Book Review

Dirt: The Ecstatic Skin of the Earth

by William Bryant Logan

Riverhead Books. 405 Marie Hill Parkway, East Rutherford, NJ 02073. $12.95. 1995 paperback, 202 pages. ISBN 1-57322-546-0. Phone: 800-631-8571.
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Reviewed by Michael Zarky (1/2001)

This is a fascinating and spiritually thought-provoking series of essays on "dirt," out of which we all arise and to which we must return. These meditations are very short, usually four to six pages, and turn some extreme telephoto and yet very wide-angled lenses on their subject from all sorts of focal points. Not all of the thoughts relate directly to growing plants, but anyone with a basic curiosity about the Earth will find this book delightful and stimulating.

We traverse the far reaches of the cosmos to the molecular level in examining the many facets of this mysterious substance out of which we grow our crops. The book connects us with subjects as diverse as geology, astrophysics, chemistry, and soil science. We engage in composting, dowsing, historical farming, both ancient and recent, building massive projects like dams, cathedrals and pyramids, and digging graves. Soil-dwelling animals, and microscopic biota as well, till the soil. Such historical personalities as John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Saint Phocas, John Muir, Darwin and Virgil parade through these essays--essays that resonate in one’s soul and provide much food for thought.

As an editor, I would want to fix a few glaring errors, where the author’s exuberant use of language sometimes stretches the meaning of a word far beyond its sensible use--and there is an oddity in the typeface, which makes the numeral ‘one’ look identical to capital ‘I’. But overall, his language escapades are successful; the poetry in this writing captivated me.

The author holds a great reverence for the mystery and magic of dirt; some of it has rubbed off on me and I hope it won’t wash away. This substantial little volume is likely to affect many readers.

William Bryant Logan writes for many prestigious periodicals such as the New York Times, Organic Gardening, Horticulture, and Garden Design.

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