Why Hell Stinks of Sulfur: Mythology and Geology of the Underworld

Salomon Kroonenberg. Reaktion (Univ. of Chicago, dist.), $38 (352p) ISBN 978-1-78023-045-0
Dutch geologist Kroonenberg (The Human Scale) takes an unconventional approach to ancient descriptions of the Underworld in this compelling literary and geological survey. When Aeneas enters the land of the dead, Kroonenberg wants to know exactly which entrance Virgil had in mind. And if Lucifer fell from Heaven into the bowels of the earth, might an impact crater bely Hell’s whereabouts? Kroonenberg searches literature and the ground beneath us to explore the realities, mysteries, and allegories of our many-layered Earth; en route, he discovers real-life geological features that rival the powerful imagery of Dante’s Inferno—from lakes of bubbling tar to mud volcanoes, poisonous caves, enormous sinkholes, and modern coal mines in China that epitomize hell on earth. Interwoven with the voices of poets and philosophers from Homer to Herodotus is a history of the science of geology, accompanied by abundant diagrams and photos. Kroonenberg deftly “balances... on the edge between science and myth,” inserting lyric beauty into a topic many consider monumentally lifeless. Traveling to the center of the Earth and back with him makes one appreciate the wonder of the underworld. 80 color plates, 84 halftones. (Apr.)
Reviewed on: 12/17/2012
Release date: 06/01/2013
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