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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
The world around us, according to Wolfe, a Cornell University plant physiologist, isn't quite as it appears. Our perspective is skewed because we are "surface chauvinists" when, in fact, a great deal of the earth's biological activity occurs underground. "The latest scientific data suggest that the total biomass of the life beneath our feet is much more vast than all that we observe aboveground." Wolfe does a superb job of describing in nontechnical, accessible terms the major groups of organisms living below ground and the ecological roles they play. Whether he is writing of bacteria, fungi, earthworms, prairie dogs, black-footed ferrets and burrowing owls or the scientists who study them Wolfe is consistently engaging. He argues convincingly that life on our planet most likely began not in some primordial ocean but rather deep beneath the surface under extreme temperature conditions, and that this information needs to inform our search for extraterrestrial life. These largely unseen ecological communities play surprisingly critical roles in human civilization, from aiding in soil formation to assisting plant growth and from controlling the world's nitrogen cycle to helping curtail soil erosion. Wolfe, by asserting that many of our current ecological practices run the risk of disrupting the lives of our subterranean neighbors, raises issues and questions that deserve a wide hearing. Illus.
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title. See all Editorial Reviews
I got around to reading this book after browsing my campus library shelves. I'd heard about it but never read it. Read morePublished 6 months ago by lyndonbrecht
I bought this book because it was referenced in David Haskell’s The Forest Unseen, which I greatly admire for its poetic exploration of a forest microcosm. Read morePublished 17 months ago by Ken Kardash
A great deal, says David Wolfe. It's a busy place beneath your soles, and all that activity is more important than we realise. Read morePublished on October 15, 2006 by Stephen A. Haines
All the great reviews, misled me to expect not only a very readable but also a highly informative text. I was disappointed. Read morePublished on August 3, 2005 by Wulf Barnim
Soil organisms seldom get their due. Despite the fact that we gain our food directly or indirectly from the soil, few people think much about what exists between the soil... Read morePublished on April 3, 2005 by David B Richman
This natural history of subterranean life examines unexplored terrain and its unique and varied habitats, from microscopic life to small water bears. Read morePublished on August 8, 2002 by Midwest Book Review
This book is science at the level one sees on television. The emphasis is on the strange and unusual, liberally spiced with the author's opinions and prejudices. Read morePublished on July 16, 2002 by Michael J. Miller
Tales from the Underground will occupy a special place on the bookshelves of scientists and nonscientists alike for many years to come. Read morePublished on December 28, 2001 by Daniel D. Richter