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The Tree

3.75  ·  Rating details ·  1,076 ratings  ·  123 reviews
LC # 79-89975 / un-paginated / landscape format

John Fowles (1926–2005) is widely regarded as one of the preeminent English novelists of the twentieth century — his books have sold millions of copies worldwide, been turned into beloved films, and been popularly voted among the 100 greatest novels of the century.

To a smaller yet no less passionate audience, Fowles is also k

Hardcover, First American Edition, 122 pages
Published April 1st 1979 by Little, Brown and Company (first published 1979)
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Average rating 3.75  · 
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 ·  1,076 ratings  ·  123 reviews

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Jun 07, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This book is a wonderful antidote to those who see nature as a "system" or a "machine" that is somehow apart from us. Fowles sees the natural world instead as a community that we're inextricably bound up with. Trees are companions, even friends. A profound meditation:

"The particular cost of understanding the mechanism of nature, of having so successfully itemized and pigeon-holed it, lies most of all in the ordinary person's perception of it, in his or her ability to live with and care for it--a
Apr 02, 2018 rated it really liked it
Most of us familiar with John Fowles know Fowles the novelist, not Fowles the naturalist. Fowles got a lot of his impetus from his father and this extended essay shows how he absorbed and reacted to that early education.

I am one of those who believes we are the stewards of (and on) this planet. This view is very compatible with what Fowles is writing. I, too, may be waiting for a new melding of science and nature that doesn’t bend other species to our whims and desires but helps us understand a
Re-read thoughts /5/16/2015:

Came back to this book nearly four years after the initial reading, and after a long trip where I spent a lot of time with some wild trees. I still found it beautiful and touching and wonderful. I also found some sections that challenged me (and that I didn't particularly remember from the first time around.) and that I didn't quite agree with as wholeheartedly as I did when I first read it - but I think that is a good thing! I still recommend this essay fully to any
Jul 30, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nature, art, kindle
Quite an intense read for a relatively short novella. There were some sections that I found a bit daunting, and then I would move to a section that would sing. This is about so much more than trees, but at the same time, it is very essentially about trees. They are Fowles' door into dealing with all he wants to say about nature and man.

Will return to complete
Aug 29, 2010 added it
I don’t know how to explain this book. It is a simple book, it is not a simple book, and it can speak for itself. I have never read anything else by John Fowles, and I don’t know when I will, but now I have read this. My brain is fried. This book, this tiny little volume, this tiny little essay, was everything I expected and more, and even more after that. It blew my mind.
I saw this book and bought it, though I have 80-something books I need to read. I saw the title and grabbed it, smiled when I
Valentina Vekovishcheva
It is a great insight into the mind of my favourite writer, who believes in the indescribable power of untamed nature
Jun 28, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"But it is the silence, the waitingness of the place, that is so haunting; a quality all woods will have on occasion, but which is overwhelming here—a drama, but of a time-span humanity cannot conceive. A pastness, a presentness, a skill with tenses the writer in me knows he will never know; partly out of his own inadequacies, partly because there are tenses human language has yet to invent…I ask why I, of a species so incapable of stillness, am here…So I sit in the namelessness, the green phosp ...more
Fowles confounded my expectations: of the 101 pages in my edition, perhaps 12 are given over to a description of woodland and trees, and those twelve provide him with further material to ponder the relationship between people, as individuals and as societies, and nature. Starting with a meditation on the differences between his own and his father's views of nature, Fowles takes in art, science, religion, and the essential ineffability of existence.
Oct 16, 2010 rated it really liked it
This is the 30th anniversary edition of John Fowles legendary essay about trees. Or rather, what trees mean in a greater sense than just the biological. At first, I expected this to be similar to Rachel Carson's Silent Spring-both were written decades ago. However, this slim text is more of a set of questions rather than answers. In fact, despite the title, it could be said that trees are just the smallest portion of his purpose.

"Do we feel that unless we create evidence-photographs, journal ent
Mary Margaret
Jun 28, 2020 rated it it was ok
I abandoned this book half way through - it's reminiscent of Whitman's "The Learn'd Astronomer" (with which I also vehemently disagree with) - except so so much longer.

