JeanMichel GOBAT, Michel ARAGNO & Willy MATHEY (1998). Le sol vivant. Presses Polytechniques et Universitaires Romandes, Collection Gérer l'Environnement, vol. 14, Lausanne, Switzerland, 519 pp + 8 inlet plates. Foreword by Roger DAJOZ This book will help every student and scientist working in the frame of soil ecology, landscape ecology, plant sociology, land management, environmental protection, owing to enlarge his (her) view of the soil to the light of most recent knowledge. This master book, covering the widest panorama of patterns and processes taking place in the soil system (and allies), is at the present time unique in its kind, and fills successfully a gap in the world of science books. Despite a deep insight into modern concepts in soil science and soil biology, the reading has been made easy and comfortable by the use in the outer margins of numerous twocolour simple and clear figures and explanatory boxes. Most useful are abundant definitions of scientific terms (references indicated) and short summaries of most important ideas developed in the text. The authors avoided to fall into two traps. The presentation of quantitative data, often masking the absence of knowledge of processes, has been kept to a minimum, privileging the understanding of mechanisms. Theoretical developments, more especially those in usage in litter decomposition, nutrient cycle, plant succession and ecosystem stability studies, have not been included, in the absence of clear, reliable, work hypotheses, and often poor predictive value. After three chapters devoted to general properties of the soil system (excellent initiation to soil science) the book turns deliberately to a biological concept of the soil. Turning away from the equilibrium concept (popularized in Frenchspeaking countries by Philippe Duchaufour), according to which vegetation, climate and soil are in tight connection and thus are in or tend towards equilibrium, the authors show, through several examples, that real phenomena are of a more complex and changing nature. Differences in the rate of evolution of soil, vegetation and climate, processes taking place at varying scales, make the real world more variegated than predicted by the theory, and the authors point to the interest everyone should bear on subnormal or even incongruous situations, as a start for explanatory investigations. The humus profile is defined as the interface between vegetation, soil, and climate, thus reflecting most changes taking place in each of them. It bears living organisms, which contribute directly or indirectly to most functional processes such as plant nutrition, litter decomposition, mineral weathering, humification, trophic and symbiotic relationships. These processes have been detailed, on the basis of most recent knowledge in microbiology, soil zoology, plant physiology and soil biochemistry. A particular accent has been put on some milieus which have been often neglected by soil scientists and biologists, such as sphagnum bogs and soil annexes (fallen wood, carrion, dung, boulders), and on some compartments of the soil such as the rhizosphere. Application of this knowledge has been developed in a special chapter dealing with composting, a pathway for the reuse of the constantly increasing production of waste products by man, and the conclusive chapter traces the way to a still wider application of soil biology. JF PONGE