59 of 61 people found the following review helpful
on April 27, 2014
I agree with the other two reviewers who gave this book five stars, but I don't think they touched on what was so meaningful to me about the book. The photography is good, even though many of the subjects don't really lend themselves to easy framing or notable settings - try photographing a fungus if you don't believe me. The theme is engaging as well, but what really made this book for me were the stories, thoughts, ponderings that accompany each chapter. Despite writing only about living things over 2,000 years old, Sussman has made this into an intensely personal book, part story, part quest, and all heart. Please read this, you'll be better for having done so.
21 of 21 people found the following review helpful
A tree 2000 years old, another a 13,000, and a clonal copse of trees 70,000 years old - or maybe a few hundred thousand. Bacteria somewhere around a half-million years old. Yet odder beings in the thousands to ten-thousand-plus range. If the individual organism isn't at least 2000 years old, it doesn't make the cut.
This book is simply awe-inspiring - to be among beings that live such lives, where ice ages might come and go around the one individual. That time scale simply boggles the mind. Then the chill sets in: a few of these beings have died since their pictures were taken. A tree of 3000 years succumbed to fire, another of 13,000 was killed in a construction project. What lived so long can die in minutes, and you can't just plant some seeds and grow a new one, not 13,000 years old. Gone, after all that time, because of natural hazards or human carelessness.
And, in the current Great Extinction, we'll lose a lot more, mostly never having known they ever lived. Environmental threats and climate change can move faster than these living things can respond. I find it humbling, too - so few human artifacts or cultures have the power to last as long as these beings have.
Although the naturalist who collected these images took care with proper identification, she's not a scientist by trade. She's an artist, a photographer. But she's a part of the scientific venture, too, making it humanly understandable, even personal, and stirring the sense of awe and respect that underlies nearly all scientific research. (I first became aware of this book through a review in Science magazine.) Really, she just proves that the dichotomy of science and art is artificial and arbitrary, more an artifact of the viewer's preconceptions than of the fields themselves. This has my highest recommendation.
41 of 47 people found the following review helpful
Author/photographer Sussman is motivated by the death of the Senator tree near Orlando Florida in early January, 2012 - 3,500 years old, killed by a fire likely human caused. (There was no lightning recorded in the area during the weeks prior, and the tree had recently been provided with its own lightning rod.) Fortunately she had already photographed it in 2007 as part of her focus on living organisms 2,000 years and older.
The Senator tree is not the only seemingly immortal treasure damaged/killed by man - there's a 3,000+ year-old chestnut tree near Mt. Etna in which someone tried to grill sausages inside it. Fortunately, that tree was saved and a protective fence since erected.
Other such treasures are also threatened from time to time - thankfully she's well into her work. Sussman has also traveled to Greenland that grow only 1 cm. every hundred years, Tasmania to record a 43,000-year old shrub, a dense bush in Chile's Atacama Desert that is as much as 3,000 years old, etc.
I was surprised to learn that creosote bushes, of which there are many in my yard, have been estimated at 12,000 years-old in the Mohave Desert. Turns out they grow-out from a center via circular expansion of roots. So, mine may also be very, very old as well. The really good news - they can survive up to two years without water. Quaking Aspen in Utah, underground forests in South Africa, and other trees/bushes spread out similarly from a very old center. Olive trees may be 3,000 years old.
There's also 5,500-year-old moss on Elephant Island in Antarctica (looks deceptively like ordinary moss), and younger (2,200 year-old moss) growing atop 9,000-year-old fossilized remains of its predecessors. Oldest of all - 400,000 to 600,000 year-old Siberian bacteria (microscopic), and still alive, per the experts.
Truly an awe-inspiring work.
31 of 35 people found the following review helpful
on June 13, 2014
I love the exploration of very old things, and there are some fantastic photos. The commentary is a little strange though, with meandering narratives that mention personal romantic dramas that are totally irrelevant to the topic.
20 of 23 people found the following review helpful
‘The Oldest Living Things in the World’ photographed and written by Rachel Sussman is an impressive collection of beautiful photos and high-quality texts that lead us through history to the present, raising many interesting questions about our future.
The artist Rachel Sussman for last ten years conducted an extensive research helped by the biologists, travelling around the world and taking photos of the flora that is 2 000 years old or even older.
With her pictures taken all around the world, in the areas with eternal snow, or places where a drop of rain has not fallen for an eternity, Rachel has managed with her objective to convey emotions and beauty of ancient life which is kind of hard to express in words - it must be seen and felt in her photographs.
Except the reader can enjoy her photographs, equally valuable, educating and useful are the author texts, among other things, based on the work of scientists which explored the subjects of her photos – they will occupy readers, offering the opportunity to learn about the many beauties and variety of life on Earth for which unfortunately we realize how little do we know after the last page of her impressive book is closed.
80 000 years old colony of aspen trees in Utah, moss older than 5 000 years on Antarctica and almost 44 000 years old shrub on Tasmania are just some of the jewels of which you will find out between the covers of this book, about which you probably just like I did not know anything.
