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The Songs of Trees: Stories from Nature's Great Connectors

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The author of the Pulitzer Prize finalist The Forest Unseen visits with nature s most magnificent networkers trees
David Haskell s award-winning The Forest Unseen won acclaim for eloquent writing and deep engagement with the natural world. Now, Haskell brings his powers of observation to the biological networks that surround all species, including humans.
Haskell repeatedly visits a dozen trees around the world, exploring the trees connections with webs of fungi, bacterial communities, cooperative and destructive animals, and other plants. An Amazonian ceibo tree reveals the rich ecological turmoil of the tropical forest, along with threats from expanding oil fields. Thousands of miles away, the roots of a balsam fir in Canada survive in poor soil only with the help of fungal partners. These links are nearly two billion years old: the fir s roots cling to rocks containing fossils of the first networked cells.
By unearthing charcoal left by Ice Age humans and petrified redwoods in the Rocky Mountains, Haskell shows how the Earth s climate has emerged from exchanges among trees, soil communities, and the atmosphere. Now humans have transformed these networks, powering our societies with wood, tending some forests, but destroying others. Haskell also attends to trees in places where humans seem to have subdued nature a pear tree on a Manhattan sidewalk, an olive tree in Jerusalem, a Japanese bonsai demonstrating that wildness permeates every location.
Every living being is not only sustained by biological connections, but is made from these relationships. Haskell shows that this networked view of life enriches our understanding of biology, human nature, and ethics. When we listen to trees, nature s great connectors, we learn how to inhabit the relationships that give life its source, substance, and beauty."

304 pages, Hardcover

First published April 4, 2017

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About the author

David George Haskell

5 books211 followers
David George Haskell is an British-born American biologist, author, and professor of biology at Sewanee: The University of the South, in Sewanee, Tennessee.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 242 reviews
Profile Image for Jessaka.
853 reviews101 followers
January 9, 2023
“A man who lives and dies in the woods knows the secret life of trees.” ~~Chief Dan George

When I read this book my mind went back to this quote by Dan George, and i wondered what it means to know the secret life of trees.

This last autumn when i was walking in the woods i heard the leaves on the trees fall. I wrote this about it:

“Today when I walked through the woods
the leaves were falling, and for the first time
that I could ever remember
I actually heard them fall.

They fell like paper rain on the forest floor,
and I thought that Mother Earth had heard them too,
but then I realized that maybe she weeps too loudly
these days and probably doesn't hear anything
other than the sounds of her own pain.”

This book is also about the pain that Mother Earth is feeling. And sometimes I don’t know how to contain my own grief for all that we have lost and are still losing.

When I reflected on the title of this book I thought:

The creator sang songs to bring the universe into existence, and one of these songs brought the trees,
In turn the trees now sing their own songs.
Man was also given his own songs
but many have forgotten them,
one in particular,
the one of the song of the earth.

“She learned to listen to plants, to hear what they offered to humans. Every tree is a living person, with speech. Ceibo represents all plant life; you cannot listen to “one” tree, there is no one tree living alone. She listens as she walks; she listens as the plants speak in her dreams. Our dreams are attached to the roots of plants, big and small, and to our ancestors.”

As Dan George knew. She knows also.

Note: I wish to thank the author for writing this book. It is one that I will cherish and read again and again. I also wish to thank NetGalley for giving it to me to read.

Profile Image for Rhonda Riley.
Author 1 book137 followers
August 12, 2017
This book isn't about trees--or not just trees. There is much much more--nature, us, philosophy, ethics, spirituality. And some lovely, lovely writing. Read it slowly. Then go take a walk in the woods. My favorite passage, the passage I copied and hung by my study door: "We're all--trees, humans, insects, birds, bacteria--pluralities. Life is embodied network. These living networks are not places of omnibenevolent Oneness. Instead, they are where ecological and evolutionary tensions between cooperation and conflict are negotiated and resolved. These struggles often result not in the evolution of stronger, more disconnected selves but in the dissolution of the self into relationsthip." The book is also chock full of details and beautiful writing. In discussing birds that hide the seeds of particular tree and inevitable forgets where they hid some of them thus "planting" them, he says, "Bird memories are therefore a tree's dream of the future."
Profile Image for Jenny.
890 reviews87 followers
May 13, 2020
I had a book about trees on my TBR. It hadn't come out yet, but I was willing to wait. Then, when it did come out, it was more expensive than I was willing to pay. I decided to keep waiting. I was out with my sister one night at a place called Rough Draft, which is a bakery that serves beer and sells books at the same time. They have comfortable couches and chairs along with tables, and the bookshelves literally line the entire place. There are books under the snack counter and the taps. There are books under the windows and on shelves separating seating areas. In short, it's the perfect place. I had to buy books while I was there even though I almost never buy new books anymore. I saw the title of this, The Songs of Trees, and immediately grabbed it from the shelf. I love trees, and I've been wanting to read a book about trees, and voila. So, I bought it and ended up reading it with my dad.

