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Gods, Wasps and Stranglers: The Secret History and Redemptive Future of Fig Trees

4.16  ·  Rating details ·  140 ratings  ·  32 reviews

They are trees of life and trees of knowledge. They are wish-fulfillers … rainforest royalty … more precious than gold. They are the fig trees, and they have affected humanity in profound but little-known ways. Gods, Wasps and Stranglers tells their amazing story.

Fig trees fed our pre-human ancestors, influenced diverse cultures and played key roles in the dawn of civiliza

Kindle Edition, 208 pages
Published November 1st 2016 by Chelsea Green Publishing
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A whole book about fig trees? That’s right! If you’re a voracious nonfiction reader like me, you’ll find freelance journalist Mike Shanahan’s history of fig trees unexpectedly fascinating. It opens with him atop a series of ladders in a national park in Borneo, reaching past a venomous snake to pick some figs. He did many such exciting things in his research towards a PhD in rainforest ecology, but that 1998 encounter was significantly more intrepid than his earliest experience with the genus: h ...more
Francesca Forrest
*Very* informative and engagingly written. I took notes as I was reading, and some elements I definitely want to read more about (and some I want to use in stories of my own). You come away from the book not only in awe of figs (and Nature, and biodiversity), but also energized and with your curiosity whetted.

NOTE: I got an e-version of the British version of the book but it's published in the United States as Gods, Wasps, and Stranglers: The Secret History and Redemptive Future of Fig Trees.
It is thought that the fig was one of the earliest fruits that were eaten by mankind, but they had probably borrowed the idea from watching monkeys and primates race to the trees to get the best fruits each day. This reliance on the sweet fruits seeped into the culture and religion of humans 5000 years ago, hence why the three Abrahamic faiths consider them important fruits, and the Buddha gained enlightenment whilst meditating in the cage of a Strangler Fig.

Ficus religiosais one of 750 differen
Brian Clegg
Oct 09, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
There are two ways to title a book - either say what it actually is (the 'does what it says on the tin' approach), or have a nice but totally uninformative title, but give away what it's really about in the subtitle. Mike Shanahan opts for the second approach in this handsome hardback, produced by the Unbound book crowdfunding site. Without knowing it's 'How fig trees shaped our history, fed our imaginations and can enrich our future,' you would be pretty lost. (The US title of 'Gods, Wasps and ...more
Oct 27, 2017 rated it really liked it
Happened to hear about this book on You Bet Your Garden on NPR. It was not only educational (I learned so much about fig trees... I had no idea) and it was written in such a interesting way... like a fictional story.
Feb 19, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
What an interesting book! Who knew the story of figs could be so interesting. I have been reading out little nuggets of information to whomever would listen to me! I highly recommend it.
Karen Mace
Aug 28, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I'm always looking to read more non-fiction books, and if they were all written like this one with so much detail and an engaging style of writing then I don't think I'd pick up another fiction book again!

Who knew Fig trees could be so interesting?! I didn't for sure and was surprised by how much I found myself involved in the story of how a simple tree could affect so much over the years. The author has grouped information together in a really accessible way and gives a real insight into so man
Sarah Furger
Dec 28, 2016 rated it really liked it
Thoroughly researched and beautifully presented. I am left with a newfound appreciation for fig trees! Also - the book is beautifully designed. A good read!
Aug 05, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Communicating science to a general audience, I feel, is an art.

Story-telling, which is a way to communicate ideas and values is considered to be done in three styles from where I come. Firstly there are the scriptures that communicate to the listener as a teacher communicates to the student. Then there are mythological stories, which imbue closeness and the style of communication is that of a parent to an offspring. Epics and literature in general are most special and most effective because the
Jo Barton
Sep 10, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Sometimes a book takes you by surprise and takes you to places you didn’t know existed and offers information you never knew you needed to know. In Ladders to Heaven the author, with great enthusiasm and knowledge, leads us through the fascinating subject of fig trees and of their utmost importance to our planet’s ecological stability. Over 750 species of ficus are known to exist with more being discovered all the time and their relevance to our environment cannot be overstated.

The author writes
Oct 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Human-impacted Climate change, deforestation, and global warming are occurring at an unprecedented rate, Fragmenting forests and shrinking habitats for many non-human creatures and yet the solution may lie by addressing the root of the strangler fig with respect and reverence, which cultures the world over have done during different points in time!
A thoroughly well researched and beautiful book with gorgeously stippled drawings of the world of fig trees. The importance of fig trees to humans fro
Gem ~ Bee
Aug 23, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

This is a fascinating read; an incredibly detailed but accessible and engaging account of the mysteries of fig trees and their special relationship with humanity.

