Synopses & Reviews
Dirt, soil, call it what you want, it's everywhere we go. It is the root of our existence, supporting our feet, our farms, our cities. This fascinating yet disquieting book finds, however, that we are running out of dirt, and it's no laughing matter. An engaging natural and cultural history of soil that sweeps from ancient civilizations to modern environmental calamities, Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations explores the compelling idea that we are, and have long been, using up Earth's soil. Once bare of protective vegetation and exposed to wind and rain, cultivated soils erode bit by bit, slowly enough to be ignored in a single lifetime but fast enough over time to limit the lifespan of civilizations. A rich mix of archaeology, geology, and history, Dirt traces the role of soil use and abuse in the history of Mesopotamia, Ancient Greece, the Roman Empire, China, European colonialism, Central America, and the American push westward. We see how soil has shaped history, as society after society has risen, prospered, and plowed through a natural endowment of fertile dirt, leaving a legacy of impoverished lands. David R. Montgomery sees in the recent rise of organic and no-till farming the hope for a new agricultural revolution that might help us avoid the fate of previous civilizations.
"Montgomery (King of Fish), a geomorphologist who studies how landscapes change through time, argues persuasively that soil is humanity's most essential natural resource and essentially linked to modern civilization's survival. He traces the history of agriculture, showing that when humans exhausted the soil in the past, their societies collapsed, or they moved on. But moving on is not an option for future generations, he warns: there isn't enough land. In the U.S., mechanized agriculture has eroded an alarming amount of agricultural land, and in the developing world, degraded soil is a principal cause of poverty. We are running out of soil, and agriculture will soon be unable to support the world's growing population. Chemical fertilizers, which are made with lots of cheap oil, are not the solution. Nor are genetically modified seeds, which have not produced larger harvests or reduced the need for pesticides. Montgomery proposes an agricultural revolution based on soil conservation. Instead of tilling the land and making it vulnerable to erosion, we should put organic matter back into the ground, simulating natural conditions. His book, though sometimes redundant, makes a convincing case for the need to respect and conserve the world's limited supply of soil. Illus. not seen by PW." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"From this gritty and compelling state-of-our-earth report comes the inescapable truth that we are nothing if not dirty-minded. A brilliant and essential book." Roger Swain, science editor of Horticulture magazine and host of PBS television's The Victory Garden
"The relationship between soils and societies has been crucial for humankind for 10,000 years. David Montgomery brings a geomorphologist's eye and a world-historical vision to the subject, showing why it demands our attention." J.R. McNeill, author of Something New Under the Sun
"Montgomery concludes by suggesting that no-till and organic farming techniques can be used to prevent future soil catastrophes." Library Journal
A rich mix of history, archaeology and geology, this engaging cultural history traces the role of soil's use and abuse and explores the compelling idea that people around the world are--and have long been--using up Earth's soil.
"From this gritty and compelling state-of-our-earth report comes the inescapable truth that we are nothing if not dirty-minded. A brilliant and essential book."and#151;Roger Swain, science editor of Horticulture
"The relationship between soils and societies has been crucial for humankind for 10,000 years. David Montgomery brings a geomorphologist's eye and a world-historical vision to the subject, showing why it demands our attention."and#151;J.R. McNeill, author of Something New Under the Sun
and#147;In our cyber-charged age, itand#8217;s easy to forget that all six billion of us stand on the thin skin of the earth. Humanity is agriculture and agriculture is soil, just as it has been for 10,000 years. David Montgomeryand#151;a competent digger of dirt and an engaging storytellerand#151;shows how a close look at the soil can reveal a surprising amount about who we are and where we are headed.and#8221;and#151;Richard Manning, author of Against the Grain: How Agriculture Has Hijacked Civilization
About the Author
Born in Tucson, Arizona, David Montgomery is a professional teacher and artist. He is also the author of Native American Crafts and Skills.
Table of Contents
1. Good Old Dirt
2. Skin of the Earth
3. Rivers of Life
4. Graveyard of Empires
5. Let Them Eat Colonies
6. Westward Hoe
7. Dust Blow
8. Dirty Business
9. Islands in Time
10. Life Span of Civilizations