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Underland: A Deep Time Journey

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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.

496 pages, Hardcover

First published May 2, 2019

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About the author

Robert Macfarlane

95 books3,180 followers
Robert Macfarlane is a British nature writer and literary critic.

Educated at Nottingham High School, Pembroke College, Cambridge and Magdalen College, Oxford, he is currently a Fellow of Emmanuel College, Cambridge, and teaches in the Faculty of English at Cambridge.

Robert Macfarlane is the author of prize-winning and bestselling books about landscape, nature, people and place, including Mountains of the Mind: A History of a Fascination (2003), The Wild Places (2007), The Old Ways (2012), Holloway (2013, with Stanley Donwood and Dan Richards), Landmarks (2015), The Lost Words: A Spell Book (with the artist Jackie Morris, 2017) and Underland: A Deep Time Journey (2019). His work has been translated into many languages, won prizes around the world, and his books have been widely adapted for film, television, stage and radio. He has collaborated with artists, film-makers, actors, photographers and musicians, including Hauschka, Willem Dafoe, Karine Polwart and Stanley Donwood. In 2017 he was awarded the EM Forster Prize for Literature by the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 2,521 reviews
Profile Image for Fiona.
818 reviews429 followers
June 15, 2019
I’m a seasoned armchair traveler, used to shadowing journeys that I know I’ll never do myself. One of my BFFs is always telling me ‘never say never’ and perhaps she’s right, except when it comes to this book, Underland. Hand on heart, I will never follow in Robert Macfarlane’s footsteps underground. I’m too claustrophobic.

This book is many layered. A bridging theme to his many different journeys is our generation’s legacy to the future. In the words of Jonas Salk, “Are we being good ancestors?” No, we’re not, is the short answer and I think we all know that. There’s nowhere that it’s more apparent than on Greenland’s glaciers. The speed at which they’re melting should terrify us all. MacFarlane doesn’t just travel over the glaciers, he abseils into a moulin which is a hole made by meltwater that deep down will turn into a fast flowing river that melts the glacier from below.

It is his journeys below ground that sent shivers down my spine. He describes his caving exploits in England so well that I found myself holding my breath with him as he squeezed through holes so narrow that he had to turn his head sideways to get through. How can people do that?! He journeys miles out under the North Sea through mining tunnels where equipment is left to rot because it’s impossible to get it back out. I felt just as claustrophobic when he writes about his ‘urban exploration’ experiences, squeezing through rabbit hole size spaces to gain access to mile after mile of tunnels beneath Paris. I didn’t know this was a thing and that there are groups of people all over the world participating in this ‘hobby’.

As he wanders through a forest, he learns about the hidden life of all that grows there. A forest ‘might best be imagined as a super-organism’. A city of interactions - with trees, fungi and plants sharing, trading, befriending and supporting each other in a world that lies hidden under our feet - ‘a wood wide web’.

This book is full of amazing journeys, thoughtful writing and guidance for the future, if anyone wants to listen. The ultimate lesson we should learn for our own peace of mind is ‘Find beauty, be still’.

With thanks to NetGalley and Penguin Books UK for a review copy.
Profile Image for Jenna ❤ ❀  ❤.
769 reviews1,147 followers
Shelved as 'abandoned'
January 16, 2020
Second time attempting this, second time DNF'ing. I cannot stand this author's style nor can I stand the way he jumps all over the place. I am in a slim minority here and most people love it.... alas, I cannot take another page. I thought for sure this time, when I'm so desperately needing some nonfiction and not much else is available, I would get into this. Page 70 and my skin is crawling and my mind is screaming NO MORE. This is not very scientific though the author nods his head at science and tosses in a few tidbits of information. However, if you're looking for facts minus flowery writing, mythology, and the author waxing poetic about his underground explorations all of which is repetitive... keep looking. You'll not find it in this book.
Profile Image for Diane S ☔.
4,694 reviews14.1k followers
March 13, 2020
I will never again think of the world under my feet in quite the same way again. I new Chicago had an underground because I have been there and I had heard of the Parks catacombs, but had no clue about much in this book. Hidden ocesn,s, invisible cities, and people who make this type of exploration their lives quest. Plants and their symbiosis between other plants and with what lies under their feet. There is much included within this book, for me some more interesting than others.

I love the humble way this is written, an author who often feels out of his depth but is willing to learn as much as possible. I love the thought and have actually been in ruins of houses, barns, but I could not bear to go to many of the places he went. The areas he had to squeeze through. I shudder just thinking if it.

The different ways the underground is used, scientists running experiments, a place to hide waste that is too dangerous to be stored any other way, and even partying, a underground culture. He also travels to many different places in the world and often compares different things in mythology to what he investigates. A good and solid look at what lies beneath.

The narrator was Matthew Watterson and enjoyed his narrative ability.
Profile Image for Bianca.
1,024 reviews881 followers
July 6, 2020
How does one even begin to review this book? I’m not even sure what to label it – it’s partly a travel/adventure book; it’s also a nature book, with lots of biology, geology, history, climate science and many other interesting things. From its first pages, it was obvious that McFarlane is a talented writer – in my view, he’s the best nature, landscape writer I’ve ever read. His descriptive language is incredibly evocative. He’s an excellent observer of his surroundings and pretty apt when it comes to characterisations. This book seeps with passion – passion for nature, landscape, and knowledge. It was hard for me to resist its pull. McFarlane’s passion trickled into me, sort of by osmosis, via Matthew Waterson’s splendid narration (I think I’m in love ;-) ).

Underland managed to be both high-brow and very accessible – a feat in itself. Thank goodness I came across it, it had been a while since I was that exhilarated by an author/book.

