Nature writer Macfarlane (The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot) expands readers’ horizons while delving into the various worlds beneath our feet, from deep caves to underground fungal networks and Bronze Age burial chambers.
You know a book has entered your bloodstream when the ground beneath your feet, once viewed as bedrock, suddenly becomes a roof to unknown worlds below ... If writing books is a form of making maps to guide us through new intellectual territory, Macfarlane is a cartographer of the first order ... Macfarlane’s writing is muscular, meticulously researched and lyrical, placing him in the lineage of Peter Matthiessen, Gretel Ehrlich and Barry Lopez. What distinguishes his work is his beginner’s mind, his lack of self-consciousness, his physical pursuit of unlearning what he has been taught by received information ... Underland is a book of dares. Macfarlane dares to go deep into earth’s unseen world and illuminate what we not only shy away from but what we don’t even know exists ... Underland is a portal of light in dark times. I needed this book of beauty below to balance the pain we’re witnessing aboveground.
Robert Macfarlane’s remarkable Underland: A Deep Time Journey celebrates an ambivalent love affair with the subterranean ... Grounded in lightly worn scientific knowledge, it is imbued with the intensity of personal experience ... the lyrical intensity of [Macfarlane's] writing places him in a long British tradition ... Yet Macfarlane falls as easily into the American lineage of Thoreau and John Muir ... He has absorbed those influences into a rich vernacular of his own. In passages of euphoria or stress (there are many), his sentences break into verbless fragments, like splashes of color. Only rarely is the intensity of his description such that the words call attention chiefly to themselves ... Macfarlane is gifted with qualities often mutually exclusive: the physical hardiness of travel, the sensitivity to evoke it, and a talent for scientific elucidation. Literary and classical learning cohabit with the interpretation of nuclear fission and trace fossils. At times his writing ascends to a kind of forensic poetry. Although he chronicles to devastating effect the onslaught of our species on the planet, Underland goes far beyond the normal lament of a sensitive ecologist. The visionary perspectives that he evokes, earned from his own hard journeys, create a fusion of exhilaration, foreboding, and enchantment. Underland may be his masterpiece.
...[a] masterly and mesmerising exploration of the world below us... We exit, utterly, beautifully changed ... Underland is rich with echoes of [earlier] works. It’s as if, deep within the ancient rock, Macfarlane is gaining perspective not only on time and nature, but also on his own literary career ... At one point, a taciturn potholer in the Carso, Sergio, offers up a halting explanation of why he seeks to map the underland: 'Here in the abyss we make… romantic science.' It’s a fitting description of this extraordinary book, at once learned and readable, thrilling and beautifully written.