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Urban Forests: A Natural History of Trees in the American Cityscape

3.89  ·  Rating details ·  154 ratings  ·  40 reviews
A celebration of urban trees and the Americans—presidents, plant explorers, visionaries, citizen activists, scientists, nurserymen, and tree nerds—whose arboreal passions have shaped and ornamented the nation’s cities, from Jefferson’s day to the present
Nature’s largest and longest-lived creations, trees play an extraordinarily important role in our cityscapes, living landma/>
Hardcover, 394 pages
Published September 27th 2016 by Viking
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Average rating 3.89  · 
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I found this book (while jumpy and sometimes slow moving) just the inspiration I needed. Reading about the rabble-rousy, seat-of-the-pants rise of Tree People in LA and how Boy Scouts were leveraged to bring back the American Elm made my heart swell and reflect on how I can make a difference in my own stick-to-the-rules no-budget urban forest. (Imma start MillionTreesBoston!)
Jun 16, 2017 rated it liked it
Fascinating information but poorly organized - jumped around from topic to topic with no coherent timeline or subject categorization. In many places, would have appreciated additional information about WHY something was happening, rather than a mere reporting it did happen. Four stars for information on urban forestry; two stars for the writing.
Andrew Blok
Mar 26, 2019 rated it liked it
Here's a book that accomplished a few things for me that I hadn't been doing: learning about chestnut blight, Dutch elm disease and the infestations of borers that are killing trees across America. It was also cool to learn about the huge efforts that have gone in to making American urban forests healthy and the mistakes that have been made along the way. This book is obviously resting on a fortress's foundation of research and I certainly didn't feel like I was walking away with any major gaps ...more
Phuong Q. Le
Jan 23, 2019 rated it liked it
Great information but the story telling is weak, slow, unnecessarily lengthy and disorganized. I didn't finish this book since I felt like I was reading entries from an encyclopedia.
Feb 24, 2017 rated it it was amazing
For tree lovers, this book reads like part thriller: horror and dread as the author details the loss of millions of American trees over the past century, most notably the American chestnut, elm and ash as foreign invaders decimated our tree canopy.
But then we have a call to action as the book enables you to see the empty (and as the book details, health-impacting) urban spaces as potential spaces for tree planting. And each citizen must get involved, watering their trees, advocating for trees a
Nov 02, 2016 rated it really liked it
Urban History is a brilliant study of the role of trees in the American city. Jill Jonnes weaves together the narratives of the dedicated people, the diverse species, and the invasive pests that have shaped urban forestry since the Revolutionary era. At times depressing, as it follows the loss of the American Chestnut and rise of Dutch Elm Disease, the work is also uplifting with its look at the scientists and activists who have changed our understanding of the benefits of urban forestry. Jonnes ...more
Urban Forests is a great study of the role of trees in US cities. Jill Jonnes weaves together the narratives of the dedicated people, the diverse species, and the invasive pests that have shaped urban forestry since the Revolutionary era. At times it can be depressing as it goes though the loss of the American Chestnut and rise of Dutch Elm Disease. But it can be uplifting with its look a the scientists and activists who have changed our understanding of the benefits of urban forestry and battle ...more
Jun 14, 2017 rated it really liked it
A nonfiction book that describes itself as "a passionate, wide-ranging, and fascinating natural history of the tree in American cities over the course of the past two centuries". I'm about to take issue with that blurb, but first I want to say that I did enjoy reading it.

My main complaint about this book is that it's not particularly focused on urban forests. Out of 21 chapters, one is about the canker than killed off the American Chestnut, four are on Dutch Elm Disease, one on the Emeral
Apr 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction
I have always loved trees, and this book made me want to plant more and more! "Trees--the noblest and proudest drapery that sets off the figure of our fair planet," wrote Andrew Jackson Downing in 1846, the Martha Stewart of the day when it came to landscapes. From the beloved Arnold Arboretum in Boston to the epic battles to save the Chestnut to quantifying tree benefits, this book is inspiring. The city that has done the most to keep their canopy? NYC.

