Review of Underlands, by Ted Nield, Granta Books
Underlands is a stunningly good book which combines beautiful writing with a passion for geology and the lost landscapes of Britain. Ted Nield can look at a piece of rock or an abandoned quarry and conjure up visions of millions of years of history; as he says, “making pictures of vanished worlds was always what I loved most.” He also writes with both passion and compassion about his own life and the lives of his forebears. After reading this book, you will never see the landscape the same way again. It is worth reading, indeed, solely for the hilarious account of the truth behind the alleged fiasco of the “wrong” stone being used in the restoration of the British Museum, or on a more serious note for the insight he provides into the Aberfan disaster. But the family stories are best of all, and the touching account of the final days of Ted’s own father moistens the eye. You do not need to be a geologist to enjoy Underlands, any more than you need to be a hiker to enjoy Wainwright’s Walks, with which this book has much in common.