Even the cover is stunning, it's one of my favourites.
The audiobook gets 10/10.
Profile Image for Melanie.
548 reviews293 followers
April 21, 2019
I was wary of Underland at the beginning, as I normally reach for Macfarlane’s books when I cannot go exploring myself. Sort of a stand in adventure while bound to my desk for work or asthma keeping my indoors in winter. How would it work reading about him exploring terrain that I have absolutely no interest in exploring myself? Would I love it or would I be detached and disinterested?

Right from the beginning, I was greeted by the high level of writing. It is a bit like meeting up with an old friend, you sit down and pick up where you left off, even when it has been years. The writing is sublime. And the introduction to the Underlands is gentle, sharing his fascination, his motives for writing, he slowly guides us into the book. I loved visiting underground spaces in this way without the need for myself to get uncomfortable, wet or in a dangerous situation. Armchair travelling at its best.

Not all journeys take you literally underground, some are just left you wondering what’s underfoot and I certainly took that with me on my walks last week on holiday in Scotland. Oddly, I thought most about his words after climbing the hill to an old Iron Age Hillfort, pondering what lay beneath me and what memories the stones held that I was standing on. I don’t think, I ever really gave that much thought to what is under my feet than that what lies before my eyes when out walking. And quite frankly that change in perspective was refreshing.

It also got me thinking about my own place in the world, what legacy I will leave behind. What impact I can have to safeguard, to protect and to pass on. And this is where the real strength of any good book comes from: The moment you put it down, it still occupies your thoughts, you carry its wisdom with you and phrases pop into your head when you are doing other things.

Certainly a book for me that I will revisit over and over again, preferably reading out passages to my husband, because the writing is just so wonderful. And we shall keep going out and find beauty and be still.
Profile Image for Rebecca.
3,551 reviews2,535 followers
May 11, 2019
This was a bit of a hodgepodge for me; that it’s exceptionally written goes without saying, but I’m not sure Macfarlane succeeds in bringing together all of his wildly different subterranean topics: mining, caving, burial chambers, the study of dark matter, radioactive waste, tree communication networks, Parisian catacombs, the mythical rivers of the underworld, prehistoric cave paintings, resistance to oil drilling, Greenland’s glaciers and Finland’s tunnels, and more. I felt crushed by the weight of the prose by page 30 and skimmed the rest.

Some lines I loved:

“Time moves differently here in the underland. It thickens, pools, flows, rushes, slows.”

“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.”

“The same three [underground] tasks recur across cultures and epochs: to shelter what is precious, to yield what is valuable, and to dispose of what is harmful.”

“We are often more tender to the dead than to the living, though it is the living who need our tenderness most.” [I was also sobered by his statement that most of us don’t know where we will be buried – a symptom of the nomadic nature of modern living.]
Profile Image for Leah.
1,355 reviews205 followers
April 19, 2019
Unfortunately, the author's style isn't working for me, so I'm abandoning the book at 30%. I find it shallow (ironically), full of poorly evidenced observations on the human relationship to underground spaces which don't stand up to much thought. I chose it because I'd been told his writing is gorgeous, but I'm afraid I'm not seeing that. The descriptions on the whole are pedestrian, and I am so tired of being told about him shimmying through almost impossible tunnels - it would appear one narrow underground tunnel is much like another.

A mismatch here between author and reader, and I'm sure - in fact, I know from looking at other reviews - that it will work much better for other readers. This makes my one-star rating harsh, but it's a subjective rating of my lack of enjoyment rather than an objective judgement of the quality of the book.
Profile Image for Bradley.
Author 5 books3,910 followers
March 26, 2020
This is a strange duck of a book. Especially if it is a spelunking duck with a penchant for science and poetry.

I want to say that it is a pretty interesting and diverse book on the concept of the underground, whether it is exploring deep caverns, crypts, deep dives, or mycelium networks in the forest. And it is! It's very, very interesting. Any kind of deep concept such as ice mining to discover the deep past, ways to put away nuclear waste products, catching rare nuclear particles... all of it is included in the text.

And what's more? This book of exploration is personal, awe-inspiring, creative as hell, and it reads almost like poetry.

Hell. This book IS like poetry. Tons of connections are made between all these diverse elements and the language used is really, really pretty.

So why didn't I give this a five-star rating just for its beauty?

Because while it was pretty damn inspiring at the beginning, it wore me down and tired me out by the end.

I think it would be a very nice book to read over a long stretch of time. A little each night as your mind is relaxing, letting go, getting weird and creative. Read it like poetry. A little at a time. Enjoy the language, the connections, and don't let it turn into a regular non-fiction title. Yes, there's some great science going on in here, but make no mistake...

Profile Image for Hugh.
1,254 reviews49 followers
September 13, 2020
Robert Macfarlane is always interesting, and this is probably his best book since The Old Ways. His definition of underland is a loose one, encompassing woodland and glaciers as well as caves.

His journeys are personal and idiosyncratic, and there is plenty of speculation on deep time and how the anthropocene age might be viewed by whatever succeeds us in the long term future. Many historical themes are touched on, from primitive cave art in France and Norway to wartime atrocities in what is now the Italian/Slovenian border.

