Book report: The Soil Will Save Us

B. Lorraine Smith
5 min readSep 3, 2018
Castings from my kitchen worm composter with sprouting orca beans about to be planted (2017).

As I was reading Kristin Ohlson’s The Soil Will Save Us (Rodale Books, 2014), I kept having flashbacks to a famous scene in the 1967 film The Graduate. In the scene, Mr. McGuire, a family friend of the recently graduated and somewhat adrift Benjamin, played by Dustin Hoffman, offers candid career advice to the young man. “I just want to say one word to you. Just one word…” says Mr. McGuire. “Plastics.”

I found myself wondering: what if Mr. McGuire’s one word had been “soil” instead?

What if soil had been seen as a major economic opportunity, the next big thing in investments that any savvy graduate would be thrilled to be tipped off about? How might global industry have evolved if more cunning business people had been thinking about soil?

Alas, soil wasn’t seen as an opportunity by most business people back in 1967, and most still don’t think about it that way today either.

Yet here’s the truth: soil was, is, and will be for the foreseeable future, a big thing whether we realize it or not, and we ignore the importance of soil at our peril. We are dependent on soil for most of our food, not to mention much of our clothing, toilet paper, wood products, breathable air and a few other rather crucial necessities.

Ohlson’s book combines a highly readable, journalistic style with a sense of awe. Her vivid prose explores soil at a fundamental level, taking us on a journey with experts in the emergent soil health movement. Ohlson also provides a window into the underground world of soil — a world teaming with life, comprising newly understood properties that support life both below and above ground.

In addition to condensing complex soil research into 258 pages that non-scientists can easily grasp, The Soil Will Save Us also channels the common sense of those who work the soil for a living, such as rancher Greg Judy. Mr. Judy is quoted (in the aptly named chapter, “Why Don’t We Know This Stuff?”) as saying: “Nature did it right for millions of years until we came and boogered things up.”

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B. Lorraine Smith

Recovering ESG "expert"; yarn spinner; distance runner; magical realist. Sensing a path to an economy serving life. also at