Haskell's thesis is, basically, that humans and trees are equally parts of nature, and that thinking we're separate, in other words, seeing trees as Others, leads to disrespect; if we view ourselves in connection, relationship, and community with the trees, as we really are, we will be appreciative of what they do for us and the planet, and we will respect them rather than take them for granted. Haskell makes the point that people who think humans are a blight on the earth and should be removed don't really get it. Humans are part of nature as much as animals and trees are. We can't remove humans without disrupting nature even further. If you believe that humans and nature have the same Creator, as I do, or if you believe that humans evolved from the same single-cell organisms as animals and plants did, as Haskell does, then, it makes no sense to consider humans and nature as separate, whether you believe that way to argue that humans rule over nature or that humans, as separate entities, have destroyed nature. Haskell essentially says that humans=nature; therefore, nature is destroying nature, which is natural. Haskell doesn't say that humans should destroy nature or that we're justified in doing so. He argues, instead, that when humans accept the oneness, they should and will want to live harmoniously with nature because we're all connected through common origins.

Haskell proves his thesis beautifully with examples of specific types of trees from all over the world. I enjoyed the structure of this book. Haskell starts with a tree and a place, and then, he expands the scope in each chapter, focusing on community and humanity's interactions with the tree. I learned a lot from this book, and it proved even further how amazing trees are and encouraged me to love them more than I already do.

My favorite sections were those on the ponderosa pine and a separate chapter on the cottonwood but both in Colorado, the pear tree in Manhattan, the ceibo tree in Ecuador, the olive tree in Jerusalem, and the sabal palm on an island off the coast of Georgia. Haskell covers everything from indigenous cultures to the "philosophies of nature that reveled in the imagined supremacy of whiteness and masculinity" and "geographies of fear" to the Ice Ages, how trees take in light and water, trees' roots, war, fire, pollution, and almost anything else you can imagine. This book is "about" trees, but it's about so much more than trees.

I learned:
the ceibo tree is HUGE. it literally contains its own ecosystem.
nature is not accessible to everyone. people of color and women feel less safe in nature than white men, to whom, at least in America, the promise of nature's freedom is more directed. i learned about The Green Book, which I didn't even know existed and wish I still didn't, honestly.
i learned that the olive tree is durable and can last with minimal water and thrive.
i learned that trees i thought were strong and stable, like oaks and maples, aren't nearly as strong as trees like the pear in Manhattan, which has to be stronger to withstand the movement from subways and cars. the oak could never survive on a Manhattan sidewalk because it's weaker. the olive tree is enduring because it's adaptable.
the climate has varied so much more than I even knew and expected, and the earth has gone through many more cycles than I realized.
the history of the earth and of life on earth is layered, intricate, beautiful, and mysterious.
trees' branches grow in such a way as to get equal sunlight as other branches. they basically try not to overlap each other, so they all have access. their roots drink in water from the ground and pass the water up through the trees. leaves change shape throughout the day, depending on how much sunlight and water they get. many trees get much less water from rain than they need. they get it from the ground and store it well.
many cultures, like the indigenous peoples in Ecuador and the Japanese, get the interconnectivity of all life, not just human life. they don't think of trees as Other. they think of trees as part of the harmony.
people in Manhattan care much more about trees than I thought, and trees change so much more about so much more than I realized. planting trees in Manhattan improves air quality, reduces pollution, helps with noise, etc. it's amazing.
microbes are much more important than I thought, even after reading I Contain Multitudes: The Microbes Within Us and a Grander View of Life.

