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Tree: A Life Story

4.05  ·  Rating details ·  499 ratings  ·  73 reviews
"Only God can make a tree," wrote Joyce Kilmer in one of the most celebrated of poems. In Tree: A Life Story, authors David Suzuki and Wayne Grady extend that celebration in a "biography" of this extraordinary—and extraordinarily important—organism. A story that spans a millennium and includes a cast of millions but focuses on a single tree, a Douglas fir, Tree describes i ...more
Paperback, 192 pages
Published February 9th 2007 by Greystone Books / David Suzuki Foundation (first published September 16th 2004)
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Average rating 4.05  · 
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 ·  499 ratings  ·  73 reviews

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Apr 24, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2008
If I ever got close enough to David Suzuki, I would jump his bones. I've always maintained this fact, but listen to him dirty talk:

The female cone of the Douglas-fir remains receptive to male pollen grains for twenty days, until about the end of April. Once a pollen grain has slipped down the smooth surface of the seed-cone bracts, it becomes enmeshed in the small, sticky hairs at the tip of the female ovule. For two months it luxuriates on this pubic patch while the ovule's labia swell around i
Mar 04, 2011 rated it really liked it
4.5 stars.

What a gorgeous, gorgeous book. A beautiful balance between the woo-woo postulating of, say, a David Abram and the narrow reductionism of, say, a Carl Sagan (not that I don't kiss every page these men have ever written, just that sometimes they both make me a very cranky monkey). The story is told with grace and fluidity, as colorful a cast of supporting characters as will be found in any novel, and a satisfying tear-jerker of an ending.

Now I'm going to say something that may make read
Stephen Case
Jun 07, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: trees
There is an idea that if you know something well enough—if you spend some time learning about it and seeing all of its internal and external connections—you cannot help but loving it. I’m not entirely sure this is true, though I’d like to believe it is. I think it is an important aspect of environmentalism and likely the reason why so many scientists become conservationists: sometimes it is only by careful and deliberate study that the inherent value of an organism or system becomes apparent.

I a
This is a short, elegant and beautiful [i]belle lettres[/i] essay on Douglas-fir forests. It consists of dozens of vignettes exploring aspects of one protagonist tree's ecology - its birth in the ashes, its mycorrhizal partnerships with fungi and other trees, the creatures that nest in and around it, and the things it must fight to survive. These facts were largely familiar to me, in form and outline if not in specifics. But the articulation was among the finest I've encountered, for elegance an ...more
Florence Lyon
Dec 14, 2012 rated it really liked it

I've always enjoyed the books I've read by David Suzuki. He was one of my "heros" and role models when I was in secondary school. I wasn't a whiz at science but he and his show "The Nature of Things" helped me learn more about science, the natural world and our connections to it. One of my quirks (one) is that I used to imagine his voice as I was reading text that I had found difficult to follow. This helped make concepts clearer to me.

I have to state that I should not attempt to read books of s
Apr 04, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: botany
Often among scientists, there is a specialization snobbery. “Oh, you’re a chemist." [sneer:] "I’m a biologist." [nose in air:] And between the fields, they can’t see the forest for the trees. It is for that reason that I love ecological sciences. While scientists seek to understand their subject matter from the study of their mechanistic parts, ecology brings them back together—to their interrelated processes. It is a beautiful unity.

David Suzuki is one such scientist. This book is a meaty read,
Jonathan Hays
Apr 13, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This is an outstanding ecological book. The main theme is the life story of a Douglas Fir tree from seed to decay but Suzuki encompasses a wide swath of fascinating biological and ecological detail along the way. A must read for all tree huggers.
Sara Van Dyck
Jun 10, 2017 rated it really liked it
How can a writer explain how trees function – their genes, leaves, decay – without turning it into a collection of unrelated facts? Suzuki, a noted ecologist, has woven all this into a story, as he calls it, readable and highly informative. While his focus is on the life of one tree, a Douglas-fir, he explains at the start that this could equally well apply to a maple or an oak. Along the way he shows the importance of trees in human cultures in history. The plight of the spotted owl becomes emb ...more
Mar 02, 2017 added it
Shelves: abandoned
I got stuck at around 50% (though, to be fair, I saw signs it was over for me around 30%).

This is fascinating if you have a love of botany and particular types of trees (the Douglas fir). The authors are stunningly smart, and able to pull from a wide variety of biology in the formation of this book.

