Cover of Landmarks


Robert Macfarlane

Book Info

Penguin (2016)
ISBN/EAN Product Code
Publisher Description

From Robert Macfarlane, the acclaimed author of The Old Ways and Underland—a celebration of the language of landscape and the power of words to shape our sense of place For years now, the British writer Robert Macfarlane has been collecting place-words: terms for aspects of landscape, nature, and weather, drawn from dozens of languages and dialects of the British Isles. In this, his fifth book, Macfarlane brilliantly explores the linguistic and literary terrain of the British archipelago, from the Shetlands to Cornwall and from Cumbria to Suffolk, offering themed glossaries of hundreds of these rare, deeply local, poetical terms, organized by such geographical terrains as flatlands, uplands, waterlands, coastlands, woodlands, and underlands. Interspersed with this archive of place words are biographical essays in which Macfarlane writes of his favorite authors who have paid close attention to the natural world and who embody in their own work the huge richness of place language—from Barry Lopez and John Muir to Nan Shepard, J. A. Baker, and Roger Deakin. Landmarks is a book about the power of language and how it can become a way to know and love landscape, from a writer acclaimed for his own precision of utterance and distinctive, lyrical voice. (Publisher's Description)

On this shelf:
The Landmarks of Landmarks

Thoughts on Landmarks

Robert MacFarlane began the book that became Landmarks when he learned of certain words dropped from a recent edition of the Oxford Junior Dictionary. Among those excised were acorn, kingfisher, and pasture to make way for newly-essential terms such as bullet-point, celebrity, and voicemail. The move may very well be advisable for navigating the world we have made for ourselves and reflect (in the editors' words) “the consensus experience of modern-day childhood." Nevertheless Macfarlane convincingly argues the cull reflects the loss of something deeper, something shared between the people of a place in their language.

Landmarks is partly a lament for our lack of understanding of the natural world—and more precisely the very specific ways of talking about and living in very specific places. To name something is often to be able to see it: to learn that "smeuse" is a term in Sussex for the "gap in the base of a hedge made by the regular passage of a small animal" means being able to notice something new on your walk through the countryside. Nine glossaries mark the chapters of the book, each filled with dialectical variants of terms for the natural and geologigical features of precisely experienced places from a writer equally captivated by language and landscape. They are a delight in themselves, but the narrative journey between these ideas, and through terms at once new and familiar, is irresistible.