There's more, but this is already too long. I highly recommend this book. It taught me a lot about history, geography, people, nature, and relationships. It didn't teach me much about sound, but it did teach me that everything makes noise and that noise matters.

End of actual review, but read if you're interested in more thoughts:

This book is about sounds. Every page rings with auditory delights. Reading this book aloud to my dad was difficult, though, because Haskell's syntax is often irregular, his word choice unusual, his punctuation erratic.
Here is an example:
"To better understand the cottonwood in Denver, I followed the South Platte just over one hundred kilometers upstream, to Eleven Mile Canyon in the mountains. On a late summer afternoon, a young American dipper stands on a granite boulder in the river's headwaters and shrills a repeated, jabbing note. The bird's parent toad-climbs from a water's tumult, feathers shedding mercurial liquid, and twists a clump of mayfly nymphs into the squalling youngster's beak. The begging recommences before the adult has time to turn and submerge, grip footed, to its work on the river bottom. The dipper needs its crampon feet and fin-like wings. Here the South Platte guns through its raceway of a billion-year-old granite, a teenage river on a smash, ram, and whomp of a run from its elderly parents. The ruckus jams all sound from ponderosa or willow. Only the newly fledged dipper outbawls the river, the bird's call a high note vaulting the water's roar. Late summer's fecundity is all around. On the meadows that tumble down slopes to the water's edge, mule deer does browse in the company of their brawny offspring, now outgrown the spots of fawnhood. A merganser duck sits with her brood next to a water riffle below the bouldery rapids. Seed-fat grass heads line the trails; canyon walls droop with cones. In air spice with pine and river spray, the only sounds are of birds, water, and wind..."

Another example:
"Sounds from people mingle unpredictably with the plant and animal sounds. Airplanes pass, smearing the air with growls. Hikers tromp, crunching petrified tree fragments underfoot. At the Big Stump amblers pause and comment on the fossilized tree's girth. Cameras shoot the ack ack of their pixel flak at the stump, the ponderosa trees, the meadow, then the gunners stride away. A wood chipper growls and clanks at the visitor parking lot, the sound of land management by the Park Service. Hoping to forestall a fire, the rangers have thinned a piney hillside and hauled trunks and branches out of the forest. Wood and metal clash in the grinder, Ariel screams in the fast-striking mill wheels, and a spew of lacerated wood accumulates in a steaming pile, a modern Big Stump."

You can see that Haskell's writing is very detailed, expressive, and sonorous. I loved how I could almost hear the sounds he described. However, I often read sentences incorrectly with the wrong cadence and stresses because the expected rhythm of English prose didn't quite match the structure of Haskell's sentences, at least not for me. Try reading aloud and see if your tongue gets twisted too!
Profile Image for Lauren .
1,680 reviews2,291 followers
September 6, 2018
Haskell is a conscious observer and natural scientist. His earlier work, The Forest Unseen: A Year’s Watch in Nature, studied a small patch of land, his "mandala", over the course of one year. He observed the small changes, as well as the macro chages over the seasons. It was a fascinating look at the natural and cultural history of this particular forest scape.

In Song of Trees he takes this same attention and observation to several different kinds of trees in different locations all over the world:
- Ceibo tree in Ecuadorian rainforest
- Balsam Fir in Ontario, Canada
- Sabal Palm in Georgia, US
- Green Ash in Tennessee, US
- Hazel in Queensferry, Scotland
- Ponderosa Pine in Colorado, US
- Maple in Tennessee, US
- Cottonwood in Colorado, US
- Callery Pear in New York City, US
- Olive in Jerusalem
- Japanese White Pine in Japan
Instead of an exhaustive list of each tree and only its physical and biological descriptors, Haskell brings the integrated and holistic experience of this tree, in this space. His lyrical and flowing style, while still relying heavily on his scientific research, is a joy to read.

Trees, yes, animals and plants that live in/on/within/under/over them, yes. But also the cultural geography - who accesses this tree, do humans "use" this tree, does that define it? - the geologies that formed this tree in this space - the fires, the rivers, the glaciers.

This same conscientious writing dips into emergent fields of the geography of fear (do all people feel welcome in national parks? state parks? how do people interact with nature?), the movement ecology (humans as part of nature, not separate from it, and how humans traverse, interact, and live within this "nature"), urban forestry and ecology (trees, plants, animals in dense urban environs and the move to the cities).

