Reviewed by Kathleen Luisa
I have a fairly extensive library of naturalist books and field guides subjects from geology to space to weather to worms to seashells. I even have a field guide to fields! Many of them really don’t lend themselves to being read cover to cover, but Life in the Soil: A Guide for Naturalists and Gardeners, by James B. Nardi, does. This is one of the best, most thorough, and most thoroughly enjoyable books I’ve read on, well, dirt. And everything that lives in dirt.
The book is laid out well, much like an outline for a college course would have been years ago. It starts from the general (and most minuscule components of the soil) and moves progressively through to the more specific and larger inhabitants. The first of the three parts of the book explains how soil forms from rocks and organic materials through chemical and weathering processes. The second part is a wonderfully in-depth explanation and description of the members of the soil community and their relationships. The third part covers how we can work in partnership with all of the foregoing to increase and maintain the health of the soil for the benefit of all without chemicals, and how to prevent many of the problems we enable through erosion and the unfettered use of fertilizers.
The author’s style is engaging, often humorous, and I feel like he’s talking right to me. He clearly has deep affection and admiration for his subject, and he conveys complex information in a way that is easy to understand without sacrificing the scientific quality. One thing in particular I really like is that the soil community part introduces each new organism with a box that identifies its place in the taxonomic system, its place in the food web, size and its impact on gardens. The illustrations and photos are great, too.
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