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Trees in Paradise: A California History

4.14  ·  Rating details ·  188 ratings  ·  34 reviews
California now has more trees than at any time since the late Pleistocene. This green landscape, however, is not the work of nature. It s the work of history. In the years after the Gold Rush, American settlers remade the California landscape, harnessing nature to their vision of the good life. Horticulturists, boosters, and civic reformers began to "improve" the bare, bro ...more
Hardcover, 592 pages
Published October 28th 2013 by W. W. Norton Company
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With one large caveat I'll get to below, this was a wondrous and detailed account of four of the most iconic trees of present California's built environment: redwoods, eucalypts, citruses, and palms. Did you know that the General Sherman giant sequoia in Sequoia National Park was initially named the Karl Marx by 19th century utopian socialists who had occupied the area? Or that Southern California's skies were engloomed by the black smokes of smudge pots lit to protect orange groves from frost l ...more
Peter Tillman
Nov 11, 2019 rated it really liked it
Came due before I finished. I have some notes, if I can find them.
Never did, but here's a decent published review:
I recommend the book, but you may want to skim, or read selectively. Farmer writes well and has done his homework, but he does get a bit carried away at times. A good book for Californians who are interested in trees and state history
Joshua Buhs
Not the book for which I was hoping, but solid nonetheless.

Farmer wants to tell the story of California through four of its most iconic tree( group)s: redwoods, eucalypts, citrus, and palms. I don't think that he ever makes his broader case that California became modern via its trees--he seems to have caught the academic historian's disease that every monograph fundamentally revises cultural history--but he does convince me that trees were part of the modernization process--he fits natural histo
Rob Lofland
Aug 27, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Never has such a fascinating book been concealed by a more prosaic title. A book about trees for crying out loud. But the book is really about the history of California and how the people used and were shaped by the iconic trees of California: Redwoods, Eucalyptus, Citrus and Palms. It is amazingly well researched and Jared Farmer's ability to translate our relationship with these trees into themes of indigenous nativism, immigration, business, and style is extremely entertaining. There's a lot ...more
While at times repetitive, this book was also fascinating. Could have been called politics and trees, though. Who knew whether one liked eucalyptus trees or not could be skewed into a discussion of immigrants and validity? Or how oranges were tied somehow to Anglo-Saxon pride? Beyond that this book gave me a new way to look at redwoods and palm trees. And it also provided a lot of factoids about California I didn't know - that Pasadena was once called Indiana, or that LA supplied Jews with palm ...more
Mike Lewis
Apr 16, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This book was fantastic for anyone who is curious about California's history. I live in Riverside, a major player in the citrus industry discussed in this book. While I personally loved the citrus aspect, all four of the tree's history in the state were fascinating. I never knew tree's had such an impact on California's success. I hope to re-read this book again soon as it was smartly written, well organized and full of stories of how these trees impacted those who lived among them. ...more
Julie Mickens
Absolutely loved this book. A cultural history of four iconic California tree families, only one of which is native to the state: redwoods, eucalyptus, citrus and palms.

- REDWOODS: The native plants covered in this book are the two species of redwood, coast and Sierra, the world-record tallest and most massive trees, respectively. Not only are these famous trees enormous, they are ancient, older than most other conifers in evolutionary scale. Jared Farmer covers their cultural significance to b
Nov 23, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: travel, natural-world
This is a much needed book about the variety of the botanical life in the Golden State. California is a rich land in every front. And when it comes to trees, it has an astonishing amount of life to show for it.

This is the cover of the book I read. It is no coincidence that it shows a group of mad men trying to cut down a tree many times their group's size. It is such a crime against nature what men are doing to the biosphere!

This is the editorial information of the book I read. This particul
Oct 25, 2018 rated it really liked it
This is a great history but I would have liked a bit more analysis. This is a great read for anyone who loves trees and/or California, particularly the Californian coast. This would also be a great read for people traveling to California who want to know the big, BIG history.
Scott Klemm
Feb 27, 2017 rated it really liked it
Jared Farmer, has written a unique and interesting book on the changing landscape of California from Gold Rush days to the present. If it was not for the subtitle, A California History, one might presume that Trees in Paradise is simply a botany book. Although the book’s focus is on the big trees (redwoods and giant sequoias), the eucalyptus (from Australia), orange trees and palms, there is much more. Associated with the four major themes are a myriad of lesser topics including lumbering, Save- ...more
May 17, 2017 rated it it was ok
Shelves: did-not-finish
I gave up about halfway through. There is interesting stuff in here, for sure, but Farmer's writing is so redundant that it is painful to pull out the good stuff. It's a bummer, too - I really wanted to like this book! ...more
Dec 23, 2018 rated it it was amazing
With sixty pages of endnotes and ten pages of recommended additional reading sources, Trees in Paradise is a wonderful work of scholarship, intertwining the fields of botany, history, sociology, and social psychology thoroughly enough to satisfy this reader, and hopefully innumerous others, as homo sapiens continue to propel the Anthropocene onward, toward a creeping abyss of uncertainly and misery for most, never mind the fragile ecosystems of plants, insects, sea life, and animals. Dr. Farmer ...more
Pete Gachot
Feb 23, 2019 rated it really liked it
If like me you have just spent a few decades preoccupied with California botany, geography and agriculture, you will find this book meaningful. The four-part structure of the book is an interesting way to present the state’s vast floral diversity: redwoods, eucalyptus, citrus and palms. I like that he also gives a nod to other important species such as peppers, oaks and Monterey cypresses. But beyond that, this book is really a history of California - a massive undertaking told from the perspect ...more
Aug 20, 2019 rated it liked it
Has some good parts on logging history and I enjoyed the parts on oranges and eucalyptus trees. Liked the cultural costs chapter of the orange section- managing orange groves and smudge pots was a precursor to managing auto pollution. A tax on pollution or cap and trade never would have worked given the lack of enforcement. It had to be a technological standard to manage the smudge.

