In the beginning, Macfarlane sets the stage for his journey with a pastoral landscape description: "This upper world is very beautiful." Descending through a passage into the earth, "Down between roots to a passage of stone that deepens steeply into the earth. Colour depletes to greys, browns, black. Cold air pushes past." Counterintuitively then, Underland is full of color. Its exploration of the spaces below ground, their natural and cultural history and the intersection of the two, is stunningly gorgeous and mesmerizing. Covering territory that is epic in philosophical and physical scope, yet microscopically focused with the sensibility and skills of both a scientist and a poet, this is truly a masterpiece. -Sara, Atlanta
"The way into the underland is through the riven trunk of an old ash tree." So begins Underland: A Deep Time Journey by Robert MacFarlane. The book is an incantatory and canny examination of humanity’s relationship to the underworld through myth, history and science. MacFarlane’s writing is gorgeous. Here’s a sample:
“Among the relics of the Anthropocene, therefore, will be the fallout of our atomic age, the crushed foundations of our cities, the spines of millions of intensively farmed ungulates, and the faint outlines of some of the billions of plastic bottles we produce each year – the strata that contain them precisely dateable with reference to the product-design archives of multinationals. Philip Larkin famously proposed that what will survive of us is love. Wrong. What will survive of us is plastic, swine bones and lead-207, the stable isotope at the end of the uranium-235 decay chain.” -Matt, Los Angeles
“I don’t think there is a square mile of ground on this planet where Robert Macfarlane couldn’t dig up a new, wondrous story. Underland continues the tradition of profound storytelling, reflection, and, quite simply, gorgeous writing we have come to expect from him. Macfarlane’s ventures into the underworlds of our planet, both mythical and literal, may amount to his finest work yet, and not just because these are the places that have captivated me most throughout my life. I feel fortunate to be living at the same time as him, knowing that as long as he is writing, there is something to look forward to.”
— Chris La Tray, Fact & Fiction Downtown, Missoula, MT
“A study of the cultural, geological, and psychological call of the world beneath. From ancient cave paintings to the language of trees, from the catacombs of Paris to the burial mounds of nuclear power plants, McFarlane leads us on a bounding but intimate journey through our past and into our future.”
— Ben Kemper, Rediscovered Books, Boise, ID
National Bestseller • New York Times “100 Notable Books of the Year” • NPR “Favorite Books of 2019” • Guardian “100 Best Books of the 21st Century” • Winner of the National Outdoor Book Award
From the best-selling, award-winning author of Landmarks and The Old Ways, a haunting voyage into the planet’s past and future.
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 his international bestseller 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.”
Global in its geography and written with great lyricism and power, Underland speaks powerfully to our present moment. Taking a deep-time view of our planet, Macfarlane here asks a vital and unsettling question: “Are we being good ancestors to the future Earth?” Underland marks a new turn in Macfarlane’s long-term mapping of the relations of landscape and the human heart. From its remarkable opening pages to its deeply moving conclusion, it is a journey into wonder, loss, fear, and hope. At once ancient and urgent, this is a book that will change the way you see the world.