Image: The cover of the book is a brightly multicolored illustration of a tunnel like shape surrounded by trees. The end of the path is yellow moving back into red, and then multiple layered chaotic colors. The top half is covered by leafless tree silhouettes. Each tree silhouette is a different bright color. The ground is a painterly mix of black, reds, greens, and yellows mostly whereas the sky is a mixture of blues and purples. Across the center of the book is the word "underland" in large block white letters, divining the word in half on separate lines. Below that in small letters is the byline. Below that in slightly larger letters is the author's name. Below that in very small letters is a reviewer quote too small to read. Along the right side of the cover is a red stripe with white letters saying "national bestseller."
We are living in a time where a great many of us worldwide are physically distancing ourselves from the rest of the world if we're not forced out as an essential worker. (About that: I already believed food/service workers, delivery persons, medical staff, and so on were critical to my existence, but now I hope we'll do something to honor these people for being damned superheroes out their risking their lives to literally save ours.) Those of us taking the pandemic seriously- as we should- are all likely feeling at least some of the deep loneliness pervading our world, even us introverts. I mention this because "Underland: A Deep Time Journey" by Robert Macfarlane was truly a journey to places most never get to go. It is a poetic exploration of not only the science, but of the psychology, culture, and experience that go into exploring and studying the most inaccessible and unfamiliar parts of our world. It took me out of my house and out to locations that were fascinatingly immense and vast.
Macfarlane is a very talented writer as he beautifully captures the emotionality of each of these experiences in which he accompanied experts to visit the underlands of the world. Some of his descriptions of things that I already knew about made me think and feel differently in immense ways. Regarding the unknowns, he brought a well-rounded and accessible understanding. This is the kind of book where you learn quite a lot without needing a PhD to be able to read it. Some of the biggest wow moments for me were finding out that scientists look for dark matter using dangerous underground mines, French anarchists have built a liberated zone for themselves in the abandoned catacombs below Paris, the understanding of tree and fungal networks has been regularly disrupted by authoritarianism and capitalism being forced onto what is more comparable to a mutualist structure, that the ice of glaciers is constantly moving and morphing in ways that are still baffling to this day, and more. The author also captures the serious nature of the histories of many of the locations visited such as the constant danger to workers, a history of war and suffering of an area, and the impact of radioactive toxic materials with half lives of billions of years sitting throughout the world.
We also meet lots of interesting people that are very well captured by Macfarlane. He captures these peoples personalities and interests well and manages to share his thoughts and assessments with us in ways that don't come off as leading or heavy handed. The book made me wish I was physically able to travel to these very difficult to access locations and brave enough to go on these journeys. However, for most of us, it is far safer to live vicariously through Macfarlane in this book. He definitely takes us on the journey promised in the title and I appreciated the chance to leave my house- at least in my head.
This was also posted to my goodreads.