Sad learning about Converse Basin, the grove of giant sequoias that was hacked for logging and mostly wasted. The
This is basically a history of redwoods, eucalyptus, citrus and palm trees in California. There's some related history of the trees generally, of town policies and state politics regarding trees, and the colonists who brought them or sold them. There's stories of overuse, overselling, water theft, and acknowledgements of historical racism. There's stories of LA rivers, Hollywood celebrities and Victorian plant fashions. It's a bit dry and I was a little sad it didn't have more about other trees, ...more
Brown Robin
Jul 27, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: dnf
This starts strong, but my enthusiasm flagged. It's exhaustive, thus exhausting, and though it's chock-full o' facts, it's just too much detail for a popular history. Recommended for researchers or serious California history nerds.

I should warn you that there are some seriously sad passages herein, especially in the redwood section, so maybe don't undertake this book if you're depressed. Consider this a trigger warning.
Angela Joyce
Jun 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing
What an extraordinary work. I've never read anything quite like it. As a native Californian, I was often shocked, reading this, by what I learned about redwoods, eucalyptus, citrus, and palms-- all the trees I grew up with and love and pretty much always took for granted. All have a complex history in California that I knew very little about until now. ...more
Judith Parker
Aug 06, 2019 rated it really liked it
This fascinating book gives an excellent history of how humans used and abused California’s native trees, as well as planted imported trees in the hopes of making money. It is a long book but for folks like me, obsessed with trees, it is utterly compelling.
Jul 07, 2015 rated it liked it
Kinda slow, but beautiful. Meditative hyper-specific history.
Apr 14, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Great history of the trees, interesting stories I never knew. Only read the citrus and eucalyptus sections, will have to go back and read the others
Jason F. Sisney
Dec 09, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
California history through its trees

A look at four tree species and their relationship to the span of California’s recorded history. Some chapters could be more concise.
Jan 06, 2014 rated it it was amazing
"On the West Coast, 'swampers' [redwood workers] refereed to their coarse paths as 'skidroads,' the source of the colloquial skid row." (55)

"The [eucalyptus] 'bubble' or 'boom' of 1907-1913 differed qualitatively from the 'craze' or 'excitement' of the 1870s. Back then, Ellwood Cooper and other horticulturalists worked to complement their small, diversified farms with beautiful and climate-changing windbreaks. ... By contrast, the new exponents of gum trees did not care about beauty, health, or
Geoffrey Benn
Jun 01, 2016 rated it really liked it
Redwoods, eucalypts, citrus, and palms – all are iconic California trees and all have been greatly influenced by the activities of Californians. These plants and their history in California are the subject of Jared Farmer’s “Trees in Paradise.” The book is split into four sections – exploring how each group of species has been impacted by changing trends in timber production, conservation, agriculture, urbanization, and aesthetic tastes. The author is a historian, not a botanist, as is evidenced ...more
Feb 29, 2016 rated it it was amazing
A history of California from the perspective of four common trees. The coastal and Sequoia redwoods represent the native trees, the object of extremes attempts both to exploit and to preserve. The eucalyptus, introduced naively as a lumber producer and now loved as a familiar element of the landscape or reviled as a foreign invader. The citrus, the high-maintenance source of more wealth than even the rich veins of the gold rush. And the palm trees, some natives of the inland desert and others im ...more
Apr 13, 2015 rated it liked it
I only read the first section, on redwood trees, for reference. The author did a good job researching and provided resources for further study. I came way with this realization: nothing in California's landscape is "natural." Even the most natural-seeming spots of "wilderness" are merely unpaved, or "undeveloped" in terms of building or road construction. All plant life has been carefully selected and/or allowed to remain. ...more
Arthur Sylvester
Nov 10, 2015 rated it it was amazing
What a terrific alternative view of California history! I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and it caused me to see trees that I'd never seen before, especially the plethora of eucalyptus in southern California. ...more
Oct 18, 2016 rated it really liked it
I love trees, and California history is fascinating. Put those two together and you have this book making a great read! Super interesting perspective on the development of CA and how it has shaped the state it is today.
Top 5 Science and Nature - PLA
Aug 10, 2014 rated it really liked it
Dense, lush with information and history of California's most iconic trees, branching the story of the state and people. Good writing, good book, and some heavyweight reading. ...more
Oct 31, 2014 rated it really liked it
Lots of great History of California from the view of trees.
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