A profound meditation on climate change and the Anthropocene and an urgent search for the fossils—industrial, chemical, geological—that humans are leaving behind
What will the world look like in ten thousand years—or ten million? What kinds of stories will be told about us?
In Footprints: In Search of Future Fossils, the award-winning author David Farrier explores the traces we will leave for the very distant future. Modern civilization has created objects and landscapes with the potential to endure through deep time, whether it is plastic polluting the oceans and nuclear waste sealed within the earth or the 30 million miles of roads spanning the planet. Our carbon could linger in the atmosphere for 100,000 years, and the remains of our cities will still exist millions of years from now as a layer in the rock. These future fossils have the potential to reveal much about how we lived in the twenty-first century.
Crossing the boundaries of literature, art, and science, Footprints invites us to think about how we will be remembered in the myths and stories of our distant descendants. Traveling from the Baltic Sea to the Great Barrier Reef, and from an ice-core laboratory in Tasmania to Shanghai, one of the world’s biggest cities, Farrier describes a world that is changing rapidly, with consequences beyond the scope of human understanding. As much a message of hope as a warning, Footprints will not only alter how you think about the future; it will change how you see the world today.
“Despite its sobering theme, Mr Farrier’s prose glitters. His journey takes in marvels . . . Wonder rather than anger is his default response in contemplating humanity’s legacy . . . His central idea, that language and storytelling might be the most enduring of human traces, is beautifully expressed . . . ‘The challenge is to learn . . . to examine our present,’ he writes, ‘by the eerie light cast by the onrushing future.’ His subtle, elegant book rises to that challenge.” —The Economist
“Radical and refreshing . . . [Farrier] invites everyone to join the conversation as part of a collective humanity . . . Farrier’s writing is engaging and multi-dimensional, leaving space to interpret, think, and feel—the power of narrative. His book makes the important argument that if we are unable to see, fathom, or make meaning of the long-term future, we risk ignoring our lasting impact as active characters, as shapers of this large, human story.” —Rachel Rueckert, Columbia Journal
“In what endures after thousands of years, we can see something of the unspoken values of a people. And that’s precisely what Footprints reveals to us . . . [Farrier’s] science is clear and well-written . . . A powerful and fascinating approach to the great crisis of our time.” —Theodore Richard, The New York Journal of Books
"Deeply moving." —John R. Platt, The Revelator, Nine New Environmental Books You Need to Read this Month
“[Farrier's] in-the-moment descriptions are precise and vital, but he renders them uniquely evocative and haunting by paralleling current dilemmas with ancient myths, Greek tragedies, literature, and art . . . Farrier sees Earth as a vast library, and encourages us to recognize and think deeply about the indelible stories of destruction and catastrophic loss we’re adding to the planet’s archive.” —Donna Seaman, Booklist (starred review)
"Blending science, literature, and art, this work leads readers to imagine time, backward and forward; writing in a remarkably fluid style, Farrier is as adept at retelling ancient myth as he is at explaining little-known science . . . Compelling . . . Sometimes unsettling in its findings but always cleverly conceived and beautifully expressed." —Robert Eagan, Library Journal (starred review)
“Elegiac views of the Anthropocene...the author captures a moment that finds us standing on the brink.” —Kirkus
“Darkly, exquisitely, oh-so-carefully, David Farrier lays out the future we can see from here: the ice singing its own dissolution, the plastic without a memory that will last for eternity, the deepest ocean and the highest air which will remember our carbon traces millions of years to come. Farrier is an exacting dissector of human culture and natural history; his book is a brilliant and surprising beautiful requiem for what we have lost, but also, crucially, what we might save from the wreckage.” —Philip Hoare, author of Risingtidefallingstar
“What have we done, what are we doing, and in what sort of state are we leaving our home? David Farrier’s natural history of the junkyard Anthropocene is devastating in its answers to these questions. Since the prognosis is not good, this deep-time almanac reads as a precocious elegy. It is a mind-bender that will make you cry like any new born baby. Farrier has terrifyingly and superbly mapped the darkness.” —Tim Dee, author of A Year on the Wing
"A signal book, and a profoundly significant one, of warnings and prophecies, of explorations and discoveries. With wry, persuasive intelligence it surveys the landscapes and cityscapes, the art and the literature, of this pivotal moment in the Anthropocene. From ocean to icecap, outfalls to landfill, it seeks answers to the defining question of our times: ‘How can we be better ancestors?'" —Gavin Francis, author of Shapeshifters: A Journey Through the Changing Human Body