Often blurring the boundaries between genre and form, Robert Macfarlane's work inspires a sense of wonder and a desire to look at the world around us with fresh eyes.

With the release of his latest book, Underland, we’ve compiled our essential reading list to help you decide which of his books to pick up next.

robert macfarlane

Mountains of the Mind (2003)

'Those who travel to mountain tops are half in love with themselves, and half in love with oblivion.'

Macfarlane’s first book, Mountains of the Mind, charts humanity’s preoccupation with mountains, despite their obvious dangers – from our fascination with their beauty and our desire to explore, to the impulse of conquering their heights in the name of patriotic pride. This book launched its writer onto the nature writing scene, and its quintessential blend of nature writing alongside a deeper exploration of the human psyche felt like the creation of a whole new genre of writing. 

The Old Ways (2012)

'Humans are animals and like all animals we leave tracks as we walk: signs of passage made in snow, sand, mud, grass, dew, earth or moss... We easily forget that we are track-makers, though, because most of our journeys now occur on asphalt and concrete – and these are substances not easily impressed.'

With The Old Ways, Macfarlane rounded off his loose trilogy of “books about landscape and the human heart”. Having explored mountains and the British wilderness in his previous works, The Old Ways documents the years Macfarlane spent travelling tracks, sea paths, drove roads and other ancient routes in Britain and beyond. Underlying the journeys in the book, Macfarlane looks at how people and place are inextricably linked, and how these journeys on foot can inspire the human imagination.

Landmarks (2015)

'Smeuse is a dialect noun for “the gap in the base of a hedge made by the regular passage of a small animal”; now I know the word “smeuse”, I will notice these signs of creaturely movement more often.'

In Landmarks, Macfarlane travels across Britain and Ireland to explore its regional landscapes and their link to the writers who have been shaped by them. Along the way, Macfarlane gathers together an astounding dictionary of words and phrases used to describe the land, weather and nature. In doing so, this book aims to help us learn about the natural world around us and, in turn, come to know and love it.

The Gifts of Reading (2016)

'Having been given so many astonishing books over the years, I now in turn give away as many books as I can. Birthdays, Christmases – I give books, and pretty much only books, as presents.'

This short book is almost like a pamphlet from days of yore. Focusing on the joys of literature, reading and giving books as gifts, The Gifts of Reading is a small but perfectly formed gem that celebrates the power of the written word. In it, Macfarlane shares a story of how a book given to him as a gift when he was younger had a profound effect on his life.

The Lost Words (2017)

‘You hold in your hands a spellbook for conjuring back these lost words. To read it, you will need to seek, find and speak... It is told in gold – the gold of the goldfinches that flit through its pages in charms – and it holds not poems but spells of many kinds.’

The Lost Words, a collaboration with author and artist Jackie Morris, has been nothing short of a cultural phenomenon, inspiring many a crowd-funding campaign to get the book into the hands of children and others who need it the most since its release. The words that inspired the acrostic spell-poems within the book are all everyday nature words – from acorn to wren – that were dropped from the Oxford Junior Dictionary. Ultimately, The Lost Words is a beautiful celebration of nature and wildness for both children and adults alike.

Underland (2019)

‘Into the underland we have long placed that which we fear and wish to lose, and that which we love and wish to save.’

10 years in the making, Underland delves down into the vast and mysterious worlds that exist beneath our feet. Traversing different landscapes across the world – from burial chambers in the Mendip Hills to the ancient ice of Greenland and more – Macfarlane’s journeys into these subterranean spaces continue his long-term exploration of landscape and the human heart and take us on a deep-time voyage into our planet’s past and future.

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