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The Forest Unseen: A Year’s Watch in Nature

4.22  ·  Rating details ·  2,994 ratings  ·  375 reviews
A biologist reveals the secret world hidden in a single square meter of forest.

In this wholly original book, biologist David Haskell uses a one-square-meter patch of old-growth Tennessee forest as a window onto the entire natural world. Visiting it almost daily for one year to trace nature’s path through the seasons, he brings the forest and its inhabitants to vivid life.

Hardcover, 288 pages
Published March 15th 2012 by Viking (first published March 1st 2012)
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Ljhayes Haskell reminds us that if we're going to study and understand nature that we have to do it on nature's schedule, not on the artificial, exhausting sc…moreHaskell reminds us that if we're going to study and understand nature that we have to do it on nature's schedule, not on the artificial, exhausting schedules we impose on ourselves of rushing to get things done so we can do more. 'The Forest' offers wonderful lessons about focus and patience, as well as natural order. Take your time and enjoy the journey.(less)
Lyly Weaver There are not any pictures in the hardback book. I found myself searching for the items on the internet to get a good picture. The author is very thor…moreThere are not any pictures in the hardback book. I found myself searching for the items on the internet to get a good picture. The author is very thorough in describing the inhabitants of the mandala by their physical appearance and their behavior, which works well for identifying them.(less)

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Kathleen Brugger
Dec 13, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Letter I wrote to the author:
I’ve just finished reading The Forest Unseen. I have slowly savored your book over many weeks, reading one day’s entry, at most two, at one sitting. I have never read anyone who combined a meditative consciousness with a scientist’s mind so beautifully. You presented the theme of the interconnectedness of all things so delightfully in so many amazing forms: bird’s eggs, vultures, lichen, and the roothair-fungus relationship all come easily to mind as examples.
Long ag
Jun 26, 2015 rated it it was ok
I should have loved The Forest Unseen. Forests delight me, and I've also spent time sitting in them and simply watching. There are many thoughts and opinions that Haskell and I share. Unfortunately, this book just bored me. Maybe it's my own fault, because I tried to read it through like I would any novel, instead of savoring it bite-by-bite, as other readers did. But I think there may be a legitimate reason:

The writing.

It was sloppy. Poetic, but sloppy. (And the poetic descriptions weren't eve
Camelia Rose
Biologist David Haskell spent a year watching his mandala--a one square meter patch of land (and its surroundings) in an old-growth Tennessee forest. This book is his observations and musings. Each chapter is marked by his visiting date to the mandala. Topics can be trees, herbaceous plants, birds, insects, salamanders, coyotes, rains and winds, sounds, seasons' change, or underground growth (fungi, roots and worms).

The Forest Unseen is a delightful read, one of the best nature writings I have r
...the search for the universal within the infinitesimally small...

Haskell chooses a small parcel of land, his "mandala", in the old-growth forest of central Tennessee. Every few days, he goes to his mandala to observe, take notes, look closer with his hand lens, and listen. This book incorporates the field notes of what he sees, hears, and smells, but also the meditations, and the information behind these observations over one full year. With the eye of a biologist, but also the musings of a ph
Jan 31, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: natural-history
The premise of this most excellent natural history of a forest is that the author stakes out a small circle in the woods, say about 4-6 feet across, in a tiny tiny (but one of the only left, sigh) old growth forest remnant in eastern tennessee. He goes out everyday for a year and “just sits there” observing the plants and animals. Of course that is a bit of a simplification as he discussed things like the lifecycle of salamanders and butterflies and migrating tufted titmice and deer and hickory ...more
Well, I'm clearly in the vast minority here, but I'm just not enjoying this book enough to push through and finish it. There have been a couple of chapters that I've found pretty interesting, but they've been few and far between, and at times I've found myself feeling pretty skeptical about what he's describing (for instance the entire chapter where he decides to take all of his clothes off in the middle of winter to see what animals feel in the cold, and it somehow doesn't occur to him until th ...more
Mar 28, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
You know the feeling that you get when you go to a national park or any forest and just sit there alone, observing, meditating... That's what you experience while reading this book.

