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Tales From The Underground: A Natural History Of Subterranean Life

4.18  ·  Rating Details ·  77 Ratings  ·  15 Reviews
There are over one billion organisms in a pinch of soil, and many of them perform functions essential to all life on the planet. Yet we know much more about deep space than about the universe below. In Tales from the Underground, Cornell ecologist David W. Wolfe lifts the veil on this hidden world, revealing for the first time what makes subterranean life so unique and so ...more
Paperback, 240 pages
Published May 2nd 2002 by Basic Books (first published May 2001)
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Lois Bujold
Jan 06, 2015 Lois Bujold rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: persons interested in biology
Recommended to Lois by: reference in another pop sci book

"Step out into your backyard...and bring up a pinch of earth," Wolfe writes. "You will likely be holding close to one billion individual living organisms, perhaps ten thousand distinct species of microbes, most of them not yet named, cataloged, or understood."

Pretty good introduction to an area of the natural world few of us think about, and usually take for granted. The book is divided into three sections, of which the first, on ancient life, I found the most fascinating, although the later ch
Florence Millo
Jun 29, 2013 Florence Millo rated it it was amazing
Excellent book!! Some of this may be old hat to others, but I certainly learned a lot about life underground!! We really are connected to everything and it is mostly bacteria and fungi holding it all together. Very interesting!! The last chapters on humanity's devastation of underground life were pretty depressing and I can't help wondering if we will continue to be so stupid!!
Aug 23, 2007 Mark rated it liked it
Shelves: science
It's been too long for me to remember all the details, but I recall the sense of delight I had in learning that clay, rock and dirt could be so interesting and have so many fascinating aspects to them. And it's short, and it's educational.
Tim Martin
Aug 30, 2012 Tim Martin rated it it was amazing
Shelves: science, nature, reviewed
_Tales from the Underground_ by David W. Wolfe is an excellent though rather brief introduction to the organisms that live underground; it is only 188 pages long, 206 if one count's the end notes and bibliography (which are quite worthwhile to at least browse). One of the things I liked about the book was that Wolfe was clearly enthusiastic about his subject and expressed a real sense of wonder for the fascinating organisms that dwell under the earth's surface.

He began the book with a nice overa
Aug 13, 2012 Lindsey rated it really liked it
Shelves: nature-science
I was a little skeptical about an entire book on soil microbiology, but WOW. I had some idea of the complex nature in which microbes, fungi, and plants interact, but this book is much more than that. I loved his chapter on how archaea bacteria were first discovered, how long it took the scientific community to believe in their existence (until the '80s!), and how that discovery redefined the evolutionary tree of life. The chapters on microbes providing our most precious medicinal compounds were ...more
Sara Van Dyck
Written by professor plant ecology at Cornell. Each of the nine chapters focuses on one aspect of life underground – from soil creatures and habitable zone, Woese’s work with archaea, to how humans interact with this life – germs, nitrogen problems, loss of soil, endangered black-footed ferrett. Excellent. This book its enjoyable for the non-scientist because it offers – as the title promises – “tales” from the earth, with frequent mention of activities of individual scientists and reference to ...more
Aug 07, 2012 Sarah rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
This is a great book for an overview of soil biology. It ranges from the origins of life to the lives of soil-dwellers to the future of our planet's soil (and what it means for us and everything else).

I think my favorite part was actually the section on the origin of life. It is still taught (even in advanced-level evolution courses...) that life probably evolved in some watery environment. In this book, it is argued that life probably evolved within the soil -- and I can really see the appeal o
Grady McCallie
Feb 15, 2016 Grady McCallie rated it really liked it
Fifteen years old, but still fascinating, the chapters of this book are a series of linked essays about microbes and larger organisms (plants, nematodes, prairie dogs) under the Earth's surface. Wolfe divides the chapters into three board categories: the evolutionary history of life underground; the role of underground life (bacteria, fungi, earthworms) in Earth's natural systems today; and the ways humans have modified these natural systems, for better sometimes, but mostly for worse. Every cha ...more
Sep 06, 2013 Correen rated it really liked it

Even though this book is more than 10 years old, I found it had fascinating information that was new to me. I especially enjoyed his early chapters on ancient life -- Bacteria, Eukarya, and Archaea. His discussion of Archaea and its extremeophiles sparked my imagination and could have well been the focus on the entire book. I would have preferred that he had stayed with his title and confined his stories to the "Underground."

A good book spurs one to want to read more on the topic. Before finishi
Carol Surges
May 28, 2013 Carol Surges rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is a revelation to all of us land dwellers; walking around and thinking we've got it all figured out while underneath our feet an entire other life system is churning away. The next time you stoop to dip a shovel or trowel into the soil take heed. Be aware of all those billions of microorganisms that are hard at work. It's more than worms carrying on down below - and take note: for them coitus lasts a good hour. There's so much to learn from our lowly neighbors! Who would have thought ...more
Feb 07, 2010 Melissa rated it it was amazing
Shelves: science-nerd
I picked up this book after seeing the author interviewed on a PBS documentary about caves, and I really enjoyed it. Each chapter could easily work as a stand alone essay, and Wolfe covers a variety of topics, such as the clay gene theory of the origin of self replication, the importance of earthworms, fungal-plant partnerships, nitrogen fixing bacteria and human's impact on the nitrogen cycle, prairie dogs as keystone species, and other fascinating topics. At less than 200 pages, it's a pretty ...more
May 16, 2008 P. rated it liked it
There is more to life below the surface than was ever expected or considered. The various organisms and wholly unappreciated life forms are necessary to all human and most animal life in the world. If the Nitrogen fixing organisms do not exist, most life on earth will not exist. This book is an amusingly written discussion of these facts.
Jackson Matthews
Well, I DO love worms, described as biological blenders -- and these water bears are something that I'd not heard of yet. I love that there is so much exploration to be found right in one's backyard. This is a great read for gardeners who love earthy things as much as the above-ground flora.
Feb 17, 2015 Kishnan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
this book is really good to read
Joseph Viel
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Apr 28, 2011
Apr 11, 2017 Bob rated it it was amazing
Soil is the basis of most of our food production, so we should know it better. This book is a fascinating and well-written tour through recent advances in understanding the diversity of microbes, fungi and other living components of soil and their effect on food production and our health. The first section is a brave, clear attempt to understand the origin of life on earth, something that is very difficult to get agreement on because evolution since then has drastically altered both life and the ...more
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