I value some of what Fowles argues. A singular scientific understanding is not enough - but neither is the alternative he offers, that of throwing out expertise or understanding individuals, of only looking at a system.

Science fails people precisely because it pretends it has no bias - but I doubt I'll find anything criticizing
Aug 30, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An unusual book that seems to go off topic but still manages a good narrative flow. This is an essay that the author feels passionate about. A very curious read.
Few British writers of the 20th Century were as shimmering in their prose style as John Fowles, and this, my first attempt at Fowles' nonfiction, was no exception. Every apple, every fluttering leaf counts. While I'm a passionate lover of woods and wild places, and more of a hiker than a gardener in spirit, the thesis statement of his book -- which I'll sum up as "don't analyze it, just feeeeel it, man" -- sounds almost quaint now, even if it does contain a fair bit of wisdom (it's also an idea ...more
Feb 26, 2017 added it
Regarding John and his father: "The fact that the two branches grow in different directions and ways does not mean that they do not share a same mechanism of need, a same set of deeper rules."

"Naming things is always implicitly categorizing and therefore collecting them, attempting to own them; and because man is a highly acquisitive creature, brainwashed by most modern societies into believing that the act of acquisition is more enjoyable than the fact of having acquired, that getting beats hav
Apr 23, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction-read
The essay is a marvelous and thought-provoking meditation on man;s relationship to nature. Despite our attempts to frame nature through art or circumvallate it in a cloistered garden, it remains wild, chaotic, dangerous, and useless. It retains an otherness that defies our abilities to impose human order upon it. It is the ability of the wilderness to stand beyond our understanding, to defy our attempts at categorization, to elude our control that makes it so important. The witness of the wilder ...more
Jun 08, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"Art and nature are siblings, branches of one tree; and nowhere more than in the continuing inexplicability of many of their processes and above all those of creation and of effect on their respective audiences. Our approach to art, as to nature, has become increasingly scientized (and dreadfully serious) during this last century."

And so on. Art is just as beautiful and unpredictable as nature is, and every try to learn how to do it or to examine it is just as futile as the labels put on species
Oct 15, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: litcrit
You never know quite where you are with John Fowles: either he is opening one plot trapdoor after another beneath your feet (The Magus), or he is messing with your willing suspension of disbelief (The French Lieutenant's Woman), or he is doing something else that throws some other assumption of yours into question. And this little book is no different. He has written a book about nature and art that, without ever quite saying so explicitly, asserts that any review or critical assessment of his b ...more
Jan 07, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I *should* have liked this book but I made the mistake of reading it almost immediately after reading American Eden by Victoria Johnson, a book about David Hosack and botany in the early United States. That book left me with something of a reverence for the work of botanists, which Fowles seemed to try to trash very early on in this book. So I think I missed his point, and I found it hard to focus on a lot of what he was saying in The Tree. I think wilderness is incredibly important, I agree tha ...more
Jun 20, 2011 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Ummm, okay. It was on sale.
A tribute to nature, especially woods and their influence on art, literature and last but not least, the author himself.
Mar 29, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
What a gem! Mr. Fowles does not disappoint.
Some of my favourite quotes:

"The modern version of hell is purposelessness."

"Almost all the richness of our personal existence derives from the synthetic and eternally present 'confused' consciousness of both internal and external reality, and not least becsuse we know it is beyond the analytical, or destructive, capacity of science."

"Achieving a relationship with nature is both a science and an art, beyond mere knowledge or mere feeling alone; [...] T
Roshni Sahoo
Aug 04, 2019 rated it really liked it
spending a summer in nyc has made me miss trees and nature a lot :(

Beyond the meditation on the relationship between humans and nature, there are also tidbits of wisdom on mindfulness and being present.

I feel that I can learn from a lot of the ideas in this essay... it comments on the idea that people are constantly looking for purpose in everything external to us and everything we do. Fowles suggests that there is value in being lost and having no plan.

some quotes

(in response to putting nature
Jul 20, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
After reading this I just want to go out to a forest and just sit. Feel a minimal breeze on my face while the trees breathe and live their lives to their fullest extent.

