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Tales From The Underground: A Natural History Of Subterranean Life


Publisher:Basic Books



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About the book:

Step into your backyard, David Wolfe suggests at the outset of this engaging book, and push your thumb and index finger into the root zone of a patch of grass. The pinch of soil you bring up will be a world of its own: "You will likely be holding," he writes, "close to one billion individual living organisms, perhaps ten thousand distinct species of microbes, most of them not yet named, catalogued, or understood."

Scientists are only beginning to comprehend the wealth of life that lies below the earth's surface, observes Wolfe, a soil scientist at Cornell University. Apart from familiar, easily observable subterranean creatures--earthworms, say, or prairie dogs--those scientists have found there progressively tinier forms of life, from "water bears" (tardigrades) and dust mites to microbes whose existence miles below the earth's surface provides keys to the origins of life itself. Noting that the total biomass below the surface may well exceed that above it, Wolfe takes his readers on a learned tour of the subsurface biosphere, layer by layer, mile by mile. What he reports is surprising, and oddly inspiring--for, Wolfe notes, although the human footprint on the soil is deep indeed, and getting deeper, plenty of life occurs beyond our reach.

"We know more about the movement of celestial bodies than about the soil underfoot," Leonardo da Vinci observed five hundred year ago. Wolfe's book helps diminish some of our ignorance, and it is a pleasure to be educated through the course of his pages. --Gregory McNamee

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