Inevitably with such a disparate collection, not all of the subjects are equally interesting, but Macfarlane's enthusiasms are infectious.
Profile Image for Jerrie.
985 reviews127 followers
March 19, 2020
Wonderful book! The writing is fantastic. It’s lovingly descriptive and deeply contemplative. The author explores the spaces deep within the Earth for what they say about the Earth’s long past and what it might mean for our future. His descriptions of exploring arctic ice and what the deepest levels may have locked within them was my favorite part. It makes me want to go there, even though I know I wouldn’t last 30 minutes in that weather.
Profile Image for Jessaka.
868 reviews106 followers
October 13, 2022
“People are best able to change when they find two things at once in nature, something to fear, a threat, something they must avoid, and also something to love, a quality which they can do their best to honor.” ~~After Nature” by Jedediah Purdy

A lyrical exploration of the ground beneath our feet: graves, caves, caverns, and the melting of the Artic, just to mention a few. The quote above came from his exploration of the Artic, how global warming would only be reversed if people first hade the experience of fear.

I had read about the animals in the Artic being uncovered due to the melting ice, and its release of Amthrax which is active and killing people and animals, but I didn’t know that toxic waste, mainly in the form of radiation is being uncovered.

I liked the story of the man who was out hunting rabbits, and one of them hopped behind some boulders. Being hungry, he went after the rabbit, pushing aside some boulders and Found a burial cave where ancient people had been buried.

His stories about people dying in caves that they were exploring were rather chilling. Some had gotten stuck, others died from carbon monoxide, and some just fell. I can think of better things to do, like see the cave or cavern after it had been made safe. Carl’s Bad Caverns are a must to see.

Mankind knows how to make a mess of things too, as I am thinking of how the ice is melting on Greenland and how oil companies are lining up to drill oil. Then burying toxic chemicals under the ice, not knowing that someday it would all melt. I wonder what else they will find in the Artic and elsewhere

This was a fascinating read and if you like this kind of thing, there is another book out there “Underground.” Both explore the city under Paris, but after that they part ways. I cannot tell you which book I loved best, but I can say that it would be nice to read about more underground explorations.
Profile Image for Kathleen.
1,301 reviews119 followers
August 19, 2019
British nature writer Macfarlane has written an enthralling exploration of the Earth below us. He has structured the book around three uses that humans have had: “to shelter what is precious, to yield what is valuable, and to dispose of what is harmful”. Along the way, the reader gets to experience claustrophobia that flows from Macfarlane’s experiences like when he and a fellow spelunker enter a ruckle (an underground subsidence of boulders prone to shifting and toppling) in the Mendips, a quarried limestone range in England pocketed with ancient burial chambers. Or there is the time he nearly becomes stuck in a narrow vertical shaft while exploring the catacombs under the streets of Paris.

This book is the culmination of 10 years of research/exploration and is designed to raise important issues: the relationship of man with his landscape, the instability of time and place, and most important, the impermanence of humans. He witnesses an example of the consequences of climate change when he sees a huge ice pyramid crashing off the Knud Rasmussen Glacier in Greenland. He believes that a warming planet is now beyond our control. What will we leave behind us? Plastiglomerate (plastic trash that melts when exposed to heat and wraps around grit and sand) and lead-207, the stable isotope at the end of the uranium-235 decay chain.

Enjoy Macfarlane’s beautifully written book highlighting the waning Anthropocene age. Highly recommend.
Profile Image for Michael Finocchiaro.
Author 3 books5,480 followers
October 22, 2020
MacFarlane's book about the Underland is a great companion to similar books about trees and nature aboveground (The Overstory came to mind as I read it). It is a non-fiction book taking us on a series of underground journeys primarily in Europe but also in Greenland where we explore caves and learn about geology and speleology. In fact, the passages when he is going through impossibly claustrophobic places in no light were quite stressful to read. I feel that this is an important book which talks about ecological change and global warming with factual analysis and yet without beating it over your head. It also serves as a sociological text about our relationship to the planet and makes more convincing arguments than say, the vapid Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, about how we can be more responsible in caring for the world around us.

A few cool quotes (sorry, no page numbers due to a limitation in the Libby app :-/)
I really enjoyed this one:
We all carry trace fossils within us - the marks that the dead and missed leave behind. Handwriting on an envelope; the wear on a wooden step left by a footfall; the memory of a familiar gesture by someone gone, repeated so often that it has worn its own groove in both air and mind: these are trace fossils too. Sometimes, in fact, all that is left behind by loss is trace - and sometimes empty volume can be easier to hold in the heart than presence itself.

This one is from his trip to Greenland which was particularly insightful and mesmerizing and it almost gives me vertigo to think about:
The colour of deep ice is blue, a blue unlike any other in the world - the blue of time.
The blue of time is glimpsed in the depths of crevasses.
The blue of time is glimpsed at the calving faces of glaciers, where bergs of 100,000-year-old ice surge to the surface of fjords from far below the water level.
The blue of time is so beautiful that it pulls body and mind towards it.

Truly a fascinating literary voyage, I can highly recommend Underland!
Profile Image for Carolyn Marie  Castagna.
270 reviews5,553 followers
August 13, 2021
The more I read from Robert Macfarlane, the more I adore his writing!