And of course, as the author notes, the m
Jan 28, 2019 rated it really liked it
I bought this book without recommendation from a remainder store. It is a single topic nonfiction, in this case Urban Forests in the United States. Its got a lot of the topics I expected. The death of the Chestnut. The Death of the Elm. The discovery of the Dawn Redwood. But it also had the growth of arboretums and the economic valuation of an urban tree. And history around major figures and companies in Urban Forests. And somewhere in this somewhat sprawling somewhat disorganized and un-directe ...more
Jan 13, 2017 rated it really liked it
Well written and engaging book on urban forestry that revealed a lot of history that I wasn't familiar with. One key take-away, and cause for sadness given the current political situation is the importance of data-driven analysis and research to the preservation of our quality of life. Trees matter, and it's been a long battle to try to integrate our need for cities with our need for nature. Among the weird revelations for me was that George Bush was instrumental in funding this research, raisin ...more
Sep 04, 2018 rated it really liked it
I enjoyed this book. It relates the history of our urban forestry movement from the earliest days to around 2014. Urban Forestry, Green Infrastructure, Urban Ecology, Ecological Landscaping, etc. all have evolved since this book was written. These fields are evolving fast as the world realizes that urbanization is the new global reality. The book spent a lot of time on the various diseases and pests that have devastated our forests (e.g. Chestnut blight, Dutch Elm disease, Emerald Ash Borer, Asi ...more
May 04, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Picked this book up after a visit to DC's tidal basin and learning the history of the cherry trees. It sat on my shelf for almost 3 years, and I'm kicking myself that I waited so long to read it because it is fascinating! The stories are woven together with the incredible people who made sure we weren't going to live in a concrete jungle, and those that fight in the background to keep our trees healthy and vibrant. So many of the stories hit home - loss of the elm, then the ash, and the amazing ...more
Feb 11, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This is a good, readable history of tree activism over time. If you want to understand the great losses we have had of important American trees such as the chestnut and elm, this is an excellent first source. But beyond history, Jonnes shows how the human hope and energy applied in the past can help us move forward with the monumental new problems we face including invasive insects and climate change.
Mar 10, 2019 rated it it was ok
I love trees and this is a near and dear topic to me. I've been preaching planting replacement trees in cities long before I became a master gardener a decade ago. I wanted to love this book. But, I felt there was something "uneven" about it. Some chapters held my attention. Others were a long and boring drag. I kept putting it down. People who know me know that I can read a book every three days. The fact that this one took a month for me to finish is almost unheard of in my life.

Aug 10, 2017 rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2017
An interesting topic, and I particularly enjoyed the first half of this book which focused on early urban forestry in the U.S. But this book was poorly organized and given the sometimes dense amount of information that was presented, it eventually became a distraction and difficult to keep track of the places and the people. Unfortunately, I think this did a disservice to the brilliant pioneers of Urban Forestry in the latter half of the 20th century and into 21st century as well.
Dec 23, 2017 marked it as never-finished
I find this book fascinating; however, it is extremely difficult to read specifically not due to the authorship, but due to the font, the layout of said font, and the paper it is printed on. I would enjoy reading this much easier if the layout/font/paper had been picked for legibility. Having a flush right margin makes any book/magazine article/essay difficult to read...
Dec 10, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: urbanism
A collection of essays that provide an overview of the urban street tree, and more importantly the pests that assault them.

Informative, without a doubt, but it left me wondering about what can and will be done about so many of the pests. Are we screwed from globalization or will our trees and practices evolve?
How did Dutch Elm disease come to America and how did people figure out how to save American Elm trees? This is the story of trees that died, trees that survive, trees that inspire, and the people who work to save them and honor them.
Also, what do urban trees do for a city.
Well told. Satisfied my inner nerd.
Christine Kenney
Jul 26, 2017 rated it it was ok
Interesting content, but slow moving and disjointed transitions. Instead of chronological order, this would have been easier to follow if it was organized by topic, i.e. "global plant collections," "invasive pests," "diseases," "involvement of USDA," "cost benefit analysis for urban forestry projects," "trees as memorials," etc.
Aug 01, 2018 rated it really liked it
Great! I learned a great deal about America history and ecology--and discovered Woodlands Cemetery in my backyard into the bargain. Inspires one by the end to want to go out and get involved in tree research and urban greening.
Jan 28, 2019 rated it really liked it
My review is as someone who really likes trees- an average person would probably not love this book. Its a good history of tree exploration around the world, tree planting in the USA, and different tree diseases and pests, as well as conservation efforts.
Anna Wright
Jul 03, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I’m biased, because I love learning about urban forestry. I also loved this book! The writing was engaging and accessible, and the reader learned the complex history of how humans, trees, and plant diseases interacted to shape the urban forests we see in US cities today.
Mar 17, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This book provides a deep history of trees and preservation here in the US since our founding when alarmed citizens recognized the importance of our forests and starting new planting in earnest. It explores the popularity of certain species in the cityscape and their downfalls due to plight. It nicely covers Arbor Day from inception to today. ~ very informative.
Joni Metcalf-Kemp
Jun 13, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Really reads like fiction for people who like trees. Hard to believe how many times we can screw up on a large scale.
Came away from this on a mission to restore what I can of the urban canopy that has been lost—and with resources to start.
Gail Kennon
i was disappointed and's an incoherent, rambling tour of people and tree and pests mostly and we learn the fashion choices and childhoods of far too many of these dumps galore and stories broken up and revisted only to be left dangling.
Nov 27, 2017 rated it really liked it
If you geek out over urbanism and environmentalism, these collection of essays is for you.
it's also a chronology of how our city planners and policy makers discovered the value of the urban tree canopy and green space.
Nov 18, 2018 rated it really liked it
Excellent look at urban trees and their importance in society.
May 29, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: planning
Pretty good overview of the recovery of trees and species of trees in the urban environment. Nothing thrilling or engrossing, but a good overall summary with some well researched details.
Dec 08, 2016 rated it really liked it
A couple dozen essays here, with the early ones discussing histories and appreciations of urban trees while later chapters explore the science and value of trees in the city.

As a Chicago kid, our school made an annual trip to the Morton Arboretum, twenty-five miles west of the city. I kept the tree field guide for kids. So, it was great fun to read a fourteen-page chapter here discussing arboretums.

John Morton, the son of the Arbor Day founder, founded Morton Salt in Chicago. With his money, h
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