World Beneath Our Feet: A Guide to Life in the Soil
by James B. Nardi

Price at time of review: $35
176 pp.
Oxford University Press
New York, NY
ISBN: 0195139909

Grade Level: 5-12

Reviewed by David Brock
AP Biology Teacher

The World Beneath Our Feet is an excellent example of a topical reference that is long overdue. The author reminds us: “Leonardo da Vinci’s observation that ‘we know more about the movement of celestial bodies than about the soil underfoot’ is sadly as true today as it was in the 15th century.” But this book goes a long way toward helping rectify that situation.

The book begins with a concise but thorough overview of the general character of soil, how it is formed, what kinds of microbial interactions nourish it, and biogeochemical cycles. Nearly 80 encyclopedia-style entries describe the organisms in the soil ecosystem. These include microbes, invertebrates, and vertebrates. Excellent photos and detailed drawings accompany summary charts that provide the basic facts on classification, size, number of species, and placement in the food web. The book ends with a discussion of human misuse of the soil as a natural resource and how composting can help. This section is much too short, and it seems like a weak add-on to an otherwise excellent resource.

Nardi’s book is the best I have seen in this field. Even though the author may get excessively poetic at some points and a little confusing at others (like saying that sizes should be given in metric and then following that with English units), this book already has a place on my classroom reference shelf. I would encourage anyone interested in soil ecology to get a copy. It should be part of any high school library, and I would even recommend it as a supplemental text for a college level soil field study course because of the simple, inexpensive organism extraction protocols that are included in it. It supports units on ecosystems, invertebrates, and environmental science. If soil is your passion, this book is for you.

Review posted on 6/18/2003

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