Yet another wondrous walk in his adventurous footsteps!
Profile Image for Paul.
1,160 reviews1,921 followers
December 3, 2021
3.5 stars
This is much lauded and praised and now much translated. The title is self-explanatory, it is an exploration of earth’s underworlds (natural and created). There are caves and caverns, various underground systems including the many different underworlds of London and Paris. One point to make, all of the underlands in question are all in Europe or Greenland, so it is a very Eurocentric account, interesting though it is and well as Macfarlane writes. The descriptions of his perils and adventures (and he does take risks) lead to reflections about humanity and our effect on the landscape. I was reading this at the same time as Sebald and was struck by the similarities, both go off at tangents, although Macfarlane is not as narrow in range as Sebald.
Macfarlane does try to connect with early humans and reflect on time:
“The intimacy of that posture is moving to me – the dead and the living standing sole to sole. Seeing photographs of the early hand-marks left on the walls of Maltravieso, Lascaux or Sulawesi, I imagine laying my own palm precisely against the outline left by those unknown makers. I imagine, too, feeling a warm hand pressing through from the cold rock, meeting mine fingertip to fingertip in open-handed encounter across time.”
“Deep time is measured in units that humble the human instant: epochs and aeons, instead of minutes and years. Deep time is kept by stone, ice, stalactites, seabed sediments and the drift of tectonic plates. Deep time opens into the future as well as the past. The Earth will fall dark when the sun exhausts its fuel in around 5 billion years. We stand with our toes, as well as our heels, on a brink.”
He also reflects on the nature of early human history:
“In a cave within a scarp of karst, a figure inhales a mouthful of red ochre dust, places its left hand against the cave wall – fingers spread, thumb out, palm cold on the rock – and then blows the ochre hard against the hand’s back. There is an explosion of dust – and when the hand is lifted its ghostly print remains…The prints will survive for more than 35,000 years. Sign of what? Of joy? Of warning? Of art? Of life in the darkness?”
Macfarlane is eminently quotable as can be seen, although once you have heard one description of getting wet and cold in impossible deep spaces, you have probably heard them all. Macfarlane does delve into myths about the underworld (Gilgamesh et al), but again Eurocentric.
The most interesting part of the book for me was the part where Macfarlane talks about recent scientific thinking about the ways trees communicate and cooperate; inevitably named the “wood wide web”. He outlines an underground social network in the forest, based on mycorrhizal fungal species linking trees, not only of the same species, but between different species. This has been mapped using carbon isotopes. It appears that resources can be moved around in a wood in ways that we are only just beginning to understand. As Macfarlane says:
“Even more remarkably, the network also allows plants to send immune-signalling compounds to one another. A plant under attack from aphids can indicate to a nearby plant via the network that it should up-regulate its defensive response before the aphids reach it. It has been known for some time that plants communicate above ground in comparable ways, by means of diffusible hormones. But such airborne warnings are imprecise in their destinations. When the compounds travel by fungal networks, both the source and the recipient can be specified. Our growing comprehension of the forest network asks profound questions about where species begin and end, about whether a forest might be imagined as a super-organism and about what “trading, “sharing” or even “friendship” might mean between plants”
There is much of interest here, but there is also a good deal of descriptive repetition and there is a complete omission of anything outside Europe.
Profile Image for Nigel.
803 reviews90 followers
April 27, 2019
In brief - Without question the best/most interesting Macfarlane book I have read. 4.5/5 and happily rounded up.

In full
I am a fan of Robert Macfarlane's work and have read a number of his books over the past few years. All the previous books I've read have been largely about life in the open. This one takes a very different direction and goes Underland. In common with previous books it looks at its subject in differing places, times and ways. The range of Underland topics that he manages to cover is diverse, fascinating and thought provoking at times.

I would argue that you need to savour a Robert Macfarlane book . I actually took a couple of months to read this, dipping in when I felt the inclination. In the case of this book in particular, and his others sometimes, they take you to strange places often known mainly to the author. For example the chapter on the Wood Wide Web I found simply fascinating. It was a subject I had little knowledge at all of and I found that it touched something in me. The Paris catacombs I knew slightly more about. Or at least I thought I did! Once I read the chapter I knew far more.

Within the chapters there are often comments that are almost "asides". Again these made me sit up and take notice. I would offer as examples the comments on the hunger stones in the river Elbe or the life of drain workers in India - marvellous. The writing is rich, interesting and vivid in the main. It is not a book to rush.

If you want to skip a bit fine but do be careful. There are gems in amongst the main headings. Taking the Karst and underground (sorry - underland) river near Trieste there are notes/stories/thoughts about cave exploration, rationale for doing so, mythology, flora and fauna, and dark tales of war among other things just as an example.

I will confess that not every chapter fascinated me however the ones that did left me reflective and pleased that I had gained some new knowledge of this world we live on. I loved some of the ideas that came across to me in this book. When in Greenland he offers the idea that ice has a memory for thousands of years for example.

During the course of this book he meets with/stays with/explores with some deeply fascinating people. There is a rich warmth of humanity in this even if sometimes the stories take us to far darker places.

After Greenland Macfarlane goes to Finland to see the Hiding Place. This is a storage facility being built deep underground and intended to last for 100,000 years. It is for the storage of nuclear waste. Interesting enough you might say. However, in the way that this author seems to be able to do so easily, he couples this with the Kalevala, an epic folk poem from Finland. This poem dates back a long time however Macfarlane draws out somewhat surprising similarities between this two quite different topics. Obviously (!) he also looks at the subject of other nuclear storage facilities as well together with that topic as a whole. In turn this leads to the subject of language systems and how to communicate with people who will not be born for many centuries. It is remarkable just how readable and interesting he can make such diverse subjects.

In a sense this is a difficult book to review. My journey Underland over the period of a couple on months will not be the same as anyone else's probably. The parts that touched me may not touch others in the same way. Certainly some people will look at this book and simply wonder why. However if the idea of this interests you maybe you should look at trying it. If you have read previous books by Robert Macfarlane it is possible that, like me, you will consider this his best richest book yet.

Note - I received an advance digital copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for a fair review
Profile Image for Radiantflux.
427 reviews405 followers
January 23, 2020
69th book for 2019.

Robert Macfarlane has rapidly become one of my favorite nature/travel writers.

