Underland: A Deep Time Journey

Norton. Jun. 2019. 384p. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780393242140. $27.95; ebk. ISBN 9780393242157. NAT HIST
OrangeReviewStarMacfarlane (The Old Ways; Landmarks) continues to explore the connections between humans and landscape, this time revealing our complex relationship to what lies beneath. The quest takes the author to some extraordinary subterranean places, including Bronze Age funeral chambers in Somerset, England; the Timavo River 1,000 feet underground in Slovenia and northeast Italy; the Paris catacombs; Greenland's Rasmussen Glacier; and a Finnish nuclear waste depository. Terrifying white-knuckle adventures are often followed by moments of exquisite relief, as the author emerges from darkness into light, getting "high on hue." Readers will be charmed by Macfarlane's genial relationships with his local guides and horrified by how far the dreck of the Anthropocene has penetrated into seemingly remote places. His fondness for unusual words makes the writing sparkle, as do his experiments with nonfiction form—Macfarlane works the "echoes, patterns, and connections" of his underworld subject the way a poet might, and, as a master prose stylist, he can describe a glacier calving with a long sentence that's both surprising and effective.
VERDICT A sterling book by one of the most important nature writers working today.
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