Underground: A Human History of the Worlds Beneath Our Feet
Will Hunt is different from most people, said Jon Day in TheGuardian.com. In his “winningly obsessive” new book, the author confesses a powerful attraction to hidden underground places, then takes readers along on a decade’s worth of subterranean adventures. “Much of what he describes is genuinely exciting”: traversing all of Paris via catacombs, exploring caves in South America where human sacrifices were made, joining scientists a mile under South Dakota as they uncover evidence that life may have begun deep below the planet’s surface. Hunt never does convince us that the urge to go underground is, as he writes, “wired in our nervous system.” But it’s thrilling hearing his stories.
“You may never look at a hole in the ground in quite the same way,” said Jonathan Knee in The New York Times. Hunt, who developed his obsession as a teenager after learning that an abandoned rail tunnel lay hidden below his Providence, R.I., neighborhood, makes grand claims for the subterranean world. “Our connection to caves,” he writes at one point, “may well be our most deeply inscribed, perhaps our original religious tradition.” Still, “if not taken too seriously,” such musings add another entertaining layer to his travelogue, which is filled with intriguing quests and characters, including tribesmen, scientists, and a prolific New York graffiti artist.
“In the liveliest chapter, Hunt shares a handful of stories about what it means to be lost,” said Bradley Babendir in NPR.org. While sharing his own experience of becoming disoriented beneath the streets of Paris, he tells of a Frenchman who survived for 35 days after losing his bearings within the tunnels of an abandoned mushroom farm. Hunt himself seems not lost but deeply grounded by the time his book’s done, said Alastair Mabbott in The Herald (U.K.). Having seen evidence of the earliest life in a South Dakota mine and having learned that the Lakota believe the first humans emerged from underground, he proposes that whenever we dig into the earth, “we are engaging in truly eternal behavior, going all the way to the roots of the evolutionary tree, down to the origin of multicellular life.” ■