In his latest book, he takes the reader on a series of seemingly disconnected trips to the "underworld"; going amongst other places spelunking to discover hidden rives in Italy and Central Europe; exploring glacial caves in Greenland; paleolithic sites in Scandinavia and England; particle detectors located deep underground in salt mines under the English channel; nuclear burial sites and urban exploring with like-minded people in the Parisian catacombs.

All of this is done with a sense of magic/mystery. Who else would do this while carrying a specially created orb of a friend's deepest regrets and fears, which he has instructions to bury in the deepest place he can find.

A beautifully written book, meditating on the meaning of the Underworld as a place of death and hidden things, as a mirror to the surface world of light and life.

Profile Image for foteini_dl.
418 reviews117 followers
May 23, 2020
Το βιβλίο αυτό του Robert Macfarlane πετάχτηκε μια μέρα εν μέσω καραντίνας στην οθόνη του υπολογιστή και μπήκε στο καλάθι πιο εύκολα και από σουτ του Μιχάλη του Τζόρνταν. Έχοντας οδηγό τον γεωλογικό χρόνο ταξιδεύουμε στις παρισινές κατακόμβες, σε θαλάσσιες σπηλιές, στα ορεινά της Σλοβενίας και σε μέρη που δεν έχετε (έχουμε) φανταστεί.

Κυκλοφορεί και στα εγγλέζικα σε εγχώριο βιβλιοπωλείο αλλά ο μεταφραστής είναι ο Μιχάλης Μαρκόπουλο που τον αγαπώ σαν συγγραφέα (αν έχεις διαβάσει το Μαύρο νερό, το Τσότσηγια & Ω'μ και Το δέντρο του Ιούδα ξέρεις με ποιον έχεις να κάνεις),οπότε... Και εδώ αποδεικνύει ότι είναι και πολύ καλός μεταφραστής. Και μπράβο του. Αλλά πάνω απ' όλα μπράβο στον Macfarlane. Ένα χειροκρότημα το αξίζει. Αλλά δεν θα το υποκινήσει καμία Μαρέβα, κρίμα.
Profile Image for Eric Anderson.
653 reviews3,203 followers
December 2, 2019
It can be so easy to get caught in the here and now of life when most of it consists of a routine path between home and work. I’ve certainly found that where day after day I take the same trains while passing by the same trees and buildings. After a while I barely notice them because I’m so fixated on looking at my phone or a book. But reading Robert Macfarlane’s “Underland” gives a radically new perspective on time and space as he describes his various journeys to subterranean landscapes. From ancient caves in England and Norway to the bottom of glaciers near Greenland to the subterranean chambers of London and Paris, Macfarlane explores terrain that few people have tread but which has always existed under our feet. In doing so he explores the concept of deep time where he can see the marks of many past centuries inscribed upon the rocks and ice hidden here. This is where resources are extracted from, bodies are buried, waste is disposed of and treasure is hidden. It’s also where scientists can detect changes to the environment and archaeologists can study the oldest traces from human history. Macfarlane recounts his experiences in these places, sympathetically describes the colourful individuals who guide him through them and meaningfully reflects on our hidden relationship to these subterranean regions.

Read my full review of Underland by Robert Macfarlane on LonesomeReader
Profile Image for Lou (nonfiction fiend).
2,771 reviews1,617 followers
May 2, 2019
Award-winning and bestselling author Robert Macfarlane is back with a stunning story of landscape, nature, people and place and the accompanying history. Mr Macfarlane captures your attention rapidly with the interesting, information-rich text describing places lots of people will have no knowledge of. The author manages the fine balance between introducing us to enough information so that we are intrigued and suitably engaged but not so much that you become bored and drift away. That's no easy feat.

This time we follow him on an adventure to learn about those secret often unmapped places beneath our feet. I found it quite profound and nothing short of beguiling. Anyone who enjoyed Macfarlane's other nonfiction will find more the same to admire here. That said, I think this is his best and most informative book yet. It is also written in a fashion that seems accessible and understandable to everyone. The subterranean landscape he explores is so unique and fascinating and the folktales and mythology introduced make this a mysterious read. This is science and nature reporting at its very best. Many thanks to Hamish Hamilton for an ARC.
Profile Image for Paul.
2,115 reviews
June 22, 2019
Mankind has long looked to the heavens seeking fortune, inspiration and direction. Numerous cultures have all considered the underworld to be a place where a river carried the dead away from the surface, where death abounded, hell, hades and other places were thought to exist. It was somewhere to be avoided. Yet, people have worked underground for thousands of years, tracing and extracting the minerals and ores in the ground, However, it is not something that most people do on a regular basis in the UK now our mining industry is gone. We do head beneath the surface though as millions of people think nothing about going on the tube under London and other capital cities to get to work. However, very few get to go to where Macfarlane is heading.

His journeys into the nether regions of our planet will take him to the catacombs of Paris where his guide knows the numerous passages so well that she doesn’t need a map. Squeezing through tiny gaps, pulling his bag behind him, he will not see the sun for a week. He will venture deep underground in Finland visiting a nuclear waste site. Here they are burying copper and steel tube holding waste uranium, that will have to be buried for thousands of years and sealed behind a million tonnes of rock. The engineer’s joke that they might find the last lot that was buried in the rock they were blasting.

People have been entering caves since time immemorial, some caves are easy to enter, though not straightforward to reach and they reveal art that is millennia old. The caves he visits to see this amazing art are not always the easiest to find, and it is not always the easiest thing to see on the walls as he discovers. Each cave he enters challenges his perception of the underground landscape, having to descend vertically in almost pitch back, wading through underground rivers that might flood with no warning. He sees first hand how the same forces that shape our coasts and mountains, also transform the Underland. Most memorable is an underground chamber where there are dunes of black sands.