There's so much to savor here. Highly recommended.
Profile Image for Renée.
Author 6 books34 followers
May 23, 2017
David George Haskell's "The Songs of Trees: Stories from Nature’s Great Connectors" has received much deserved attention. Haskell’s writing is deeply beautiful and infused with exceptional knowledge. Because of his unique skills as a writer and his knowledge of biology, Haskell makes connections understandable; he creates an ecological web that expresses the complexity and nuance of nature. Haskell makes all parts of the forest come alive, and he writes in ways that make humans feel part of earth’s vast ecology.

Also recommended: Haskell's "The Forest Unseen."

Read my review at Women Owning Woodlands:
Profile Image for Carl Zimmer.
Author 54 books1,462 followers
January 18, 2018
I'm a big fan of Haskell's work. Here's the blurb I gave for The Song of Trees:

"David Haskell does the impossible in The Song of Trees. He picks out a dozen trees around the world and inspects each one with the careful eye of a scientist. But from those observations, he produces a work of great poetry, showing how these trees are joined to the natural world around them, and to humanity as well."
Profile Image for Danielle Clode.
Author 17 books56 followers
May 19, 2017
This is one of the finest nature writing/science writing books I've read in a very long time. Beautifully written with exceptional knowledge - a finely crafted book that takes the time to express the full complexity of nature and science in a way that is both lyrical and enlightening. I can't recommend this book highly enough. My only regret is that he didn't include any Australian trees!
Profile Image for Dave.
167 reviews8 followers
February 4, 2018
I just love this little book! I've found many of the nature reads I've picked up in the past were either too clinical or occasionally New Agey. What Haskell does is pure magic. The prose is poetic, but not sappy. After reading a chapter, I'd go on a walk and everything seemed richer and more interesting.

You get twelve different snapshots of forest scenes: a balsam fir forest near Thunder Bay, Ontario, for example. If you were to walk through the scene, you would notice the hard, rocky ground with a thick mat of needles, the chickadees foraging for seeds, and the ever-present firs. Haskell opens your eyes to the underlying choreography between bird and tree, down to the complex chemical reactions that enable the trees to react to circumstances and interact with their surroundings: the niblings of a small critter causes the local production of bitter compounds that make new growth on that branch unpalatable; strong sunlight on one side of a fir branch causes the needles to point upward, allowing sunlight to reach the needles below; the communication channels between the roots of one tree and the microscopic fungal threads in the soil, send messages to surrounding trees, enabling them to adapt as well.

Haskell could be the next Bill Bryson. Once he opens your eyes to some of the intricacies of the local web, he then delves back into history to show how the geology and flora shaped mankind. For example, an evolutionary quirk enabled algae to extract iron from seawater; later, when those algae fossilized into the gunflint Chert formation, large erosion events washed that iron into band deposits that formed the iron range between Minnesota and Ontario.

The book is full of delightful little facts you probably can't help spouting in everyday conversation. For example, one of the main forces eroding coastal sand dunes is the stumbling climb of beetles - their tiny legs and occasional tumbles causing tiny avalanches, that over time, can push sand dunes inland and move the coast itself. Countering the slow march of the beetles is the sabal palm - occasionally taking root and anchoring the sand, eventually dropping seeds that root themselves, pushing the coast seaward. So the line between sea and land is a scrimmage between beetles and palm trees.
Profile Image for Ryan.
Author 1 book35 followers
June 30, 2017
Few writers can wax lyrical about the connections between various elements in nature quite like Haskell. Not only is he a biologist, he is also gifted with the talent to write creatively and evocatively. Whether it is the symbiosis of tree roots with underground networks of fungi, the different sounds raindrops make when hitting various parts of trees, or how the rumbling vibrations of the subway get modulated as they resonate up a street tree, this is lyrical prose at a high level. Yet, the author always blends the artistic with the scientific as we learn about the myriad connections trees have with their environment, be it other living creatures, the physical landscape and even the human/social links it has with the community it is in. It is this last aspect that makes it not merely a book strictly about natural history, but also involving discussions of social, cultural and historical backdrops to trees of a particular place and time. That said, it does lack the sharp focus and clarity of his earlier book The Forest Unseen: A Year’s Watch in Nature, which described the goings on around an individual tree through the four seasons. Rather this work is more whimsical and sometimes philosophical, as it weaved in disparate subjects from the writer's musings while observing his subjects around the world. Nonetheless, it was still an enjoyable read if approached with a mind open to a broader definition of what a 'science' book should be.
72 reviews
August 24, 2017
An excellent book that does a great job of emphasizing how interconnected nature really is and our place in it. His writing style is engaging and filled with nuggets of information about the world around us, whether in a city or in the wilderness.

