Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations

Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations by David Montgomery
(2008, University of California Press)
ISBN Number: 978-0520248700

Description from University of California Press, publishers of Dirt

Dirt, soil, call it what you want--it's everywhere we go. It is the root of our existence, supporting our feet, our farms, our cities. This fascinating yet disquieting book finds, however, that we are running out of dirt, and it's no laughing matter. An engaging natural and cultural history of soil that sweeps from ancient civilizations to modern times, Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations explores the compelling idea that we are--and have long been--using up Earth's soil. Once bare of protective vegetation and exposed to wind and rain, cultivated soils erode bit by bit, slowly enough to be ignored in a single lifetime but fast enough over centuries to limit the lifespan of civilizations. A rich mix of history, archaeology and geology, Dirt traces the role of soil use and abuse in the history of Mesopotamia, Ancient Greece, the Roman Empire, China, European colonialism, Central America, and the American push westward. We see how soil has shaped us and we have shaped soil--as society after society has risen, prospered, and plowed through a natural endowment of fertile dirt. David R. Montgomery sees in the recent rise of organic and no-till farming the hope for a new agricultural revolution that might help us avoid the fate of previous civilizations.

Dirt - Terms, Locations, and Names

The following file contains a list of vocabulary terms, geographic place names, and scientist and professional organization names for each chapter in the book.  It is suggested the reader review this information before viewing the Google Earth file and/or reading the book. 

Dirt - Quotes from the Book

The following file contains a list of  quotes from the book should serve as a foundation for some very engaging discussions and reflection.

Supporting Materials: 
  • Learn about Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations, by David Montgomery, and the exhibit at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History on Dig It!  The Secrets of Soil Exhibition that relates to this topic.
  • Chapter 1 of Dirt is available for free online as a PDF file.
  • Read the article relating to the book from GSA Today, Is agriculture eroding civilization's foundation?
  • Hear an interview with David Montgomery on Focus 580, Illinois Public Media (link to website, MP3 file)
  • Find out more about DIRT! The Movie, a documentary film by Independent Lens (PBS). Description: Industrial farming, mining, and urban development have endangered the soil and resulted in cataclysmic droughts, starvation, floods, and climate change. How can humans reconnect to dirt - the living skin of the Earth? View the trailer and learn more about DIRT! The Movie at pbs.org and http://dirtthemovie.org.
Recommended Grade: 
Middle School
High School