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The Long, Long Life of Trees

3.87  ·  Rating details ·  222 ratings  ·  43 reviews
A lyrical tribute to the diversity of trees, their physical beauty, their special characteristics and uses, and their ever-evolving meanings

Since the beginnings of history trees have served humankind in countless useful ways, but our relationship with trees has many dimensions beyond mere practicality. Trees are so entwined with human experience that diverse species have i
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Hardcover, 296 pages
Published August 16th 2016 by Yale University Press
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Average rating 3.87  · 
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Paul
Dec 20, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Even as I look out of my office window I can see five trees in the immediate vicinity. Two are apple trees in my front garden and there are three small trees across the road on the public space. Along with our feather friends, they are still a part of the natural world that you can still see every day, even in a city; hence why we still feel a deep connection to them and the responses to them being removed in Sheffield from the streets. It is these connections that are deep within our subconscio ...more
Melora
Nov 29, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: science-ish, essays

A catalog of trees, each entry detailing folklore, myth, science, history, and social custom related to each tree. Seventeen trees are covered, beginning with Yew and ending with Apple (they were not arranged in any order I could discern), and generous black and white illustrations added much to my enjoyment. Stafford's style is appealing, and the stories of each tree are sprinkled with amusing anecdotes and selections from literature and poetry. One minor problem for me was that there is a cert
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Jason
Sep 30, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-in-2016
I love looking at trees they can be so majestic at times. I'm quite lucky in that my place at work has some nice grounds with a wide range of trees available to see, some are hundreds of years old, we even have a couple of oaks where the trunks are nearly 2m in diameter. I'm always checking them out looking for places to build a treehouse...once I figure out how to get work to authorise that as my new office. We have one tree, I've no idea what type it is but it's in the middle of a meadow on it ...more
Leah
Suffering from misleading blurb syndrome...

In her short introduction Stafford tells us of her life-long love for trees, and discusses the place they have held through the generations in myth and art. She points to the ambivalence of our attitude towards trees: our love, occasionally even worship, of them contrasting with our continuing destruction of forests. Some of the language she uses is lovely - evocative, lyrical even.

The book then takes the format of a short chapter per species of tree. W
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Kirsty
Oct 06, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: october-2016, kindle
Whilst it is a genre which I perhaps do not read much, I love nature writing, and Fiona Stafford’s The Long, Long Life of Trees felt to me like the perfect autumnal read. Here, the Oxford University lecturer presents ‘a lyrical tribute to the diversity of trees, their physical beauty, their special characteristics and uses, and their ever-evolving meanings’. I had never read a book which was purely about trees before I came to this one, aside from, I suppose, Sarah Maitland’s Gossip from the For ...more
Jennifer Rundlett
Jul 29, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I'm loving this book. Every chapter is filled with a treasure trove of wonderful little tidbits that you can explore further. A myriad of facts, along with historical connections to how these magnificent trees influence our lives. A perfect gift for those who love literary connections to the garden.
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Serena
Dec 08, 2020 marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Fiona Stafford did a BBC essay on The Meaning of Trees of which there is only nine episodes you can currently listen to for free. But there's also all of Composers and Their Dogs & The Meaning of Beaches to currently listen to for free, five episodes each. ...more
Mary Alice
Nov 29, 2017 rated it did not like it
The library classification number, placing this book in mythology, is more informative than the title. This book is disappointingly more about myths than about trees. It is more about what people think of particular trees than about the trees themselves. Sometimes Stafford doesn’t even provide the scientific name of the tree, as in the chapters on “Ash” and “Sycamore.” Often the reader doesn’t get the true name of the tree until several pages into the chapter, as with the “Rowan” where it takes ...more
Ryan
Dec 14, 2018 rated it it was amazing
A pity this book is published by a University Press. It is the direct opposite of too many books these days: it makes ordinary things interesting and imparts much wisdom without any apparent effort. John McPhee would have been proud of this book.
Shonna Siegers
Dec 29, 2019 rated it really liked it
4.5 stars. I loved this book and all the info about specific trees and how they fit into human history and the human story. It was very euro/UK focused, which makes sense as the author is English. I wish that was advertised upfront. As I would have loved to hear about specific trees from other cultures that are iconic and what it has meant to those peoples. The Baobab trees of Africa, the Red Cedars the the native tribes of the PNW of N. America, specific rainforest trees in the Amazon etc... Ye ...more
Juliet Wilson
May 07, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nature
This is a beautifully produced book that focuses on a selection of tree species and looks at how we have used them and represented them in art through the years.

The trees are: yew, cherry, rowan, olive, cypress, oak, ash, poplar, holly, sycamore, birch, horse chestnut, elm, willow, hawthorn, pine, apple.

The long introduction to the volume gives an overview of the human relationship with trees, with this very timely and relevant paragraph catching my eye:

'It is often only when local trees are
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Rae
Jun 04, 2020 rated it really liked it
A lovingly rendered brief history of various trees - The Long, Long Life of Trees is an educational love letter to the trees of England. While not from England, I still felt myself connected to various trees and was surprised to learn of their personal lores. A nature filled balm for a stressful time.
Michael Greer
Dec 30, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Why read this wonderful book? Odd question, because to say it's wonderful would be a recommendation. It's less important to read this book than to do what the author herself suggests the purpose can be for the reader: "If anyone reading this book is moved to put it down and go in search of a tree or a spade, it will have done its work." (19)

"I have always felt suffocated after too much time indoors"(4)

