cover image The Earth Moved: On the Remarkable Achievements of Earthworms

The Earth Moved: On the Remarkable Achievements of Earthworms

Amy Stewart. Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, $23.95 (256pp) ISBN 978-1-56512-337-3

Even Charles Darwin found the lowly earthworm fascinating: all their tiny individual labors in tilling the soil and nourishing it with their droppings add up over time to a massive collective impact on the landscape. In this absorbing, if occasionally gross, treatise, gardening journalist Stewart (From the Ground Up) delves into their dank subterranean world, detailing their problem-solving skills, sex lives (Darwin noted their""sexual passion"") and shocking ability to re-grow a whole body from a severed segment (scientists have even sutured together parts of three different earthworms into a single Frankenworm). Intriguing in their own right, earthworms stand at the fulcrum of the balance of nature. In the wrong place, they can devastate forests, but in the right place, they boost farm yields, suppress pests and plant diseases, detoxify polluted soils and process raw sewage into inoffensive fertilizer; indeed, humanity's first great civilizations may have risen on the backs of earthworms, say some of the creature's most fervent champions. Stewart writes in a charming, meditative but scientifically grounded style that is informed by her personal relationship with the worms in her compost bin. In her telling, worms become metaphors--for the English working class, for the process of scientific rumination, for the redemption of death and decay by life and fertility--and serve as a touchstone for exploring the ecological view of things.