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“The wood wide web”—Robert Macfarlane’s latest peers beneath the earth

The nature writer canters over philosophy, history, and science in a genre-bending discussion of the earth's subterrane

By Hugh Thomson   June 2019

Robert Macfarland's "Underland" races through subjects like Walter Benjamin to lost underground cities. Image: PA

If nature writer Robert Macfarlane were a poet, he would be an imagist. Everything is in the present tense, using very short sentences, often without a verb. This is from his new book Underland: “Late summer heatwave, heavy air. Bees browsing drowsy over meadow grass. Gold of standing corn, green of fresh hay-rows, black of rooks on stubble fields.” In the hands of a less accomplished writer this might be difficult to sustain.…

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