Unfortunately for me, I thought it would be a little more broad and readable to an, ahem, unscientific mind. I was looking for life metaphors and got so much more.

p.s. It is my practice to not rate
I am quite disappointed in this book. I expected it to focus more on the subject tree through its life cycle. Instead, the writers spent about 2% writing about said tree, and the rest of the book was general, broad swaths of scientific talk about trees, photosynthesis and other aspects of other plants.

I did not finish the book, but got about 75% through it. I think there could have been a lot more focus on the one tree itself.
Apr 03, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Excellent book from start to finish

A brilliant insight into the detailed life of a Douglas-fir. It includes a great deal of information about other species that life around this tree. A very good read. Would love to read again!
May 27, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: ecolit
Very interesting book and well-written. It does mostly a good job of explaining things for the average layperson.

I'm deducting one star because I wanted to read a biography of a single tree, and this really wasn't that. The book was conceptually promising, but in reality Tree has an expansive, meandering lens, giving us the biographies of some lesser-known botanists and naturalists from around the world, diving into other insect and animal species, outlining the basics of salmon life cycles and
Mar 08, 2020 rated it it was ok
I did enjoy all the detailed ways that they could describe a tree.
Jan 29, 2018 rated it really liked it
This book seemed to alternate between extremely fascinating facts that were fairly accessible to a lay reader like myself and extremely technical botanical terminology that was all but impenetrable for me. As some of the other reviews of this book elaborate upon, you’ll find some extremely racy sketches of tree sex within these pages. There’s even a little history lesson about how botany eventually became discussed in terms analogous to human sexuality. The reproductive strategy of coniferous tr ...more
3.5 stars tending towards 4. NF book group theme - trees. I read this as an actual paper book, for a change. Sorry tree.

I had thought this would be a quick read - maybe a week, so I could get onto the other book I checked out... but no... I read a little of bit most days but I didn’t really get into a flow with it until near the end. It had a LOT of detail. That was good, but I found it hard to concentrate for long. Especially when paragraphs got into a lot of science + Latin names + measures i
Lindsay Miller
Is three stars unfair? The book certainly achieved its goal of conveying vastness of the trees and forests themselves, the timescales they operate on, and the interconnected lives and forces that define and sustain them. Generally, structuring the book around time worked to that effect. There were some very eloquent passages, and a great deal of new-to-me information about Douglas-fir trees and forests.

But, there were also times when casual word choices and strained metaphors undermined the dept
Feb 23, 2011 rated it did not like it
Shelves: nature
Trees are some of the longest living creatures on the planet. Given its large size and prolonged existence a single tree can often have a vast impact on millions of other plant, fungal and animal lives over the span of its life, creating entire tree-based ecosystems. In Tree: a life story, by David Suzuki and Wayne Grady, the full account of a single 260 foot tall Douglas-fir tree is told, from its birth following a forest fire until its eventual demise and collapse 700 years later. The titular ...more
Nov 18, 2009 rated it it was ok
Got this book last x-mas and it finally made it to the top of the pile. I was excited to read a book by David Suzuki - the most well-known environmentalist in Canada, but must admit being a little disappointed by this book. It was not what I expected. I thought it would be more about the main character of the book - the ancient Douglas Fir tree - but it wandered off into what was happening in the world at different points in the tree's life. I know this helps us understand and comprehend the age ...more
John Perdue
Nov 14, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I was searching for a book by D.T. Suzuki at my local library, and this popped up; it sounded interesting, so I picked it up on a whim. Turned out to be one of the best nonfiction books I've ever read, both informative and entertaining. I think I learned more about ecology, botany, and natural history from these 180 pages than any science class I've ever taken, or in my two years doing conservation work. Suzuki does an amazing job of putting scientific fact within its wider contexts, making for ...more
May 19, 2008 rated it really liked it
I LOVED this book. I'm sad now I finished as I could keep reading it for ages. But it's not for everyone. I laughed, I cried, and expanded the mind, but to be totally honest, you have to be the type of person who enjoyed high school biology. It's not Shel Silverstein's The Giving Tree, and you will be learning a bit more about fungi than you expected. But, there's much more to it than that. Those interested in ecology or just the unbelievable interdependency and underestimated intelligence of na ...more
Wendy Feltham
Jan 28, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
This is a very special book about the life of one Douglas-fir tree and its ecosystem, the historic moments around the world during the tree's long life, and the development of our scientific understanding of plants during those centuries. It's impressive how David Suzuki fit all of that into one small book, while sprinkling each chapter with amazing facts about trees. The occasional drawings added to the beauty of this book. I would have appreciated diagrams to help me understand botanical terms ...more
Jan 11, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Suzuki is a beloved Canadian scientist who frequently appears on television to make science accessible to lay viewers (and in this case, readers). This book--one of many he has written, including children's books-contextualizes the life of a single Douglas fir tree within both human history and the tree's own ecosystem, as well as within the larger scheme of evolution and the planet as a whole. Beautifully written and always focused simultaneously on both micro- and macro- perspectives.
Lesley Moseley
Jun 04, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Such a beautiful, treasured book of my favourite inhabitants of the planet. I have always asked the question : how does a tree revert to it's known silhouette having been cut down, reshooting (flushing?) and then it's sometimes impossible to tell that this has occurred. David Suziki thrilled me by addressing this same question, but answered by words to the effect, when we understand that, we too will be able to re-grow our limbs..
Jun 22, 2018 rated it really liked it
The original The Hidden Life Of Trees . Published before, and coming back into print after, this is a peak CanLit take on the tree publishing trend: Suzuki, Grady, Bateman. And it recreates the half-millennium life of a west coast tree and the ecosystem around it.