Therefore, ‘The Oldest Living Things in the World’ is both a work of art thanks to the photographs author provided, a scientific work because of the writings found inside - in a word, breathtaking comprehensive experience given by Rachel Sussman which you will continually enjoy, just like me since I picked up for the first time this book in my hands.
18 of 23 people found the following review helpful
on April 16, 2014
Rachel Sussman's amazing photos inspire us consider our place in the grand scheme of things. She approaches her subjects as individuals and makes extraordinary portraits of in order to facilitate an anthropomorphic connection to a deep timescale otherwise too physiologically challenging for our brain to internalize. This book is part art, part science, part philosophy, part wonder. If I could give it more than five stars, I would.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on February 28, 2015
Beautiful photos, and interesting text. My only complaint is that the print is small and very light, so it is difficult to read without really good light.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on March 20, 2015
This is a passionate and intriguing book. It is less a book about the oldest things in the world than Sussman's account of looking for them, so in a way it's her personal pilgrimage. Her text is full of information as well as detail of her travels and conversations (which can get in the way of her main purpose). In another sense this book is a report on the status of an obsessive art project centering on these ancient things.
There is a definitional problem, as well. She writes about many kinds of organisms, but many are clonal, that is, they repeatedly clone themselves and may have an old root system or be a kind of colonial organism. To me that is not one organism, although the point is arguable. I would agree that an individual tree--a yew, banyan, bristlecone pine, a single survivor, it what the book should be focused on. Still, all the things she focuses on are fascinating. Among them are Siberian actinobacteria (400,000- 600,000 years old) that still do DNA replacement at subfreezing temperatures. A Bristlecone Pine at 5,062 years, now threatened by white pine blister rust (and a set of needles can last 40 years). A creosote bush that's clonal, 12,000 years old. A fungus, Armillaria, now 3.5 square miles and 2,400 years old. The Senator, a bald cypress in Florida, 3,500 years old and now dead courtesy of a fire caused by a meth addict. The organization is by continent. She describes several species as quite endangered.
Here are my favorites. A map lichen in Greenland is 3,500 years old, and grows 1 centimeter every century. An olive tree on Crete at 3,500 years old, producing olives when Homer was yet unborn. And my real favorite, Welwitschia in the Namib desert that reaches 2,000 years.
Her photography is consistently excellent. Some of the species are difficult to make out, not because of the images but because most of it is underground or simply very hard to photograph. Some of the photos look like sophisticated abstract art, say Miro or Kandinsky.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on September 29, 2014
What an extraordinary book! As much as I love my Kindle this is a book that needs to be experienced in it's hardback format, even if it is heavy and somewhat awkward to read. Rachel Sussman is a world-class photographer and a pretty gutsy lady to boot. Sussman is joined by Hans Ulrich Obrist and Carl Zimmer who each provide short essays: Obrist on art philosophy and extinction; Zimmer on the science of longevity. The bulk of the text, however, is by Sussman and reads more like an explorer's journal rather than a "travel book". Reading about the complexities of an international photo assignment and trying to balance her time, and personal life, with that of professional scientist, park rangers, lodging accommodations and transportation in remote, far flung locations will give you a taste of what it's like to work in foreign lands all over the world, not to mention right here in the good-old USA. For the most part Sussman got what she was after but there were setbacks; like missing guides, government restrictions and even broken bones! One thing though this is not is a biology text-book. While you may pick up some interesting tidbits on botany, geology, evolution and the like, it is the photography that steals the show. And there are some truly outstanding images in this book. Sussman's composition and choice of a large format camera is wonderful, not to mention her unusual subject matter. From Giant Sequoias, Baobab Trees and Stromatolites to Huon Pines and Antarctic Moss you will be treated to frame after frame of natural beauty and remote places. The spread on Bristlecone Pines is the best I've ever seen, their wind twisted and polished "forest" is something to behold. The Quaking Aspen colony is another breath-taker, as is the Bald Cypress (The Senator) and Welwitschia in the Namib-Naukluft Desert. The book closes with Sussman's visit to Antarctica and some her most stunning images; the approach to Elephant Island; the King Penguin colony and Shackleton's grave site. Along with the text and photos look for the species location map and charts on taxonomy, deep timeline and growth strategy. All in all this is one of the best coffee-table picture books I've had the pleasure of reading and one that I will be revisiting from time to time. One look at the incredible cover shot should tell you the whole story. Enjoy!
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on December 29, 2014
This is an amazing book! With pictures and short fascinating essays this book tells about the oldest living organisms on the earth. If you thought, as I did, that the redwoods were the oldest (and biggest), boy were we wrong! There are far older and far bigger things on our planet and Rachel Sussman has gone in search of them. Best gift ever for your smartest friends, colleagues, curious children, yourself, and anyone who loves nature and our planet. It starts with a map of the world indicating where each plant can be found. Since they are sprinkled on all the continents, this is a great book for travellers who love to have destinations planned for their adventures and for armchair travellers too. There follows a wonderful photograph and essay on each of the oldest living things. A really beautiful unique book at a surprisingly reasonable price.