So Feynman once said:

“I have a friend who's an artist and has sometimes taken a view which I don't agree with very well. He'll hold up a flower and say "look how beautiful it is," and I'll agree. Then he says "I as an artist can see how beautiful this is but you as a scientist take this all apart and it becomes a dull
Oct 19, 2012 rated it it was amazing
This is the kind of non fiction I love...I have met the author, he is a professor where my daughter attends college. My daughter and I went on a bird walk he led on campus in spring 2012 before she decided to attend the school, even though she does not intend to pursue the sciences I think he had a positive effect on her.(She did not want to go on the bird walk and without saying so I could see she enjoyed it!) He's the real deal, naturalist I mean, tempting to think of him as a Monty Python typ ...more
Ray Zimmerman
Dec 07, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Great read.
The Forest Unseen

David George Haskel begins the book with a description of Tibetan Monks making a sand painting, a Mandala, to which he compares his own exploration of a one square meter patch of an old growth forest, on property owned by the University of the South. His description of the small bit of land as a Mandala is more than an interesting metaphor.

Like the sand painting of the monks, his patch of old growth forest was a place of observation and contemplation, from which his
Jul 09, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I really loved this book. Haskell, a biology prof at The University of the South, has sort of cordoned off a square meter of land in an old-growth forest in Tennessee. Several times a week for a year he goes to this "mandala", sits on a rock, and just observes, sometimes up close with a magnifying glass. It is a book you must read slowly, maybe a 4or 5 page segment at a time. I learned so much about so many aspects of plants and animals and Haskell writes like a poet (but not remotely cornily). ...more
Tim Martin
Jan 28, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nature, science, reviewed
How much can you learn about the forest by observing a square meter patch of it (and pretty much only that square meter)? How much could you learn about things beyond the forest, about the overall ecology of the region, the continent, the world, about a variety of concepts in weather, geology, evolution, ecology, botany, and natural selection? Can the universal really be understood by contemplating the “infinitesimally small?”

Borrowing a term from Buddhism, author David George Haskell decided t
Apr 02, 2012 rated it it was amazing
There is a grand tradition of naturalist-writing that emphasizes close observation of nature and the wonder and awe that can come from it. Bernd Heinrich is one of my favorites, writing "A Year in the Maine Woods," "Winter World", and "Summer World", among others. Now there's this delightful celebration of attentive observation by David George Haskell. Restricting himself to a small patch of old-growth forest he calls his "mandala", Haskell follows the intricate interactions there through a year ...more
Jim Angstadt
Apr 07, 2019 rated it it was ok
Shelves: dnf, 2019
The Forest Unseen: A Year’s Watch in Nature
David George Haskell

This story has an interesting premise: we can learn a lot about the world at large by studying a small patch of ground, including the soil, rocks, vegetation, insects, and other living organisms.

The preface explains that there are similar attempts in the mandalas of Tibetan monks, and others who would see "the universal within the infinitesimally small".

The author selected a small square patch of land that was well out of the way of
Jan 02, 2020 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
2 stars. Such a wonderful concept, underwhelming delivery.

Haskell takes a fascinating path to understand nature, and her intricacies. A small patch of land, mandala as he calls it, works in harmony with everything that's present in its vicinity. From a small worm to a big deer, the patch of land and the things that grow are all in strange harmony. The land hums to a tune that catches on and becomes synchronous with forest floor. The flora and fauna of the forest are all aligned - both behavioral
Camille McCarthy
Mar 21, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A wonderful, different book about nature. It is full of rich imagery and descriptions of how organisms interact. I found it hard to read more than a little of it in one sitting, because the descriptions are so rich. I think he should have won the Pulitzer for this.
Haskell picks a spot in nature and returns to the same spot every week or so throughout the year. Every time, he uses his observations to construct a chapter of the book. He focuses on different organisms every time, though some are
Jan 27, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Beautifully written. I really enjoyed the thoughtful observations paired with the science of what he was experiencing.
Apr 28, 2012 rated it it was amazing
This book is incredible. It was probably more interesting to me than the average person because I have a Biology degree, but the writing was so accessible, poetic, and uplifting. The author spends a year watching a square of old growth forest floor (he calls it a mandala) and the book is a series of essays discussing the things he discovers about nature and about himself. My favorite chapter was "Earthstar" where he discusses human impact on the earth and how we need to have more compassion for ...more
Sep 23, 2014 rated it liked it

Man, I love science.

I loved learning the random facts in this book. Like how there are so many nematodes on earth that (they say) if all other matter disappeared, you'd still be able to see the outlines of everything, limned in squirming nematodes.

Like how moss creates vitamins to prevent itself from being wrecked by extra sunlight. (I am a little hazy on the details of photosynthesis but I think this is how it works.)

