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Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations Paperback – April 10, 2012


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 296 pages
  • Publisher: University of California Press; With a New Preface edition (April 10, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0520272900
  • ISBN-13: 978-0520272903
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.8 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #37,297 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

“Anyone interested in environmental issues should read this book. . . . Entertains and stimulates thought.”
(Times Higher Ed Sup (Thes) 2007-08-03)

“Fascinating insights into what be our most precious natural resource and gives important pointers toward sustainable land management.”
(Bioscience 2008-04-01)

“How societies fare in the long run depends on how they treat their soils. Simple. Concise. You are your dirt.”
(Carol Ekarius Hobby Farms 2009-02-17)

“Sobering. . . . A timely text that will no doubt stimulate the discussion of this issue, and its potential solutions, for years to come.”
(Environment & History 2009-11-01)

“Strengthen[s] appreciation for how important the soil is to our existence.”
(Great Plains Research 2009-05-19)

“This book is a thorough and enlightening treatment of the topic.”
(The Perennial Bookworm 2011-03-07)

“Sounds an ever timely and necessary clarion call.”
(Vadose Zone Journal 2010-05-17)

From the Inside Flap

"From this gritty and compelling state-of-our-earth report comes the inescapable truth that we are nothing if not dirty-minded. A brilliant and essential book."—Roger Swain, science editor of Horticulture magazine

"The relationship between soils and societies has been crucial for humankind for 10,000 years. David Montgomery brings a geomorphologist's eye and a world-historical vision to the subject, showing why it demands our attention."—J.R. McNeill, author of Something New Under the Sun

“In our cyber-charged age, it’s easy to forget that all six billion of us stand on the thin skin of the earth. Humanity is agriculture and agriculture is soil, just as it has been for 10,000 years. David Montgomery—a competent digger of dirt and an engaging storyteller—shows how a close look at the soil can reveal a surprising amount about who we are and where we are headed.”—Richard Manning, author of Against the Grain: How Agriculture Has Hijacked Civilization

More About the Author

David R. Montgomery was born in 1961 Stanford, California, and studied geology at Stanford University before earning his Ph.D. in geomorphology at UC Berkeley. He teaches at the University of Washington where he studies the evolution of topography and how geological processes shape landscapes and influence ecological systems. He loved maps as a kid and now writes about the relationship of people to their environment and other things that interest him. In 2008 he was named a MacArthur Fellow. He lives with his wife Anne in Seattle, Washington.

Customer Reviews

4.8 out of 5 stars
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Very compelling and well written.
Laura Starr
An hour with the book and I'm wobbly from surfing the waves of history and prehistory, rising and falling with soils and the civilizations that destroyed them.
Amazon Customer
I loved the book and I loved the service.
John R. Desnoyers

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

19 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Michael Brown on December 6, 2012
Format: Paperback
This is an excellent overview of soil formation and the cultural and ecological ramifications of its degradation and loss. One might say it is a cultural study of soil, rather than a scientific publication. Unlike other books about soil generation and degradation there are not the seemingly requisite pages of diagrams and chemical equations that would be found among publications by and for soil biologists. This is a very interesting and engaging book, with a really helpful survey of multiple cultures through time and does not read like yet another 'cautionary tale' of how everything will be destroyed within the next five years so it is time to start living off the grid and await the Great Collapse. That being said, the author as a scientist makes real cogent arguments and draws upon history to show how those who ignored or abused their soil, often simply by being unaware or unable to perceive and change their cultivation practices, often fell into decline, obscurity or ultimately effective disappearance.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on March 12, 2013
Format: Paperback
If this terrific tale of soil and civilization were a novel, it would be one of the most enthralling I've ever read. But it's not a novel --it's a multifaceted study of the soils that support and nourishes us -- what it is, how we use and abuse it, where civilizations that threw it away went, how the very landscape was changed by them. Montgomery makes the waves of civilization and soils, populations and soils, as vivid as a Hollywood extravaganza; makes vast landscapes and histories from beyond the edge of human time come alive. An hour with the book and I'm wobbly from surfing the waves of history and prehistory, rising and falling with soils and the civilizations that destroyed them.

Nicely illustrated with drawings from the periods under discussion but I wish the publisher had been generous enough to allow the author to add photos, maps, graphs, timelines, to make the visions the story evokes more concrete and accurate.

A good book to give a gardener, a plant ecologist (like me -- and I wish I'd had a course built around this book when I was in school!), a farmer, a cook, and I only wish that every lawmaker and ag-associated bureaucrat could be made to read it.

Rhonda of the Mountain
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By John Q Public on April 8, 2013
Format: Paperback
A history of the rise and fall of civilizations through the gritty lens of how soil is treated....brilliant! A very insightful, thought-provoking new angle of historic analysis. But, it is a more comfortable and entertaining (read: 'less stuffy') than most academic/historical studies. Well-researched and deeply considered, yet written for a somewhat wider audience than the academic world, Montgomery's excellent study finds the sweet spot between an informative read and an entertaining read. Highly highly recommended.....to anyone with a curious mind.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Houyhnhnm on March 9, 2013
Format: Paperback
I wish I could give David Montgomery's _Dirt_ six stars. Without vilifying mankind, Montgomery traces our mistreatment of arable land from the beginning of agriculture in Neolithic times through great civilizations and some minor ones, taking us right up to modern times. He details how population pressures and other factors caused and continue to cause the depletion of topsoil.

As well as being informative, _Dirt_ contains some of the most effective writing I've read in years, and I say that as someone who teaches academic writing. While this book contains a good many unpleasant truths, Montgomery's highly readable prose encouraged me to turn pages. For example, Montgomery's use of vivid images removes the dry abstraction from statistical information. This is from page four: "Each year, America's farms shed enough soil to fill a pickup truck for every family in the country. . . . An estimated twenty-four billion tons of soil are lost annually around the world--several tons for each person on the planet." He also captures complex generalities in concise, direct language. Here, he's talking about the effect of a growing population on late Medieval Europe: "An increasing demand for crops meant less pasture, little overwinter animal fodder, and not enough manure to sustain soil fertility" (93).

Page after page, across time and continents, Montgomery documents mankind's devastating use and misuse of dirt. Even his plain, slightly vulgar title is beautifully chosen. He more than proves that dirt, far from being cheap, is more precious than gold. I'm tempted to say the same about _Dirt_.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Walter R. Davenport on August 7, 2014
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Very well written with a vast amount of information regarding many past civilizations and peoples who slowly but surely destroyed the source of life for them and succeeding generations here on this earth --- the Soil. Most of this degradation was done unwittingly by the people responsbile but because it was a slow process, it often was the next generation or two that suffered the consequences. The information in this book should be required teaching and reading in our schools and colleges. The future of man is directly dependent upon the wise and regenerative use of the earth's topsoil.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Doug on May 12, 2014
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Since the advent of the bare dirt agricultural practices, we farmers have been sending our topsoil into the rivers faster than we or nature will ever be able to replace it. Unfortunately this book will not serve as a wake-up call because virtually all farmers throughout history and around the world view their personal bank accounts as apposed to the future of their nations. The next time you drive over a river, look down and see how brown the water is, it is sad and depressing.
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