In Greenland, he climbs mountains and abseils down a moraine in a glacier and it is as cold and frightening as I’d expect. Secrets from under London with Bradley Garret from the London Consolidation Crew are revealed as they head to places that they really shouldn’t be going. Underneath forests are more than just roots, as Macfarlane understands how trees talk to each other through the Wood Wide Web. One of the deepest points he reaches is to see the place where they look at the stars…

The way into the Underland is through the riven trunk of an old ash tree…

It is through these and the other locations he takes us, that we get to hear the stories of these places that never see the sun. As will all of Macfarlane’s books, there is a wider message that he is talking about in what has been called the Anthropocene and that is about the damage that we are doing to this, our only planet. The reason he can abseil down the moraine on the glacier is because of global warming and the implications for humanity should the repositories hold the nuclear waste leak or rupture do not even bear thinking about. If you have read any of his previous books then this is a must read. It is not as uplifting as those books as it is much darker given the places he visits and the subject matter but that doesn’t make it any less thrilling. It is not one to read if you suffer from claustrophobia. I like the way that he can link seemingly unrelated subjects from classical history to modern day physics with that common thread of being under the ground. Macfarlane has a way with words that carry you as he heads deep Underland to see our past and glimpse our future. I have been anticipating this for over a year now and it was well worth the wait. If there was one tiny flaw, I would have liked to have seen some photos included of the places he visits.
Profile Image for Overbylass.
34 reviews
March 18, 2020
I've only read three books by the author so far and will try more over time .I try so hard to be team Macfarlane .The books are praised so highly that I want in on it all -but I always feel I'm not wanted. I feel excluded , that somehow the books know I was born working class , educated at a hideous Middlesbrough 80s comprehensive and then ,as a result, onto a mediocre 'college' for a degree. They seem to always tell me that this is not your world ...you'll never go to these places, with these contacts and friends. Is it a chip on my shoulder ,or the writing style ,that is born of a good education and all the benefits that brings? I love nature writing and I can see there are some beautifully written pieces in this book , it always feels a bit 'Boys Own' ish. Like the books of old where 'the knowledge' was passed from private school teachers to their charges ,to go forth and explore the world and tell the plebs about it. I can't fully explain what I mean, due to my rubbish education! I just don't feel I belong in this genre of nature writing. Maybe the writer needs to come up to Middlesbrough/NE ,for a change ?
Profile Image for Krista.
1,351 reviews516 followers
July 30, 2020
The same three tasks recur across cultures and epochs: to shelter what is precious, to yield what is valuable, and to dispose of what is harmful.
Shelter (memories, precious matter, messages, fragile lives).
Yield (information, wealth, metaphors, minerals, visions).
Dispose (waste, trauma, poison, secrets).
In the underland we have long placed that which we fear and wish to lose, and that which we love and wish to save.

Underland is the first book I’ve read by Robert Macfarlane – a celebrated British nature writer and literary critic who currently teaches in the Faculty of English at Cambridge – so I didn’t quite know what to expect from what looked like a sciencey exploration of the world beneath our feet. I understand now that Macfarlane’s career has concerned a “long-term mapping of the relations of landscape and the human heart” – making this book more sociological than geological – and once I learned to pivot my expectations, I grew to admire Underland for what it is: a poetic adventure-travelogue about underground spaces and the people tied to them. Macfarlane’s lyrical language borders on indulgent at times, and he writes from a decidedly progressive-campus point-of-view, but I found his adventures to be both fascinating and thrilling, and his thesis (This is among the best things we can try to do: to be good ancestors) to be sound. I look forward to reading Macfarlane’s earlier works.

The way into the underland is through the riven trunk of an old ash tree...

Macfarlane travelled widely, over the course of a decade, exploring mines and glaciers and caves and catacombs. In every place, he stayed with engaging characters (and Macfarlane has a true gift for capturing people in a few strokes), and with every experience, he was able to relate the voids under our feet with the oldest tales and metaphors in human culture (from Persephone, Orpheus, and the Minotaur, to Alice tumbling down through the rabbithole, we humans seem to have long been fascinated and repelled by the deep dark). Whether pulling himself through a narrow passage of rock (that necessitated turning his face to the side in order to squeeeeze through) or solo-climbing through a snow-covered pass to find a remote cave (against the emphatic advice of his local Norwegian host), Macfarlane relates some heart-thumping tales of adventure (that always turned my mind to the wife and children waiting for him back home in England). But while Macfarlane quotes freely (and interestingly) from research, literature, and poetry, he sometimes lost me when his own clear prose sprouted purple wings:

I lie down to lead, I follow the thread, and each tiny room in the ruckle opens onto the next as it should, in turn, in order. I pass through the last of the gaps, and as I lift myself into the entry shaft I feel the snap of the black stone’s jaws at the empty air below my toes, and then I am out of the swallet and into the hollow, and warm air is rolling around me, and my bones grow again in the storm of light and ferns furl their green over and into me and moss thrives on my skin and leaves teem in my eyes, and Sean and I sit laughing, knowing for those few moments that to understand light you need first to have been buried in the deep-down dark.