Gorgeous. Thoughtful. Dreamlike.
Carl R.
Apr 15, 2013 rated it it was amazing
It would be a violation of The Tree to do much analysis of John Fowles’ wonderful paean to the natural world. The unpruned, unespalliered, untended, natural world. Let the man speak for himself on the subject.

"It [the uncultivated copse] can be known and entered only by each, and in its now; not by you through me, by any you through any me; only by you through yourself, or me through myself. We still have this to learn: the inalienable otherness of each, human and non-human, which may seem the p
Steve Turtell
Oct 03, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I didn't ever think I'd find a suitable explanation for the feeling I have about trees—but I have, and it's in this magical book.

"The artist's experience here is only a special—unusually prolonged and self-conscious—case of the universal individual one. The return to the green chaos, the deep forest and refuge of the unconscious is a nightly phenomenon, and one that psychiatrists—and torturers—tell us is essential to the human mind. Without it, it disintegrates and goes mad. If I cherish trees
Jun 29, 2013 rated it really liked it
'No religion is the only religion, no church the true church; and natural religion, rooted in love of nature, is no exception. But in all the long-cultivated and economically exploited lands of the world our woodlands are the last fragments of comparatively unadulterated nature, and so the most accessible outward correlatives and providers of the relationship, the feeling, the knowledge that we are in danger of losing; the last green churches and chapels outside the walled civilization and cultu ...more
I liked The Tree a great deal, but struggle to rate it (so I'll politely decline) because it's really more of an essay than a book - there isn't really time for it to become weighty or engrossing enough to pick apart (I think Fowles would take that as a compliment). Nevertheless, there are a lot of memorable insights in these pages, all thoughtful and sharply written. I very much connected with some of Fowles's musings, on the old cultivation vs. wild battle, on the alluring mysteries of forests ...more
May 05, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Somehow I don’t think I’ve read a book like this before. I want more such musings on the creation of art, the ultrahumanity of nature, and the limits of scientific thought. Or maybe I’ll just read it again. Some favorite quotes below.

“If some intelligence one day looks back at us, it may determine it was not toolmaking that set us apart, or even our sense of irony, which allows us to live with paradox, but our capacity for metaphor[.]” (Introduction, page xiii)

“One is thankful for a gifted write
Jul 07, 2014 rated it liked it
Thoughtful but not really as deep as advertised
Sep 12, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This essay on the relationship between nature and man begins with an account of the author's father, who kept carefully pruned fruit trees and preferred nature constrained and, above all, useful. The son, John Fowles, rejects this utterly. He argues against any kind of 'purposive' relation with the natural world. Accordingly, even scientific study can be a problem, if it treats nature as a puzzle to be solved. He also rejects seeing nature as 'therapy, a free clinic for admirers of their own sen ...more
Aug 06, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: to-live-with
A beautiful, wonderful book.

Philosophically, of its time (late 1970s), with deep contempt for the convulses of science and concern for our lack of attention to the ‘organic whole’ (my words, not his).

Fowles is quite aligned with his contemporary Hannah Arendt’s parallel complaints about social science and her desire to protect the notion of human action as uniquely unpredictable and unfathomable. Fowles is concerned with the hard sciences and their reduction of the natural world. He seeks to p
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John Robert Fowles was born in Leigh-on-Sea, a small town in Essex. He recalled the English suburban culture of the 1930s as oppressively conformist and his family life as intensely conventional. Of his childhood, Fowles said "I have tried to escape ever since."

Fowles attended Bedford School, a large boarding school designed to prepare boys for university, from ages 13 to 18. After briefly attendi

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“The evolution of human mentality has put us all in vitro now, behind the glass wall of our own ingenuity.” 15 likes
“Even the simplest knowledge of the names and habits of flowers or trees starts this distinguishing or individuating process, and removes us a step from total reality towards anthropocentrism.” 3 likes
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