Underground by Will Hunt

In the nine chapters of Underground, Will Hunt talks about his personal fascination with underground spaces and their larger historical/cultural significances in various places and times through history, from caves where Paleolithic people painted images or created sculptures to NYC subway tunnels and the people who explore them and/or write graffiti in them. He travels to the world’s oldest known mine (an ochre mine in Western Australia) and crosses Paris underground (in a chapter that made me grin for many reasons, not least because one of his companions for that trip was someone who is an acquaintance of mine). He talks about the experience of being lost underground, and the experience of being alone in the dark zone of a cave. The book is a great mix of personal experience/reportage and research on various historical aspects of underground exploration, and it’s pleasingly wide-ranging in more ways than just the geographical span it covers. Hunt talks about microbiology and a theory that life may have originated underground rather than on our planet’s surface; he talks about neurobiology and altered states of consciousness; he talks about ant nests and underground cities; he talks about the first known map of a cave. Black and white images throughout add to the narrative, and I like the way that Hunt writes, which is often lyrical in a way I find very satisfying. Like: “The underground is our ghost landscape, unfolding everywhere beneath our feet, always out of view.” Or: “In a realm of palimpsests, the graffiti from spray cans of cataphiles obscured smoke streaks from torches of seventeenth-century quarry diggers, which obscured fossils of ancient creatures embedded in the limestone.” Or, when he’s talking about Wilgie Mia, that ochre mine: “it felt like the place where red began.”






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