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The Hidden Life of Trees: The International Bestseller – What They Feel, How They Communicate Paperback – 24 Aug. 2017
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Sunday Times Bestseller
‘A paradigm-smashing chronicle of joyous entanglement’ Charles Foster
Waterstones Non-Fiction Book of the Month (September)
Are trees social beings? How do trees live? Do they feel pain or have awareness of their surroundings?
In The Hidden Life of Trees Peter Wohlleben makes the case that the forest is a social network. He draws on groundbreaking scientific discoveries to describe how trees are like human families: tree parents live together with their children, communicate with them, support them as they grow, share nutrients with those who are sick or struggling, and even warn each other of impending dangers. Wohlleben also shares his deep love of woods and forests, explaining the amazing processes of life, death and regeneration he has observed in his woodland.
A walk in the woods will never be the same again.
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‘Marvellous’ John Banville, Irish Times
‘The Hidden Life of Trees is a wonderful, provocative book that draws together half a century of much-neglected and misunderstood plant science and frames it within field observations by an acute and empathetic forester.’ New Statesman
‘Shafts of light and mossy greens fill The Hidden Life of Trees. The reader does not leave the forest, and this aura intensifies the awareness of intricate natural life that the book has to offer. So much is happening in this one place. The colours, airs and sounds are all connected. They give us contact with the invisible world we now know to be there.' Guardian
‘The matter-of-fact Mr. Wohlleben has delighted readers and talk-show audiences alike with the news long known to biologists that trees in the forest are social beings.’ The New York Times
‘Peter Wohlleben’s The Hidden Life of Trees breaks entirely new ground … [Wohlleben] has listened to trees and decoded their language. Now he speaks for them.’ Thomas Pakenham, New York Review of Books
‘A declaration of love and an engrossing primer on trees, brimming with facts and an unashamed awe for nature.’ Washington Post
‘A magical book about fixtures that we walk by every day and take for granted … The Hidden Life of Trees may be the most important environmental book of the year.’ San Francisco Chronicle
The International Bestseller
- Publisher : William Collins; 1st edition (24 Aug. 2017)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 288 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0008218439
- ISBN-13 : 978-0008218430
- Dimensions : 12.8 x 1.83 x 19.81 cm
- Best Sellers Rank: 2,523 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer reviews:
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Peter Wohlleben has worked with trees for years, mostly in Germany, and is convinced that they exhibit behaviours far more complex than we usually reckon, behaviours that we normally associate with higher animals and birds than with plants. He describes how they communicate, both chemically through scent and electrically via their root systems and fungal symbiotes. They can also support each other in times of hardship and old age, count daylight hours, perceive environmental changes and opportunities, and remember important facts in order to shape future actions. It all makes for fascinating reading, and the material is well worth exploring.
What also came home to me was how little we know about the life of trees, largely because the timescale they live on is so slow compared to ours. But another factor which Peter highlights many times is that many of us never meet a tree in its natural state - as one part in a naturally regulated and extensive forest. Isolated trees, or those in small stands, or those living in managed woodland, are all constrained to live unnatural lives, so their growth and actions are as distorted from natural as ours would be if we were kept away from human company as we grew up. It's a rather sobering thought, that our typical treatment of trees might easily be considered cruelty.
Peter also highlights areas where our grasp of ordinary tree biology is very weak. It is common knowledge that trees draw water and nutrients out of the soil using their roots, and deliver it to their leaves and growing shoots - for some trees this is a journey of tens, or even a couple of hundred feet. It comes as a surprise to read that we don't actually know how they do this, and that the normal explanations of osmosis, capillary action, or transpiration cannot possibly account for the heights reached.
One of the most vivid parts was Peter's attempt to get to linguistic grips with the slowness of the life cycles of trees. He describes very effectively the grand migrations of forests south and north as the ice ages have come and gone, and the stages by which newly available soil is occupied first by the little plants, then by comparatively fast outlier trees, and finally by the true forests. On this timescale, some kinds of trees help one another and grow together, while others hinder and displace each other. It would make a good game, perhaps, as well as a good read, in which environmental and other external changes drive constant accommodation and negotiation.
I mentioned two things that put me off the book. The first is the writing style, which for the first half is quite pedestrian. I fully appreciate that Peter may not be writing in his native language, and the wealth of ideas kept me persevering when the writing was dull - perhaps it would have been good to have employed a co-writer to help. The second was that I would have really liked some speculation about causes, in the many areas where we don't know for sure. Peter seems committed to writing only what he is confident can be tied to evidence - which is a worthy goal in itself - but given his great experience in the field, I would have liked it more if he had included his guesses, intuitions, and suppositions.
All things considered, though, The Hidden Life of Trees is a fascinating book to delve into, perhaps as a starting point for other reading.
One of those books which in a subtle way alters your perception of reality and deepens your understanding of nature and thus of humanity itself.
Profound without any attempt to be so.
I wish I had read this when I was younger.