I'll be completely honest I had never really given much thought to figs, or where they came from. I recall being handed a bunch of them to try by a lovely Greek taverna owner in Zante, and that I ate them all, which later proved to not be my best decision (related - figs are great if you suffer a sluggish gut, not so great if you have I
Ellen Partridge
Feb 22, 2017 rated it liked it
Who knew that fig trees could do so many things and support so much life? The writing isn't great, but the book is interesting and offers some hope in our changing climate.
Nick Swarbrick
Sep 24, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nature
I admire the scholarship that gives us a book like this, all those connections- human, biographical and botanical - that lead the reader into odd corners of strangler figs and the diets of Ardipithecus and why people marry trees. "Fig trees are great connectors. Whatever our political or philosophical differences, we are all descended from some fig eating ancestors."
There is a message of hope in all of this made explicit in the final chapters, and a resonant ending and a warning that "we are ju
Mike Appleby
Jan 30, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Brilliant, accessable biology
Nov 21, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I must admit that I was a bit skeptical when reading the blurb for this book. I mean, just how interesting can fig trees be? Unfortunately I suspect that part of the problem was that my mental image of a fig tree was actually of an olive tree (Oops!). I found the book easy to read style wise, but the interest for me really took off with the description of the life of a fig wasp. No sexual equality there! All in all, this was for me a surprisingly interesting book, full of interesting facts and i ...more
Steve Gillway
I found out that I do give a fig about fig trees. Interesting mix of socio-cultural history, mythology, biology, ecology, futurology and personal memoir. He shows that although we are facing huge problems, the answers are probably right under our noses if we are open to working with tradition and folklore.
Susan Antrobus
Jan 21, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Surprisingly fascinating book read after hearing the author on radio 4. I learnt a lot, I had no idea that most figs started their life as epiphytes and the pollination ecology is mind boggling. The chapters on the role of fig trees in tropical reforestation and habitat restoration were very hopeful. And I dont like figs to eat but now have a deep rooted respect for them

jodi beltrani
Dec 10, 2017 rated it really liked it
Interesting read

I read this after hearing an interview with the author on NPR . It is a book I would not have likely stumbled upon otherwise. Beautifully written, and very educational.
Dec 17, 2016 rated it really liked it
Quick and Interesting.
Nov 14, 2016 rated it really liked it
Who knew a lowly fig could be so interesting? This book covers everything about figs, their history, our history of eating them in different cultures, how they are propagated, etc... amazing book!
Jul 08, 2017 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: anyone with curiosity about the natural world.
Shelves: non-fiction, science
Very interesting, about the amazing properties of fig trees, but also so much more.
Nov 21, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Quick read, interesting micro history on fig trees and their impact on forests and cultures around the globe
Garrett Coakley
Jun 25, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Absolutely fascinating. I’ll never look at figs the same way again.
Nov 03, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Informative, thorough book that would have been far more enjoyable without the author's voice. The history of the fig, for me at least, was marred by the narration. He was obsessed with figs (calling it "erotic", etc.).
Apr 13, 2018 rated it really liked it
I grabbed this book from the library at random, and I’m so glad I did! I had no idea there is so much rich history in regards to fig trees. This author has a smooth and easy narrative as he connects our lives to the lives of the trees.
Jan 03, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A true reading pleasure! Mike's book is a comprehensive account of fig trees, their life cycle, history, effect on nature, roots in myths and so much more. It's hard to say just why fig trees are so incredibly fascinating - you have to read it to find out. But I've enjoyed every page.
Mar 27, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This is a quick read, but dense with interesting ideas!
Nov 29, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Great book!
Megan Robinson
Feb 26, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoir, science
An absolutely excellent book
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Goodreads Librari...: separate listings 2 18 Feb 19, 2018 09:01PM  
Mike Shanahan is a freelance writer with a doctorate in rainforest ecology. He has lived in a national park in Borneo, bred endangered penguins, investigated illegal bear farms, produced award-winning journalism and spent several weeks of his life at the annual United Nations climate change negotiations. He is interested in what people think about nature and our place in it. His writing includes w ...more