more clearly after the hauntings began.

(No, not ghosty-ghouly hauntings.)

I won't re-read it, and I doubt I'll knock over any little kids to grab the last copy of his latest, but the book ended up feeling like time well spent. As that was not the direction I was headed for over half the read, I think it's a minor miracle I kept going long enough to find that out. ( )
  richardderus | Mar 19, 2022 |
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Is it dark down there
Where the grass grows through the hair?
Is it dark in the under-land of Null?

Helen Adam, ‘Down there in the dark’, 1952
The void migrates to the surface...

’Advances In geophysics’, 2016
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The way into the underland is through the riven trunk of an old ash tree.
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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 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."

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