I knew from the cover that I was going to enjoy this book, but I hadn't realised just how much. At one level, it's a lament for our lost extractive industries- the quarries and mines that once prospered in almost every area of Britain. However, this is combined with a witty and erudite look under the carpet with some interesting insights into geology, industry ...and ourselves.
But the aspect of Nield's writing that I enjoyed the most was a underlying thread of deeply personal, honest and sometimes hilarious family history that he weaves into the book. At times he goes off in a whirl of geological time travel sparked by some experience of his youth, as when we are told about the joined-up memories of his father, himself and his own son at Happy Valley in Llandudno, photographed on a rock in what I hadn't realised was an old stone quarry. The history of his village in South Wales and all the stories and geological insights that spin off these motifs are also included in the story and are all the richer for it.
And he's right. We don't quarry much stone anymore. Children in schools don't know where bricks and rock come from, because our raw materials are sourced from countries where the labour is cheap and working conditions dangerous. Where worker's rights are unknown. The stone is then loaded on a polluting container ship and brought thousands of miles to this country.
He also tells the story of Aberdeen's Rubislaw Quarry, at one time the deepest hole in Europe, the first sight of which, lurking behind some innocent suburban bungalows, he tells us "troubled my sleep for days". The story of the Aberfan disaster from the geological perspective is also a chilling revelation.
The book is an insightful message from the depths of geology under our feet...well worth a read.
Paperback: 304 pages
Publisher: Granta Books (7 May 2015)
Currently (2017) £9.99