Underland is a look at the world below, an exploration of the Earth’s ‘underworld’ and the effect it has on society, science, and elsewhere. Glaciers, underground rivers, caves, mines, tree roots, catacombs, and nuclear waste sites all feature as Macfarlane combines physical travel with academic reading and a look at human imagination and past.
The book feels poised between the past and the future, looking constantly at time and deep time and what will happen to these underlands next. Human stories are charted next to explanations of history and science, all written in an approachable and interdisciplinary style. Some of the most fascinating parts are those about experiments looking for dark matter deep underground, Macfarlane’s claustrophobic journey under Paris, and descriptions of people’s obsession with caving and underground river charting. There is an eerie sense throughout the book, a haunting of what is beneath our feet and how much of it is unknown in some way, and combined with the lyrical style it creates quite an atmosphere.
Underland is strange and even uncanny, unlike other books you might read, and this is why it is deeply (pun unintended) engaging. Whether or not you usually read books about geography, exploration, or travel, this is one worth picking up, blending many different areas and combining the academic and theoretical ways of looking at landscape with scientific and very human ones. It is a book about nature, but also about the human imagination and our sense of the underland, whatever it may be.