It also made me rethink the idea of Wilderness Areas some when he makes the point that setting aside specific areas for "nature" results in us treating the rest of the world poorly.
Profile Image for Debbie Hill.
Author 8 books24 followers
July 22, 2017
Canadian sound poet Penn Kemp once told me, "if you want a poem to come alive, you need to add some sounds to your work". Author David George Haskell must also believe in the value of sounds because his non-fiction book The Songs of Trees is not only dense with biological and ecological facts (gleamed from extensive hands-on fieldwork and other research - 20 pages of bibliographic references) but it also pauses to leaf-flutter, tap-dance, and sing with poetic sounds and words. (I would love to read some of his poetry.) This is not a book to breeze through. Through his narrative (and entertaining style), Haskell takes the reader on a journey to over ten different varieties of trees. Sometimes, the material gets bogged down with too much detail for my liking. However, his reflection, insight, and love for his research makes him an excellent authority on this topic. The book is beautifully written and I highly recommend it for those who love to read about nature and for those who are still not convinced that nature is smarter than expected.
Profile Image for Layla ライラ.
252 reviews35 followers
February 17, 2022
I don’t have anything to review here, this book is just a treasure.
If you want to know what this book is all about, read the description for this book provided here on Goodreads, plus I’ll give you what’s written in the back of the cover (which describes everything):
“David Haskell has won acclaim for eloquent writing and deep engagement with the natural world. Now, he brings his powers of observation to the biological networks that surround all species, including humans. Haskell repeatedly visits dozen trees, exploring connections with people, microbes, fungi, and other plants and animals. He takes us to trees in cities (from Manhattan to Jerusalem), forests (Amazonian, North American, and boreal), and areas on the front lines of environmental change (eroding coastlines, burned mountainsides, and war zones). In each place he shows how human history, ecology, and well-being are intimately intertwined with the lives of trees.”
Profile Image for Dan Carey.
668 reviews11 followers
June 17, 2018
John Muir said, "When we try and pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe." Haskell's book is about how trees serve as a marvelous nexus that connects individual humans to one another and to other denizens of nature. (Haskell is adamant that humans and our machines not be thought of as "non-natural" or "outside of nature".) It builds upon themes from his prior book, The Forest Unseen, but indulges in some much more poetic writing that serves his purpose of reminding us of our attachments to all around us. For me, personally, Peter Wohlleben's The Hidden Life of Trees was a more profound awakening. But had I not run across that book first, it might have been The Song of Trees that opened my eyes to a greater awareness of the truth Muir wrote.
Profile Image for Alicia.
5,606 reviews103 followers
February 23, 2018
I wanted Lab Girl-type explanations and connections about the beauty of trees in nature, but what I got was a book I couldn't finish simply because of it's heaviness in subject.

Haskell clearly knows his stuff and uses his science and ecological background to write an ode to the trees in a way that I cannot understand nor appreciate. I wanted some natural wonder for a couch scientist like myself to appreciate the magic of these amazing things. Instead it was arduous to read and the connections with literal interpretations of the song of trees was a bit too much. So sadly, this was a DNF for me though I'm glad I attempted it.
36 reviews
December 21, 2022
"Bomen zijn de Plato's van het leven. Door hun Dialogen zijn zij van alle levende wezens het best in staat om esthetische en etische oordelen te vellen over schoonheid en het goede in de wereld."

Bij het lezen van de eerste bladzijden dacht ik: is een boek wel het juiste medium voor dit verhaal? Is een natuurdocumentaire niet geschikter om de bomen en hun hele biotoop in beeld te brengen? Haskell geeft zoveel details, beschrijft geuren, kleuren, geluiden en zelfs tactiele gewaarwordingen dat je haast naast hem aan de voet van (of zelfs in) de boom staat die hij onderzoekt.

