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Underland: A Deep Time Journey

4.22  ·  Rating details ·  13,957 ratings  ·  2,354 reviews
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 explor
Hardcover, 496 pages
Published June 4th 2019 by W.W. Norton & Company (first published May 2nd 2019)
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Don Not a true sequel but a continuation and expansion of his earlier books: the Old Ways, the Wild Places, Mountains of the Mind and Landmarks. All are s…moreNot a true sequel but a continuation and expansion of his earlier books: the Old Ways, the Wild Places, Mountains of the Mind and Landmarks. All are splendid and well worth reading and all will stand alone.(less)
Dawn There is only one photo at the beginning of each chapter. More photos would have been appreciated, but photos of everything he mentions are easily fou…moreThere is only one photo at the beginning of each chapter. More photos would have been appreciated, but photos of everything he mentions are easily found online.(less)

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Average rating 4.22  · 
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Feb 12, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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?”
Jenna ❤ ❀  ❤
Jan 15, 2020 marked it as abandoned
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 a ...more
Diane S ☔
Mar 13, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nfr-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 hum
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 com ...more
Apr 15, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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 fr
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 wei ...more
Mar 26, 2020 rated it liked it
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
Apr 19, 2019 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: factual, abandoned, 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 narro ...more
Sep 12, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jun 18, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Aug 18, 2019 rated it it was amazing
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 quar ...more
Michael Finocchiaro
May 25, 2020 rated it really liked it
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 talk ...more
Jan 15, 2022 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
“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 ex
Carolyn Marie Castagna
Aug 13, 2021 rated it it was amazing
The more I read from Robert Macfarlane, the more I adore his writing!

Yet another wondrous walk in his adventurous footsteps!
Dec 03, 2021 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nature
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 adv
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 cov
Barry Pierce
don't fuck with caves!!! ...more
Eric Anderson
Dec 02, 2019 rated it it was amazing
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 ...more
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 explo
Lou (nonfiction fiend)
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 ...more
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 ...more
Jul 29, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, 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 Bri
May 07, 2019 rated it it was amazing
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, ad
May 09, 2019 rated it liked it
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 c ...more
Mar 26, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Elyse  Walters
Jul 13, 2022 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audiobook
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
May 31, 2020 rated it it was amazing
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;
Connie G
"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."

Robert Macfarlane takes us on a subterranean journey with the excitement of an adventurer, and the scientific eye of a naturalist. He has a sense of wonder and awe when he sees the beauty of nature. Macfarlane also weaves in stories from the occult, mythology and literature (such as Dante's "Inferno") to illustrate that people's fascination with the u
Sep 04, 2022 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: psychogeography
We tend to imagine stone as inert matter, obdurate in its fixity. But here in the rift it feels instead like a liquid briefly paused in its flow.

3.5 stars rounded up, my experience was much like the fungi which breaks the soil's surface in a hyperconnected forest, a shrinking reality which one only has to observe to be dazzled. My time with nature is sincere if puzzled. I had the benefit of school camping trips which illustrated the mysterious processes of nature to a timid suburban kid, one wit
Joy D
Robert Macfarlane explores the question “Are we being good ancestors for our descendants on earth?” And he does so in the most interesting ways. This book is a blend of science, history, memoir, exploration, nature writing, and travelogue. It contains an amazing amount of information packed into a compelling narrative. We accompany the author as he descends into these subterranean regions such as underground caves, chambers, passages, crevices, catacombs, tunnels, and more. We meet scientists, f ...more
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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 Mountain

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There's something great about a paperback book: They're perfect book club choices, you can throw them in your bag and go, and they've been out in...
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“We are often more tender to the dead than to the living, though it is the living who need our tenderness most.” 31 likes
“We all carry trace fossils within us – the marks that the dead and the missed leave behind. Handwriting on an envelope; the wear on a wooden step left by footfall; the memory of a familiar gesture by someone gone, repeated so often 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.” 27 likes
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