There has always been something about stories set inside the Earth that really captures my imagination. The comic series, The World Below has always been one of my favorites of all time (apparently I'm about the only one who feels this way as the sales were famously terrible) and I also have always enjoyed the long tradition in mainstream comics of villains (and heroes) coming up from inside the planet.
In the book Hollow Earth, David Standish takes a look at the history of the idea of a world within our world and does so to very entertaining effect. The book is subtitled "The Long and Curious History of Imagining Strange Lands, Fantastical Creatures, Advanced Civilizations, and Marvelous Machines Below the Earth's Surface" and although that is most definitely an absurdly long subtitle it's also a very accurate description of what's inside. Based on that subtitle in addition to the great illustration on the cover of a map of the world's interior from an old fantasy novel I was instantly sold on this book.
Inside Standish starts from the beginning and shows how stories of a hollow earth stem from what was at one time a (relatively) respected scientific theory. Edmond Halley (yeah the comet dude) based on some erroneous math as well as some logical (but incorrect) thinking determined the earth was hollow and that within there were several smaller rings which potentially could be inhabited.
With this jumping off point the book goes into tales of the hollow earth of all different kinds from the serious explorers and scientists who wanted to go there to the pulp writers of the last several decades who simply want an excuse to have their hero fight a dinosuar. There was even a religion, Koreshanity, that was relatively popular in the late 19th and early 20th century that held as one of it's fundamental beliefs that not only was the Earth hollow but we also are ALREADY living inside it!!
My interest in hollow earth stories stems mostly from my love of pulp sci-fi and comic books so I was most interested in reading about the stories and ideas which have come from this concept and I was not let down here at all. Standish details stories by Edgar Allan Poe, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Jules Verne as well as countless other lesser known writers and uses these stories as an excuse to include short biographies of many of the writers which I really enjoyed.
Although this book seemingly is aimed at a very specific group of people I would absolutely recommend it to anyone who is even slightly interested in 19th century science or science fiction in addition to those who have an interest in how social values can effect the ideas in popular fiction you see American Imperialism as well as racism and nuclear panic all rear their heads in stories set inside the Earth.
Great stuff and highly recommended.
Also check this out, funny.