When a teaspoon of soil contains millions of species, and when we pave over the earth on a daily basis, what does that mean for our future? What is the risk to our food supply, the planet's wildlife, the soil on which every life-form depends? How much undeveloped, untrodden ground do we even have left?
Paul Bogard set out to answer these questions in The Ground Beneath Us, and what he discovered is astounding. From New York (where more than 118,000,000 tons of human development rest on top of Manhattan Island) to Mexico City (which sinks inches each year into the Aztec ruins beneath it), Bogard shows us the weight of our cities' footprints. And as we see hallowed ground coughing up bullets at a Civil War battlefield; long-hidden remains emerging from below the sites of concentration camps; the dangerous, alluring power of fracking; the fragility of the giant redwoods, our planet's oldest living things; the surprises hidden under a Major League ballpark's grass; and the sublime beauty of our few remaining wildest places, one truth becomes blazingly clear: The ground is the easiest resource to forget, and the last we should.
Bogard's The Ground Beneath Us is deeply transporting reading that introduces farmers, geologists, ecologists, cartographers, and others in a quest to understand the importance of something too many of us take for granted: dirt. From growth and life to death and loss, and from the subsurface technologies that run our cities to the dwindling number of idyllic Edens that remain, this is the fascinating story of the ground beneath our feet.
Hoping to encourage greater appreciation for soil, Bogard (The End of Night) considers both built landscapes and more natural ones in this diverse and engaging discussion on dirt. Examining urban areas such as New York City, he looks at "what's gone missing, what remains, what may come to be." The soil is "a trove of biodiversity" that we have yet to fully explore, and Bogard chats with an array of experts to learn how to dig deeper. He begins with a section on "paved places," describing how Manhattan's street grid was planned and layered over drained swamps, cleared woods, and leveled hills. In London, Bogard looks at the ambitious Crossrail project, which involves 10,000 workers, 40 construction sites, and 26 miles of tunnels that will sit alongside a complex maze of existing pipes, tubes, and utility lines dug deep underground. Discussing soils and farms, Bogard takes readers to Iowa, where 82% of the state is cropland (primarily corn and soybean). He bemoans the prevalence of these crops, arguing against an industrial agricultural system that seeks to maximize yield and leaves little space for wildlife. Highlighting current and future predicaments, Bogard ponders what humans have sacrificed in the name of progress.