Mark's Reviews > The Tree: A Natural History of What Trees Are, How They Live & Why They Matter

The Tree by Colin Tudge
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Feb 25, 2010

it was amazing
bookshelves: non-fiction, sylva

Who doesn't like trees? Despite that popularity, it is easy to have a rather lopsided understanding of why they matter. Global warming is constantly in the news, so it is commonly known that trees sequester carbon, and so have a beneficial cooling effect on the earth. We know that the roots of trees hold soil in place, and that trees can absorb an enormous quantity of water. So they have a moderating effect on variations of weather. But how many people can identify all the trees found in a local park?

That's a big change from the past, when so many trades involved trees and their by-products that lots of people could identify many species and describe their best uses. Colin Tudge's book describes many uses of individual species of trees, and also explains their biology and natural history, their cultivation and their cultural significance. Along the way we get an armchair tour through anatomy, genetics, taxonomy, ecology, forestry practices, economy and nearly everything else having to do with trees.

He answers some questions that some people may not have thought to ask. For example, why are there relatively few species of trees in a northern forest, especially when compared to the variation found in the tropics? (Greater tropical variation in species happens in all other kingdoms, too.) But while you may not ask it in that form, you may have looked at a piece of furniture at Ikea and wondered what on earth it was made of, assuming not of plastic. There are more kinds of trees than most of us can possibly imagine, and now they're all being used for one thing or another. The products are shipped all over the place.

The book is organized into four sections, although the fourth is really an epilogue. The first describes what separates trees from other plants-so taxonomy-and their physiology and evolution. The second section is a one-hundred-forty-page-tour- de-force description of all the trees left in the world, divided up by their taxonomies. In the third section, Tudge describe ecology and reproduction, including the many ways that people have inadvertently or purposefully screwed that up for trees, usually by transporting competitors or pests into an ecological system. In the fourth section, Tudge demonstrates two things: first, that trees interact deeply with political and economic outcomes, and second, that he is happy to oversimplify and generalize such issues to arrive at some weirdly new-age happy talk. For example,

"I don't believe the world can get significantly better if we leave politics to career politicians. That is not what democracy means. I also nurse the conceit (for which there is abundant evidence) that human beings are basically good...It seems to follow that if only democracy can be made to work-if the will of humanity as a whole can prevail-then the world could be a far better place: that it could, after all, come through these next few difficult decades...

And so he joins Einstein in demonstrating that some scientists shouldn't quit their day jobs to seek elected office. Despite that, the book is terrific, and even the fourth section has lots of interesting, if utopian, perspectives. Read it as you long for spring!
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Reading Progress

February 13, 2010 – Started Reading
February 25, 2010 – Shelved
March 11, 2010 – Shelved as: non-fiction
March 11, 2010 – Finished Reading
March 28, 2010 – Shelved as: sylva

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

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message 1: by Chris (new)

Chris What? Nothing about ents?


Mark Only real trees


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