De plot is van in het begin duidelijk: Haskell wil aantonen dat een scheiding tussen mens en natuur ridicuul is, net zoals je een boom niet los kan zien van de omgeving waar hij staat, de dieren die erin leven, het schimmelnetwerk aan de wortels en de ontelbare micro-organismen die we niet eens zien. We maken net als bomen allemaal deel uit van enorme netwerken die onlosmakelijk verbonden zijn.

Haskell vertrekt vanuit de boom maar verliest zich al snel in de wereld errond alsof hij een stream-of-consiousness roman schrijft. Hij gaat daarbij alle kanten uit, van de noodzakelijke menselijke verzorging van de olijfboom over filosofische beschouwingen over ethiek en esthetiek tot het racisme van Amerikaanse natuurgebieden. Die wijde scope van het boek is zijn sterkte maar ook zijn zwakte: het vraagt veel van een lezer om in elke gedachtengang helemaal mee te gaan om dan weer een alinea verder in een helemaal nieuwe beschouwing mee te moeten stappen.

Maar aan iedereen die ook maar een greintje liefde voor de natuur koestert: lees dit boek! De soms wat zweverige prekerigheid neem je er graag bij.
Profile Image for Minh.
298 reviews40 followers
June 10, 2021
Cây cối đã đứng đó như một hiện thân từ trong lịch sử. Những cây olive ở xứ Tiểu Á vừa là ngọn nguồn vừa là phế tích cho những kì địa chất đã qua. Những trầm tích phấn hoa bay qua Biển Chết báo hiệu một lịch sử dài của chính loài người. Từ cổ chí kim khi qua những kiến tạo địa chất cho đến nhân tạo hơn, trong cuộc chiến giữa Palestine và Israel hay quả bom nguyên tử biến Hiroshima thành bãi chiến địa; thì cây cối vẫn vững vàng, đứng đó, và ghi lại âm thầm trong mình một khúc hát riêng. Tường tận, bao quát mà đầy trữ tình; Khúc hát của cây là một tác phẩm lớn làm nên cuộc cách mạng về nhân tính, về sợi dây kết nối và hơn hết là vẻ đẹp của tự nhiên, để đặt ngang hàng với những tuyệt tác của Thoreau, Rachel Carson hay Aldo Leopold.

Haskell một cách tài tình với bộ não của một nhà khoa học trong giọng kể của một nhà thơ đã một lần nữa đi lại từ đầu, thức tỉnh, đánh bóng và làm rõ vai trò của loài Homo sapiens trong mạng lưới đầy phức tạp này. Haskell không phải là người tiên phong chỉ riêng trong việc lắng nghe cây cỏ; mà ông vươn xa hơn với tác phẩm này, để đến với những trường đoạn triết học, đạo đức, tôn giáo, chính trị… thông qua đời sống tự nhiên. Ở đó liệu cây hay những loài sinh vật khác có nhận thức được thẩm mỹ hay những làn ranh đạo đức ta vẫn thường nghe? Vì bởi giá trị vẻ đẹp nằm ở trạng thái bên ngoài. Nó tồn tại trong tâm trí kẻ đang chiêm ngưỡng, nên hoàn toàn có thể nói rằng, cây cối hay mọi thành phần trong một mạng lưới đều có một thẩm mỹ riêng. Và có hay không lằn ranh đạo đức chia đôi thế giới thành hai đối trọng 'chúng ta' và 'chúng', khi con người rốt cuộc cũng là tự nhiên, khi hủy hoại môi trường cũng đang đồng thời giết đi chính mình, bởi bất cứ loài sinh vật nào cũng có một thẩm mỹ riêng, một vẻ đẹp riêng, một trí khôn riêng?
Profile Image for jrendocrine.
519 reviews26 followers
May 17, 2021
So... I absolutely loved his year in the forest (The Unseen Forest) -

Here Dr Haskell continues in his philosophical approach to the life around us - so of course there are moments of real inspiration as he's an unusual thinker with a gift for bringing science to the page. This book, however, felt strained to me. Too much reaching to find meaning - and too much (for me) fidgeting around with how humans interact with trees. The human impact concentration I found trying, and not very interesting: they were one offs and superficial. An example - the chapter about the Japanese white pine used for bonsai; Haskell makes a pilgrimage to a shrine on a Japanese island and vaguely talks about Hiroshima. Or, he investigates olive trees - making interesting observations about their adaptation to hot/low water climates - but the chapter riffs on Jerusalem's history and deep levels where cats hang out and hiss.

