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Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations by David…
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Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations

by David R. Montgomery

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Interesting, but it bogged down when the author described one civilization after another doing the same or almost the same thing to their soil and paying the consequence. The entire middle portion of the book could have been summarized into one chapter. ( )
  jjwilson61 | May 20, 2012 |
This is a truly dirty book - a book about dirt, in fact. This book traces the role that dirt, and the erosion of dirt (some of us would call it soil, but that would be pedantic) has played in the structure of our civilizations. A book that can teach a lot about a subject most people just sort of take for granted. ( )
  quantum_flapdoodle | May 10, 2011 |
Montgomery introduces us to the basic concepts of soil science, and then starts a tour of soil usage over the ages. He highlights ancient civilizations in the Old and New Worlds and what we know of their agricultural practices— and calls out erosion, soil depletion, salinization, and desertification as consequences that facilitated the downfall of their nations. (This is not a how-it-really-happened crank history book; he’s just asserting that a failure to conserve soil resources weakened them.) He also notes which ones figured out the right techniques of conservation and how they were able to persist much longer.

The problems extend to recent history as well: he calls out bad practices in the past few centuries all over the world and provides ample information about what went right and wrong. Under normal geological conditions, soil is created very slowly, and shortsighted agriculture can strip it away far faster than it can be created normally. But there are alternatives to just plowing up soil, planting a monoculture, and using industrial fertilizer to make up for using up the soil, and he explains them— including many techniques used in organic farming (though he also calls out industrial organic farming as just as unhealthy). Montgomery’s bottom line is that we need better mechanisms than short-term markets to provide proper incentives to take care of the soil (he believes this is a sensible place for government to intervene), and that the right techniques will vary with each patch of soil; there is no one-size-fits-all answer, but there is a big toolkit of agroecology that every farmer should have available. The alternative is using up in human time a resource that can only be replenished in geological time: a sure route to the downfall of our own global civilization. ( )
2 vote slothman | Aug 21, 2009 |
This is a very interesting blend of science and history that explains what soil is, where it comes from and why its preservation is so important to us today. The author rather convincingly shows how soil depletion and running out of new land to exploit has been a contributing factor in the collapse of many civilizations. Then he goes on to suggest that the whole globe has pretty much run out of new good land and is getting low on marginal land for farming and yet we continue to use what remains unwisely. Add to that the diminishing returns for genetic improvements and that chemical fertilizers will soon become increasingly expensive (their availability is based on cheap oil!) and we may well have a world-wide food crisis on our hands in the near future. However, Montgomery does suggest solutions to this dilemma. I would recommend the book to those interested in this subject as I found it readable and full of facts that I only knew vaguely or not at all. There is also an extensive bibliography at the end.
  hailelib | Jun 28, 2009 |
Of course I was attracted to the unusual title, but the content is more thorough than one would expect. The author is a geologist with the University of Washington. He discusses how human have abused our most important resource from ancient times, and continue to do so today. We know how to nurture and maintain the soil, but refuse to because of carelessness or greed. This book will surprise you! ( )
  kaizic | Aug 13, 2007 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0520258061, Paperback)

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 times, 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 centuries to limit the lifespan of civilizations. A rich mix of history, archaeology and geology, 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 us and we have shaped soil--as society after society has risen, prospered, and plowed through a natural endowment of fertile dirt. 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.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:36:47 -0400)

"A natural and cultural history of sail that sweeps from ancient civilizations to modern times, Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations explores the compelling idea that we are - and have long been - using up Earth's soil. Once bate 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 centuries to limit the life spans of civilizations. A rich mix of history, archaeology, and geology, 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 us and we have shaped soil - as society after society has risen, prospered, and plowed through a natural endowment of fertile dirt. 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."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

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