rise or crumble on the soundness of their dirt, says David Montgomery. The life
of a people is tied to the life of its soil, in its ability to manage it well.
In dirt: the erosion of civilizations
he delivers a history of societal collapses. Humanity is not a species known
for moderation, and the pages of history are checkered with fallen empires
whose demand for food has strangled the golden goose. After opening with a few
chapters on science (beginning with Charles Darwin’s discovery that worms are
responsible for reducing organic matter to humus) that explain why soil works
the way it does,subsequent chapters
trace human agriculture and soil management from Egypt to modern times.It is largely a history of failure, as great
empires and minor chiefdoms alike exhaust their ground – from Rome to Easter
Island.We have not fared better in our
age of scientific and technological mastery, either, as the Dust Bowl proved
and as the rapidly diminishing returns of the Green Revolution bear out. Ultimately,
Montgomery writes, the story of soil demonstrates that there are limits to
growth and ambition; we must learn to adapt our agricultural approaches to the
land that is ours, not force one convenient style of farming on every place we discover.
dirt is fascinating if a bit esoteric.