(Another rhetorical indulgence that annoyed: “What was it that Barry Lopez called these old routes of movement and migration within the landscape? Corridors of breath. That was it.” I liked the references but not the faux self-interrogation on the page. I suppose it’s all a matter of taste; it’s not to mine.) And as for the progressive politics: Speaking with the mycologist Merlin Sheldrake about the recently discovered “wood wide web” of fungi-enabled, underground resource sharing between trees in a forest, Sheldrake notes, “Politically, I’m obviously inclined to dislike the language of biological free-marketry far more than the socialist version.” Obviously. Macfarlane travels to Norway and meets an anti-offshore-oil-drilling activist, and this bear of a fisherman, Bjørnar Nicolaisen, takes the author out on his gas-powered fishing boat to discuss the evils of oil extraction. Macfarlane joins “urban explorers” as they breeze past No Entry signs and locked gates (even trespassing into a control room at the Tower of London) and notes sympathetically, “At its more political fringes, urban exploration mandates itself as a radical act of disobedience and liberation: a protest against state constraints on freedom within the city.” And while the trespassing itself made me squirmy, Macfarlane has different concerns:

There are aspects of urban exploration that leave me deeply uneasy, and cannot be fended off by indemnifying gestures of self-awareness on the part of its practitioners. I dislike its air of hipster entitlement, its inattention towards those people whose working lives involve the construction, operation and maintenance – rather than the exploration – of these hidden structures of the city. I am sceptical of the dandified nature of its photographic culture, which seems chiefly to refocus the problems of Caspar David Fredrich’s iconic 1818 painting Wanderer above a Sea of Fog. And I feel uneasy at the opportunities urban exploration holds for insensitivity to those people who have no choice but to exist in contexts of dereliction and ruin.

(And again this might come down to taste and temperament: the more one agrees with these viewpoints, the less they might break the flow of reading.) In the end, the very best parts of Underland were the death-defying adventures and the people that Macfarlane met along the way. He didn’t just descend into the Abyss of Trebiciano, climbing down a precarious ladder for two hours to reach an underground river, he did it in the company of a seventy-year-old pipe-smoking gate-keeper whose most frequent reply to any enquiry was, “Allora”. Macfarlane didn’t just follow some map to explore the far reaches of the Parisian Catacombs, he followed a young woman with scarlet lipstick, a quick stride, and an encyclopedic knowledge of that “invisible city”. This ultimately, and compellingly, is a book about the connections between people and underground geographies; a fascination we humans seem to have shared across time:

I think of the black and red hand-prints left on the cave walls at Chauvet, of the red figures of the dancers with their outstretched arms, of the spray-can hand stencil on the catacomb wall in Paris, of Helen reaching a hand down to haul me out of the moulin. I think of the many people I have encountered in and through the underland who have been committed to shared human work rather than retreat and isolation. Many of them have been mappers, really, of networks of mutual relation, endeavoring to stitch their thinking into unfamiliar scales of time and space, seeking not the scattered jewels of personal epiphany but rather to enlarge the possible means by which people might move and think together across landscapes, in responsible knowledge of deep past, deep future and the inhuman earth.

I may have some quibbles with the writing, and it may not have been the book I expected to read, but there is much in Underland that intrigued and enchanted me. I definitely will be picking up more from this author.
Profile Image for jeremy.
1,113 reviews275 followers
May 8, 2019
one of the most compelling, vivid, thought-provoking, magnificent, and richly composed non-fiction books i've read in some time, robert macfarlane's underland: a deep time journey traverses the european continent, exploring subterranean locales both natural and man-made (and, er, man-caused). with his poetic command of language, keen observational gifts, and worldly perspective, macfarlane's writing is frequently breathtaking.

seamlessly blending scientific inquiry, nature writing, travelogue, adventure tale, reportage, history, and requiem for our anthropocenic age, underland delves deeply — both literally and figuratively. macfarlane's new book is a remarkable exploration of natural wonder at some of the earth's most inaccessible and outlying (underlying!) places. macfarlane's enthusiasm and awe are contagious, as is his evident sorrow for what our species has collectively wrought and brought to bear on ecosystems near and far. perceptive, reflective, and educative, underland is unequivocally one of the year's must-read books; a masterful, exceptional work.
we should resist inertial thinking; indeed, we should urge its opposite — deep time as a radical perspective, provoking us to action not apathy. 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.

when viewed in deep time, things come alive that seemed inert. new responsibilities declare themselves. a conviviality of being leaps to mind and eye. the world becomes eerily various and vibrant again. ice breathes. rock has tides. mountains ebb and flow. stone pulses. we live on a restless earth.
Profile Image for Elyse Walters.
3,921 reviews35.4k followers
July 13, 2022
Audiobook…..read by Matthew Waterson
…..12 hours and 3 minutes

Soon after I finished listening to this fascinating and (academically) challenging-to-understand-the-four-corners-of ‘everything’ ….. world of the underground…..radioactive waste, mining, the way trees communicate, with great visuals of limestone caves, (my memories came back from walking the caves in Israel), and the many myths of the Earth’s underworld has on our lives….while also addressing literature, philosophy, mythology, travel, history, (around the world associations), nature, science in all forms, the damage being done to our environment…etc…
Police found $100,000 of stolen goods in a very sophisticated underground cave. They found stolen power tools, firearms hidden in an underground bunker near a Coyote Creek homeless encampment and arrested six suspects in connection with the investigation.

So….even though I didn’t understand- everything - it got me talking > having conversations about the world below with Paul….
I might not have even noticed the news here in my city today had it not been for this book …..
It was not easy breezy fairytale-ish bedtime reading…..
But clearly ….I made the right choice not to go spelunking in the Santa Cruz caves when invited years ago. I don’t think I have claustrophobia issues —-but —-I rather the earth be under my feet when hiking than the earth be on top of me.