As for the first book, though, my complete response is -"I wish I could be out in the woods with Dr Haskell learning about trees and plants and the connected world!" For this one, admiration for the scientist and his field - but this book, kind of meh.
Profile Image for Ray Zimmerman.
Author 3 books7 followers
April 27, 2022
The Songs of Trees
David George Haskell
Reviewed by Ray Zimmerman

Haskell has a strong reputation as a literary naturalist. His articles have appeared in scientific journals and popular news publications such as the New York Times. In his second book, he gives us his observations of trees from Manhattan to rural Tennessee to the Amazonian rainforest to Jerusalem.

He includes information on how trees share chemical messages through their roots and the network of fungal mycelia surrounding them. He also describes trees as they support the birds and other wildlife of the forest community.

The first chapter reminds me of a recurring line in The Poisonwood Bible (Kingsolver), "The forest eats itself and lives forever." Haskell speaks eloquently of the sonic properties of the rainforest and the spiritual connection of indigenous people to the Ceibo tree. Ceibo is pronounced "say-bo."

He presents an exciting contrast between the four trees in the first section. Each is unique, but I was particularly impressed with the resilience of the Sabal Palm. His comments on chickadees and fungi in the second chapter reveal a lot about communication at the community level for trees and memory within the flock for chickadees.

The interlude at the Japanese shrine to the Shinto goddess of paper making created a noticeable break between the living trees of section one and the fossil trees in section two. He states that only certain kinds of paper are long-lasting. Should an electronic society collapse, with no computer records and books made from rapidly deteriorating wood-based paper, the only records to remain intact would be those on paper with high cotton or linen content. The comments on Chickadees echo those in his previous book, The Forest Unseen. The comments on palpable cold echo comments by Lopez in Arctic Dreams.

The stories of fossilized trees and the fossils between layers of ash in a lake bed comprise section two. Even in preserved form, trees give us stories, in this case, stories of the past.

In the third section, he depicts trees in urban environments, including a Cottonwood in Denver. He speaks a bit about urban impact. There is a bit about the homeless population in Denver bedding down among the willows along the Platte River and about outdoor recreation. He mentions the differences in opportunities for various economic classes and ethnic groups. In Manhattan, he gives us the story of a Callery (Bradford) Pear and the people who visit it at different times of day, from a homeless woman sitting on a railing at night to the push and shove of people on their daily excursions. He finishes with the story of an olive tree in Jerusalem and a Japanese white pine.
Each tree speaks to the reader through this author.
Profile Image for Melissa.
108 reviews
February 14, 2019
I am it appears in the minority for not loving this book.

It is a shame that I did not really enjoy this book, because the title of the book was so interesting. This book is really not about trees at all, instead the author makes mention of them at the beginning and end of each chapter, while everything in between is a launching pad for sociological accounts which the author goes to great lengths to describe.

But the thing that I disliked the most about this book was quite literally the authors writing style, too poetic and descriptive, had everything chapter been less wordy and more to a point I would have enjoyed it much more- it was quite overwhelming. Every chapter was basically one long essay. The first section was trying, sections 2 and 3 were in general a little more enjoyable in my opinion, and the connections that the author was making came across better.

