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Underland: A Deep Time Journey (Hardcover)

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Staff Reviews

RJ Julia Booksellers Signed First Edition Selection 

July 2019

Dear Surface Dweller,

Don’t worry, I’m also a surface dweller. All humans are surface dwellers. Whether you’re a hiker in the woods casually admiring nature or a climate scientist in a rain forest working hard to find solutions to Earth’s most pressing environmental problems, we tend to focus much of our attention on what’s on the surface of our glorious planet. Then again, we’ve also long been fascinated with what lies beyond the stars. The concept of colonizing another planet is no longer the stuff of science fiction. Heck, scientists snapped a photograph of a black hole a few months ago!

But there’s another world, a mostly ignored world, that deserves our attention: the world that lies beneath us.

From the first page, I knew that Robert Macfarlane’s Underland: A Deep Time Journey was one of those rare books that would change the way I see the world and our place in the universe. To truly understand where we've been, why we are where we are, and what our future holds, we must look for answers in the underland, Earth’s astonishingly complex subterranean world. From the shallow underland of tree roots and fungi to the miles-deep underland where scientists sit in laboratories carved out of massive salt deposits attempting to reveal the mysteries of dark matter in order to better understand the origin of our universe, we have much to learn about our planet’s history if we want to solve the most threatening existential issues of our time.  

In Underland, Macfarlane examines our relationship with the subterranean world through several lenses, including history, myth, literature, geology, astronomy, and climatology. But this book is much more than a panoramic exploration of a planet’s past and present—it is a truly breathtaking adventure story. Accompanied by all manner of explorers and scientists, Macfarlane journeys mind-bogglingly deep into the underland, encountering danger with each step (or leap) he takes. But he presses on, completely in awe of what the underland reveals to him about what’s happening in the cities, oceans, and mountains going about their business above him.

You’ll feel like you’re right alongside Macfarlane on his journey. His passion and excitement, which shines through on every page, will become your passion and excitement. Yes, it’s a science-y nonfiction book, but it’s painted with a novelist’s brush; I highly doubt you’ll find passages of such awe-inspiring beauty in any fiction book you read this year.  

You’ve never experienced anything like Underland before. And I guarantee that the next time you’re laying on the beach or working in your garden, your hands digging down into the cool earth, you’ll find yourself wondering what miraculous things are happening below you, down in the dark.


Brian Wraight

Store Manager

Wesleyan RJ Julia Bookstore


— Brian

June 2019 Indie Next List

“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


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.

About the Author

Robert Macfarlane’s prize-winning and best-selling books include Mountains of the Mind, The Old Ways, Landmarks, and, with Jackie Morris, The Lost Words. He lives in Cambridge, England, where he is a Fellow of the University of Cambridge.

Praise For…

Mesmerizing…Underland is a portal of light in dark times.

— Terry Tempest Williams

An excellent book—fearless and subtle, empathic and strange.
— Dwight Garner

Reading Macfarlane connects us to dazzling new worlds. It's a connection that brings, more than anything else, joy.
— Barbara J. King

Incantatory…A worthy companion to the historian Simon Schama’s monumental Landscape and Memory.

— Marcia Bjornerud

— Peter Fish

— Ryan J. Haupt

Quietly prophetic. 
— Jedediah Purdy

Profound in every sense of the word.
— Richard Powers

Underland is a devastating act of witness and a clear, cogent, lyrical examination of the darknesses invisible beneath our feet.

— Lauren Groff

Underland is a profound reckoning with humankind’s self-imperiled position in nature’s eternal order. At once thrilling and soulful, raw and erudite, it is a book of revelations.

— Philip Gourevitch

Product Details
ISBN: 9780393242140
ISBN-10: 0393242145
Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company
Publication Date: June 4th, 2019
Pages: 496
Language: English