This is a problem readers face because the habit of reading in the park has disappeared. Most p
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Karen
Dec 27, 2017 rated it really liked it
I picked up this book because I have a friend who is very interested in trees, thinking it might be a good thing to give him as a gift. It is a collection of short pieces, essays really, each covering the natural and social history of a specific tree. I didn't read every chapter, but only the ones that particularly interested me. The author is British, so many of the stories focus on trees found in Britain, but she does a good job describing trees from all over the world. It is well written and ...more
Anna
Feb 25, 2020 rated it really liked it
I was given this book as a 2019 Christmas gift. I was surprised at how much I enjoyed it as I'm not a huge consumer of non fiction. I was having a difficult time over Christmas and found this to be a comforting read. I'm a nature lover so the subject matter was right up my street. The author, according to the blurb, is a professor of English at the University of Oxford. I wish I'd had her a my tutor when I was studying. Her style brought the subject to life for me. The mix of historical and envi ...more
Ben
Oct 24, 2017 rated it really liked it
Fiona Stafford, like me, is a literature student with an amateur interest in trees. Unlike me, she's taken both interests further. She teaches literature at Oxford and has written this wonderful book about trees. The book is made up of 17 chapters, each devoted to a different species of tree, delving into their scientific, medical, literary, religious, mythical and conservation aspects. The writing is very good. At a time when trees all over the world face unprecedented threats from invasive fun ...more
Colin
It's so easy to take trees for granted; they are all around, always have been and (hopefully) always will be. Reading this book does make you look at them from a new perspective though. Shortish chapters on seventeen familiar trees (most of them commonly seen in British woodlands or hedgerows) cover their origins, uses, life cycles, and the ample history and folklore attached to each. The book has its roots in a series of fifteen-minute radio talks, and there's still a distinct flavour of a slig ...more
Mackay
A wonderfully illustrated volume about various kinds of trees. There isn't really any overarching theme to the whole, because Stafford delves more deeply into the folklore of certain species or more deeply into their role in human development or her personal attachment... However, it is a sweet book to read, a chapter here, a chapter there, rather than all in one go. The writing is deft and, as stated, the illustrations are lovely. ...more
Ilana
Mar 18, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, 2017
A sweet and light read about the history of modern trees. It was very relaxing to read and the formula of the chapters was fun and light without being frivolous. The only thing I would say is that as an American reader, not every reference made entire sense to me, but I did still enjoy it quite a bit.
Fran Payne
Nov 12, 2017 rated it really liked it
A fascinating book written with a lyricism and genuine love for its subject. Baffled by previous descriptions of “workmanlike” prose - the language is beautiful and while there’s a slight formula to each chapter, that’s necessary to control what could otherwise be a sprawling and limitless piece of writing. This is accessible and interesting, and I’ve learned a huge amount from it.
Shawn
Jul 30, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science, history
Largely limited to Great Britain, although there are some references to North American species and varieties. And focuses almost exclusively on the social significance of the trees selected, whether that be religious/mythological, historical, agricultural or other. Interesting for what it is, but I would have liked more botanical information in addition.
Molly Tr
Mar 09, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: favorites
What a beautiful ode to trees. Stafford has a remarkable way with words and her love of our arboreal neighbors shines through in every sentence. I sincerely appreciated the history she presents us with but also the emotion and appreciation for trees that she shares with us readers. This is a lovely book for naturalists, historians, and readers with eclectic tastes!
Tamara Zann
May 05, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I read this book over the course of two years. That does not mean I found it hard to read but rather, there were so many fascinating stories and details about various trees I had to stop and write down ideas that rose from this book. A well written book that I recommend to anyone even vaguely interested in trees and tree lore.
Jennifer
May 09, 2020 rated it really liked it
Who here needs some nice easy gentle armchair traveling with a nature bent? If so pick this one up. Just an FYI the trees of this books are very much of the UK variety so don't expect an exhaustive world tour of trees. What does recommend this book though is that Fiona Stafford has a lovely writing voice that is full of admiration for trees. ...more
Lindsay Barnard
May 14, 2020 rated it it was amazing
If you a tree fanatic like me you'll love this book which is a mix of history ecology, art, folklore and religion. Fiona explores seventeen species of trees that have inspired stories, songs, paintings, poems, etc.
Entertaining and full of fascinating information which must have taken a lot of research. I read a chapter a day during my tea/coffee break...
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Colin Myles
May 20, 2017 rated it really liked it
A beautiful read to dip into one chapter at a time. With the long lazy summer days ahead this is a delightful book to have by your side as you enjoy the sun and your garden. Lovely mix of botanical and folklore of each tree.
Rachel
Jun 03, 2017 rated it really liked it
I read this mainly because the author was my tutor at university. I can see how it would have worked as a radio programme. I found it a bit bitty as a book though. A bit of a mishmash between the literary side of trees and the botanical side - I'd have preferred more of either one or the other. ...more
Lisa
May 12, 2018 rated it really liked it
Some fascinating facts and anecdotes and such a book makes me want to go and buy more trees to plant. I was especially interested in the chapter on holly which talked about the amount of hedgerows destroyed so that industrial farms could spread out across the UK - very sad.
Chris Shepheard
Aug 05, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A good book, slightly difficult to get into to start with but well worth persevering. Within there is a wealth of information on the history of major tree species, their influence on art and literature and what they can do for us from use as medicine to commercial timber.
Josh
Nov 27, 2016 rated it really liked it
Absolutely delightful, even if you have just a passing interest in things arboreal. Great mix of science, literature, symbolism.
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Professor Fiona Stafford is a Fellow of the British Academy and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. She works on literature of the Romantic period, especially Austen, Burns, Clare, Keats, Wordsworth and Coleridge, and on their literary influences on modern poetry. Her research interests also include late eighteenth and early nineteenth-century culture; Irish and Scottish literature (post 1 ...more

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