Informative throughout, lyrical in places, and definitely worth a look.
Oct 31, 2018 rated it really liked it
Such a good reminder of how amazing trees and forests are, and how vital they are to our planet. This was a little science-y in parts, which caused some glazing over of my eyes, but in general, very easy to read and understand. And I learned more things about trees! This book left me with a warm feeling and a smile on my face just thinking about how fascinating our forests are, full of all kinds of important creatures and critters.
Dec 02, 2010 rated it really liked it

A beautiful book about the way everything in nature, including us, is interconnected. The life of a tree, and the ongoing cycle of life and death, is presented in an easy to read style that left me feeling even more appreciative of these beautiful living organisms that we so take for granted...
Stanley Trice
Dec 04, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: science
This the story of a Douglas fir tree in California from the time it starts growing until five hundred years later. I liked how the authors blended human history along with what was happening to the tree in its growth. I knew the tree had to die, but when that happened and the aftermath was a surprise.
Mar 26, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book really puts your life in perspective and demonstrates the importance of forests and their role in wildlife populations. I really enjoyed the last chapter as they write about the destruction of these forests caused by humans and how we really need to start making changes to sustain these old growth forests.
Oct 03, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
By focusing on the lifetime of one tree David Suzuki and Wayne Grady show the intricacies and interrelatedness of nature. These two topics were explored and explained well, making the point that the natural world can be resilient to a point but it is also fragile and the tipping point teeters on a sharp edge.
Jul 02, 2015 rated it really liked it
The authors intertwine histories of botany,owls, cougars, lichens with the trees story. Their approach underscores how a tree is part of a huge communiy of living things. In theory, I like the idea, and I learned cool things. But I also bogged down at times. The poetic style reinforces why it all matters, lovely last linen.
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David Suzuki is a Canadian science broadcaster and environmental activist. A long time activist to reverse global climate change, Suzuki co-founded the David Suzuki Foundation in 1990, to work "to find ways for society to live in balance with the natural world that sustains us." The Foundation's priorities are: oceans and sustainable fishing, climate change and clean energy, sustainability, and Da ...more

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“Lignin is a linkage of three aromatic alcohols—coumaryl, coniferyl, and sinapyl—which fill the spaces in cell walls that are not already occupied by other substances, even ousting water molecules to do so. It thus forms a very strong hydrophobic net, cementing all the cell-wall elements in place and providing strength and rigidity to the xylem. It also provides an important barrier to fungal and bacterial infections. When a tree is invaded by disease, it seals off the infected section with a wall of lignin so that the disease cannot spread. Lignin is so tough that getting rid of it is a costly process in pulp-and-paper plants. The acids needed to break down lignin in pulpwood are the chief pollutants such mills contribute to the environment.” 0 likes
“A tree can lift and transpire vast amounts of water. A single tree in the Amazon rain forest lifts hundreds of liters of water every day. The rain forest behaves like a green ocean, transpiring water that rains upward, as though gravity were reversed. These transpired mists then flow across the continent in great rivers of vapor. The water condenses, falls as rain, and is pulled back up again through the trees. It rises and falls on its westward migration an average of six times before finally hitting the physical barrier of the Andes mountains and flowing back across the continent as the mightiest river on Earth. Similarly, Indonesia, with 114 million hectares (280 million acres) of tropical forest (it is the second most forested country in the world after Brazil) is a vital part of the Asian hydrologic cycle. Around the world, forests constantly replenish Earth’s supply of fresh water and play a key role in weather and climate.” 0 likes
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