Like why hickory trees bud out later than maple trees and why that explains
Jan 24, 2016 rated it liked it
2016 Review:
I loved the concept for this book when I bought it. Haskell spends an entire year observing a single square meter of forest. Each chapter has a different focus ranging from the microscopic to charismatic megafauna. However, despite being a fairly short book, this was such a slog. It's been sitting in my currently reading pile for three years now and it's finally time to admit that I don't like it and will never finish it. I think the thing I hate about it the most is that he calls hi
Jun 29, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2000-2015-pub
This book is quite interesting, boring, and insightful—all words that do indeed conflict. Although I wasn't able to physically read this biology book, I listened to the audiobook. I think this greatly helped me get through the book, since it's required reading for my school (I usually have to force myself to read these), and I don't believe I would have finished it otherwise. Even so, I fell asleep at one point (I re-listened to that part) and was not paying attention during most of it.

Michael Scott
TODO full review:
i The Forest Unseen is a ponderous book written by naturalist David George Haskell about his year-long visits to a small patch of old-growth forest in Tennessee, USA. Through careful description, astute analysis, deep knowledge, and simply care about the forest, Haskell makes the reader get interested in the forest and want to see it first-hand. I love this book.
+++ There are 40-ish visits, so 40-ish subjects to meditate about. The description is sometimes lyric, sometimes impre
Nick Crowley
May 01, 2020 rated it really liked it
I received this book in the mail unexpectedly as a birthday gift from my good friend Kevin, along with The Bicycle Diaries by David Byrne. I read it immediately, and it served as a nice break from all the classic fiction I've been reading.

David Haskell thoughtfully weaves together the stories of plants, soil, water, and creatures big and small, providing a fascinating glimpse at the interconnections of the natural world. The Forest Unseen is the sort of book that every page or so compels you to
Nov 17, 2019 rated it it was amazing
The author observes the same small patch of woodland in Tennessee and its inhabitants over a span of a year. Told not only from a biologist eye, which he is, but sounding very much like a humorist and poet as well. Just loved it and it has inspired me to do the same (sans nudity) and start my own little woodland observation at the begining of next year.

I listened to this as an audio (my first audio and my first David George Haskell but definitely not my last of either), per the suggestion of a
Jan 14, 2020 rated it liked it
This is a fun little biology book. Mr. Haskell chronicles his year-long watch of one tiny section of forest in Tennessee. Each chapter is a short snippet of something he sees in this little forest area. Sometimes he waxes poetic, using many metaphors. Others prompt a more comprehensive scientific soliloquy, usually going into some detail about the habits or reproduction of an animal or plant he observed.

I enjoyed learning these little pieces of scientific knowledge. Many of them were very intere
Jordan Kalt
Oct 12, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A true poet-scientist, David Haskell writes evocatively about the hidden wonders of our biological world. He does this so vividly, choosing to listen and watch in a way few of us ever do, scientists included, as a small patch of land becomes his meditation chamber through the changes and surprises of an entire year. Journaling through this experience, Haskell demonstrates the need for some type of contemplative spirituality to walk hand-in-hand with our empirical understanding of this existence. ...more
Jan 29, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: eco
DGH returns to the same square meter of forest every day for a year and sees in that square meter much more than one might expect. I found the book an inspiration on observing, on finding patterns of interconnection, and on journaling. Readers will also walk away with a great deal of information about fungi, plants, lichens, etc. -- in my case, probably more than I could retain.
Oct 07, 2020 rated it really liked it
An enjoyable book about a year in the same part of a forest in Tennessee. Lots of great insight and I learned a lot, though it was pretty dense and wordy. I read one or two chapters at a time over the course of months, not my usual style but suited to how the book is structured.
May 30, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This is a must-read! A modern classic by a truly insightful naturalist and just a beautifully written book. "Over and over, seek out the sensory details..." ...more
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David George Haskell is an British-born American biologist, author, and professor of biology at Sewanee: The University of the South, in Sewanee, Tennessee.

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“We live in the empiricist’s nightmare: there is a reality far beyond our perception. Our senses have failed us for millennia. Only when we mastered glass and were able to produce clear, polished lenses were we able to gaze through a microscope and finally realize the enormity of our former ignorance.” 9 likes
“The fading dawn colors revive momentarily, and the sky shines with lilac and daffodil, layering colors in clouds like quilts stacked on a bed. More birds chime into the morning air: a nuthatch’s nasal onk joins the crow’s croak and a black-throated green warbler’s murmur from the branches above the mandala. As the colors finally fade under the fierce gaze of their mother, the sun, a wood thrush caps the dawn chorus with his astounding song. The song seems to pierce through from another world, carrying with it clarity and ease, purifying me for a few moments with its grace. Then the song is gone, the veil closes, and I am left with embers of memory.” 8 likes
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