I am really disappointed because I was looking forward to reading forest unseen, but this writing.
Profile Image for Marta.
32 reviews
February 18, 2018
Un libro que no es de divulgación científica solamente. Yo lo definiría como un libro que hace pensar sobre las relaciones entre lo que es la naturaleza entre los que nos encontramos los humanos. Nos las hace presentes y patentes en cada capítulo. Y los árboles, nuestra relación con ellos, con los demás seres vivos.
También ha sido importante como focaliza en apartar un poco esa visión de nuestra mente, de que la ciudad no forma parte de lo que llamamos naturaleza. Como se tejen relaciones con los seres vivos que hay allí, como cada vez se buscan ciudades más verdes ya que ya conocemos más los beneficios mutuos que nos aportamos.
Y es difícil resumir el libro porque hace falta leerlo y empaparse de todo lo que dice. Muy recomendable para cualquiera que ame la naturaleza.
Profile Image for Scott Sanders.
Author 66 books109 followers
January 15, 2020
A superb book, winner of the 2018 John Burroughs Medal. Haskell's patient study of individual trees on several continents is a brilliant lesson in seeing, and a demonstration of scientific curiosity at its best. He reveals that trees depend on networks--fungi, microbes, insects, animals, other trees, soils, rain and snow, and countless other factors, all woven into a living community. There is no such thing as a self-sufficient tree. And the same is true of human beings, who are inescapably interdependent, relying for well-being not only on their own species, but on the rest of nature. Haskell's lyrical, reflective work reminds us that what we call science was first called natural philosophy.
100 reviews
November 30, 2018
Really thought this would be up my alley since I studied Environmental science, but I just couldn't get through it. The density of information is daunting, especially when served up using stilted prose and gratuitous technical terms that are not explained to the reader. Sadly, I found myself rolling my eyes at the overcomplicated language. It felt like the author wanted to impress us with his vocabulary every single sentence. Would have been much better if he'd just kept it simpler.
Profile Image for Jennifer.
780 reviews23 followers
April 4, 2018
Utterly wonderful. Usually books that are written with such a level of description set my teeth on edge, but somehow it didn't bother me with this one. Wonderful essay-like chapters on different trees and a different theme - climate change, social justice, community, all intertwined with scientific fact. Very much recommended.

*Bird memories are therefore a tree's dream of the future.*

*Street trees are in perpetual violation: obstructionists all, maintaining, as Howard Nemerov observed, "comprehensive silence" about intent and purpose. Like the trees, contemplative humans are scofflaws. To attend without purpose is disorderly. To stop moving is a violation.*

*Years of work with bonsai trees will, Sustic said, decenter a person, drawing the locus of attention away from the self. "It's less about me, much more about the tree and the work of the people who came before. This affects the rest of my life. I'm more tolerant, understanding."*
Profile Image for Emma Bec.
9 reviews2 followers
February 16, 2019
The book covers very diverse topics around trees, including their biology, how they grow and communicate, aesthetics, philosophy and how humans relate to them. I think it was the parts about human and societal relationships with trees that I found most interesting, especially chapters about trees in urban settings including places like New York and Palestine/Israel. Many parts of the book I found quite moving.

The only problem I had was it seemed disjointed at times, though it probably wouldn't have if I'd realised from the beginning it was a collection of essays.
Profile Image for Robert Wechsler.
Author 9 books123 followers
April 20, 2020
An odd combination of wandering, surprising descriptions of the nature of nature (centered on various sorts of trees) with elucidating but repetitive arguments about the interconnectedness of life. The prose is very dense due to such things as complex verbs, unusual adjectives, and sentences that are rarely connected by the logical connectors common to nonfiction. This is not a book to skim; it requires patience and a willingness to not understand everything while plowing through. And yet it is brilliant and, sometimes, beautiful.
Profile Image for Laura Hoffman Brauman.
2,499 reviews34 followers
January 19, 2020
Haskell looks at the ways that trees connect so many aspects of our world -- biology, ecology, sound, social justice and politics, economics, culture and more. The writing was beautiful and extremely descriptive. It was a slower read for me -- very science heavy, and I think it might have been a 4 star read for me instead of a borderline 3 if I had not been quite so tired when I was reading it. This one needs the reader's full attention.
Profile Image for smil.
52 reviews
January 26, 2021
It only took me 23 days but this book is beautiful. Science, history, poetry all in one, this is a love-letter to trees all over the world. David Haskell is able to weave so many stories into one tree, and my admiration for the many experiences he highlights only leaves me in greater awe for these ancient beings.
Profile Image for Jean.
141 reviews
December 20, 2018
Haskell visits trees around the world and portrays how they interact with their ecosystems and people. A really good book, although the climate change stuff is kind of a downer. It won't disappoint fans of The Forest Unseen, but it isn't quite as absorbing and amazing. Haskell's writing is always a treat to read, though.
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