Yet….I appreciate what author Robert McFarlane provided….
I got an amateur education about the many “Under Land” discoveries. ….and a much greater appreciation for the men and women who choose this study as their life passion and profession.
Profile Image for Eirini Proikaki.
330 reviews105 followers
May 23, 2020
Πώς επικοινωνούν τα δέντρα; Πώς είναι να ταξιδεύεις σε ένα Παρίσι κάτω από το Παρίσι; Πώς είναι να βρισκεσε σε ένα ορυχείο κάτω από το βυθό της θάλασσας;

Αν έχετε τέτοιες απορίες και αν σας αρέσουν τα ντοκιμαντέρ, τότε αυτό είναι ένα βιβλίο για εσάς.Η αφήγηση του MacFarlane με μετέφερε σε σκοτεινές κατακόμβες,σε αναστρους ποταμούς,σε τάφους,σε σπήλαια,σε αποθήκες πυρηνικών αποβλήτων,με πήγε στο παρελθόν,με πήγε στο μέλλον και με έκανε να δω τους μύκητες με άλλο μάτι.

Πολύ ωραιο βιβλίο γεμάτο εντυπωσιακά ταξίδια στους κάτω κόσμους ,με αναφορές σε μύθους και λογοτεχνία.
Profile Image for Trish.
1,876 reviews3,383 followers
November 19, 2020
This is hard to rate or even describe.

My GR friend Paul gifted me a book by this author some time ago and until now I haven't found the time to tackle it. Then my constant buddy-reader found this (not knowing the author was already on my radar) and asked if we'd read it together now as the topic more or less fit with what we've read this month already.

Let me be clear from the start: the book is NOT bad. However, the book is exhausting.

It's not that I didn't understand what the author was saying or describing. The beginning had me marvelling at his lyrical writing style as it made the book almost poetical. However, it didn't take long until the beautiful writing had me put the book down very often because I just couldn't go on anymore.

The book is a little like a travelogue and a little like a geological and cultural history book. And yet, it's also neither of those. The reader is taken on a journey through time and across the earth, sometimes in anecdotes of the author's own travels, sometimes in recountings of what darkness and underground have meant and still do mean to humans in general (mining, burial chambers, dark matter, radioactive waste, tree communication networks, the catacombs in Paris, the rivers of the underworld in several mythologies, prehistoric cave paintings, oil drilling and more).

Like I said: the story was interesting and relevant - it's how the story is told that threw me. I felt crushed by it and almost claustrophobic.

In short, there is a difference between a demanding and an exhausting read and this, unfortunately, turned out to be the latter for me. Probably one of those weird "it's-not-you-it's-me" cases. Or maybe it's just the timing.

Really a shame as the start was promising and so was the topic. Might have to give this another chance at some other point in time.
Profile Image for David Kenvyn.
409 reviews12 followers
May 27, 2019
I have to be honest. I bought this book because I was looking for something to read on a long train journey. The cover illustration is of interlocking branches over a sunset. Neither the title “Underland” nor the sub-title “A Deep Time Journey” gave any real indication of what the book was about. And there was a tagline about entering the Underland through the riven trunk of an old ash tree. Everything suggested that it was a fantasy novel, and that it would be a fun read on a very long train journey.
It is not a fantasy novel. It is a book about the author descending into the depths of the earth in various parts of the northern hemisphere to find out what is under the ground on which we tread.
It is a very long book. I had one very simple problem with it. I did not see the point. This was partly because it was very difficult for me to see the connection between the various, different sections of the book, apart from the fact that each section dealt with something that is beneath our feet if we are standing in a particular part of the world.
One of the questions that this book raises is a simple one: Why do we go under the land? What is our purpose? This is why the book is a deep time journey because it goes back far beyond the historical record to our first emergence as what Desmond Morris, in a famous book, called “The Naked Ape”. We went into caves for shelter from the weather and for protection from predators. Then we began to bury our dead. So, this book sets itself the task of exploring the Earth’s underworlds as they exist in myth, literature, memory and fact.
The author explores the Underland of Europe and Greenland, visiting caves in the Mendips, a mine in Boulby in Yorkshire, Epping Forest, the catacombs of Paris, an underground river in the Carso in Italy, the Slovenian Highlands, the Lofoten Islands in Norway, glaciers in Greenland and a nuclear waste storage facility in Finland. Some of these underlands are natural, some of them are man-made. All of them require the author to be shown around by people who are experts in that particular terrain.
It is difficult to see what the link between these places is, apart from the author’s obsession with going beneath the surface of the earth to find out what is underneath. Perhaps that is the only link. Perhaps I am missing something.
The book is well-written. Each episode is described well. Some of the stories make you wonder about the sanity of humans. Why do people go into the catacombs of Paris (essentially sewers) so that they can party? Why do people risk their lives to find out exactly where an underground river flows between its disappearance and re-emergence? Why do people abseil into the cracks in glaciers? The answer is, because they can.
But I am left with an essential question about this book. Why was it written? And I confess that I do not know the answer.
Profile Image for Dax.
231 reviews107 followers
May 31, 2020
I started out marking interesting facts with post-it notes, but I quickly realized that just about every page would require more than a couple of them, so I quickly gave that system up and enjoyed the ride.

'Underland' is a fascinating read; full of wonderful details and facts that were new to me. Macfarlane is an adventurous guy, and his trips detailed in this book actually had a physical impact on me as I read. The caving, the urban exploring, the glacial descent, the catacomb claustrophobia; reading about these experiences left me breathless, sent my skin tingling, made me wide-eyed. It's rare to have a physical reaction to what you are reading, and it speaks to Macfarlane's prose as well as his travels. It's an impressive combination and deserves nothing less than five stars.
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