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Jo Handelsman

Mar 7, 2022

A World Without Soil

The Past, Present, and Precarious Future of the Earth Beneath Our Feet

Yale University Press 2021

A World without Soil: The Past, Present, and Precarious Future of the Earth Beneath Our Feet (Yale University Press, 2021) by celebrated biologist Jo Handelsman lays bare the complex connections among climate change, soil erosion, food and water security, and drug discovery.

Humans depend on soil for 95 percent of global food production, yet let it erode at unsustainable rates. In the United States, China, and India, vast tracts of farmland will be barren of topsoil within this century. The combination of intensifying erosion caused by climate change and the increasing food needs of a growing world population is creating a desperate need for solutions to this crisis.

Writing for a nonspecialist audience, Jo Handelsman celebrates the capacities of soil and explores the soil-related challenges of the near future. She begins by telling soil’s origin story, explains how it erodes and the subsequent repercussions worldwide, and offers solutions. She considers lessons learned from indigenous people who have sustainably farmed the same land for thousands of years, practices developed for large-scale agriculture, and proposals using technology and policy initiatives.

Jo Handelsman is the director of the Wisconsin Institute for Discovery and a Vilas Research Professor and Howard Hughes Medical Institute Professor in the Department of Plant Pathology at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. Handelsman previously served as a science advisor to President Barack Obama.

Kayla Cohen provided research and creative contributions to A World Without Soil. She completed a master’s degree with distinction in Environment and Development at the London School of Economics.

Eyad Houssami makes theatre and has participated in the revitalization of an ancient organic farm in southern Lebanon. He is editor of the Arabic-English book Doomed by Hope: Essays on Arab Theatre (Pluto/Dar Al Adab) and was editor-at-large of Portal 9, a bilingual literary and academic journal about urbanism. His doctoral research project at the University of Leeds and this work are supported by the UK Arts & Humanities Research Council (grant number AH/R012733/1) through the White Rose College of the Arts & Humanities. A Syrian multinational, he studied at Yale and earned a certificate in beekeeping from SOILS Permaculture Association Lebanon.

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Eyad Houssami

Eyad Houssami makes theatre and has participated in the revitalization of an ancient organic farm in southern Lebanon.

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