Claire Monahan's Reviews > The Wild Trees: A Story of Passion and Daring

The Wild Trees by Richard   Preston
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's review
Jun 29, 2009

it was ok
bookshelves: non-fiction, the-cover-was-cooler

If I remember correctly, the moment this book was at its greatest was around page 104. Gruesome, terrifying, and downright awesome, the scene hearkens back to Preston's glorious book, The Hot Zone. Preston quietly describes the untimely fall of a tree climbing worker, plunging to his death from a several hundred foot tree, landing in a literal splat. It's the best page of the entire book, and it was the type of writing that pummeled me through my entire reading of The Hot Zone.

The Wild Trees is a testament to tree lovers, lichen devotees, and people who appreciate random obsessions. All the characters described in this book are passionate about the tallest of the tall, and they don't just appreciate them from the ground: they scale enormous heights, swing from the branches, and make love in suspended hammocks hundreds of feet in the air.

But Preston writes in a free-for-all fashion, throwing in overwhelmingly scientific passages with a personal narrative, and the combination just doesn't work. I can see how the book might have started off as a great magazine article, but there is just too much thrown together here without a sense of a plot. There is no final goal for this book: just an illustration of how people can become obsessed with a living organism that it comes to define them. Preston became one of these obsessors himself, so perhaps this is why the book became so scattered. He is awed by these massive living things that are found in only secluded forests of the world, but you just can't translate this into a story unless there's actually a story there.

The short narrative on page 104 of the tree climber's fatal accident is randomly inserted, and I think Preston chose to include it because it perfectly illustrates the kind of danger these tree devotees put themselves into when they choose to climb. After that, I never really got more of this sense of thrill throughout the rest of the book, and this might be the one case I'll recommend to read up to this point in a book and stop. The read was decent through these first 104 pages, but after that I really lost interest. Overall, this book should stay in a section reserved only for ecologists, botanists, and tree lovers.

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Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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message 1: by M. (new) - rated it 5 stars

M. D. Sounds like the redwood part didn't carry you through. A few of the last chapters are excellent. Many people like the last chapter best. If you read cover to cover, the book is a completely different read the second time through. Here are some photos and info to compare to the book and named redwoods:

Largest Coast Redwoods

Folks who read cover to cover in The Wild Trees will recognize several of the redwoods from that page.

message 2: by Claire (last edited Nov 08, 2009 09:05PM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Claire Monahan Thanks for sharing the link - the photos really are incredible.

I did read the book cover to cover, and I'm sorry to say that I disagree with your thought; I instead found the last chapters to be the most disappointing and disengaged from the rest of the book. I felt that Preston created so much for a potential climax or summation that he never fulfilled, and instead the plot just lost direction. The descriptions of the trees, while impressive, didn't move me enough to care about the rest of the book.

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