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The Urban Tree Book: An Uncommon Field Guide for City and Town Paperback – May 16, 2000

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Editorial Reviews Review

North America's cities may be crowded and tumultuous places of steel and glass, but there is scarcely one of them that does not have some quiet forested corner, some green place of solace and repose. Arthur Plotnik, the author of the fine writer's handbook The Elements of Editing, celebrates such places in The Urban Tree Book, an information-rich, entertaining guide to the trees you are likely to encounter in places such as Toronto, Washington, Vancouver, and Kansas City. (For residents of cities farther south and west, he includes a section on palm trees.) A late bloomer--he writes that he came to an appreciation of city greenery not as a naturalist, but as a writer given to staring out his window at a cluster of silver maple, ash, and horse chestnut trees--Plotnik has mastered a wide variety of materials. He describes not only the ranges, biology, and life histories of some 50 common urban trees, but also gathers oddments of folklore and nicely appropriate bits of urban history, such as, for instance, the fact that Al Capone favored an ash bat "to keep his goons in line."

As Plotnik observes, at the dawn of the 21st century, 75 percent of all North Americans live in cities. In his pages these urbanites will find a wealth of information to help better acquaint themselves with the natural life that perseveres in their midst. --Gregory McNamee

From Booklist

Urbanites love the trees that shade their streets, muffle traffic noise, and soften the city's hard edges, but most possess scant arboreal knowledge. When Plotnik, a Chicago resident, realized how little he knew about the lives of the trees on his block, he launched a dynamic inquiry into the character of city trees and their strategies for survival. The result is a uniquely entertaining and immensely enlightening guide to 200 species of "tough trees for tough places." Plotnik expresses his sense of wonder about urban trees found all over the U.S. with warmth and wit as he recounts their history and lore and medicinal and spiritual legacies. Going beyond factual description, he evokes each species' distinctive ambience, from the way their leaves filter light to the sound they make in the wind. Plotnik also celebrates landmark trees, assesses the new urban forestry movement, and provides a wealth of useful resources. Vetted by experts at the Morton Arboretum and illustrated with Mary Phelan's superbly graceful drawings, this is a tree book with depth and sparkle. Donna Seaman

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 433 pages
  • Publisher: Three Rivers Press; 1 edition (May 16, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0812931033
  • ISBN-13: 978-0812931037
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #326,638 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Arthur Plotnik, in spite of his funny name, is a versatile author with a distinguished background in editing and publishing. Two of his works have been featured as Book-of-the-Month Club selections: "The Elements of Editing," a standard reference through some 20 printings, and "The Elements of Expression: Putting Thoughts into Words." Reviewers have consistently praised Plotnik's writing for its accuracy, style, and wit, often ranking it with "The Elements of Style" (Strunk & White)in practicality. However, his popular "Spunk & Bite: A Writer's Guide to Bold, Contemporary Style" (Random House)challenges some of Strunk & White's inhibiting dictates as it guides the writer to more risk-taking, more adventurous, more publishable prose.

His latest book, published in June 2012 by Viva Editions (Berkeley, CA)completely updates "The Elements of Expression" in a revised and expanded edition. The previous year Viva published his "Better than Great: A Plenitudinous Compendium of Wallopingly Fresh Superlatives," offering 6,000 alternatives to "great," "awesome," "amazing" and other shopworn terms of praise and acclamation. ( Former Poet Leaureate Billy Collins calls it "AMEN-ASTONISHING!"

A native of White Plains, N.Y., Plotnik studied under Philip Roth and Vance Bourjaily in the Iowa Writers Workshop. After an Army stint, he served as a staff writer on the Albany (N.Y.) Times-Union, where novelist-to-be William Kennedy worked across the city desk, puffing cigars.

Plotnik ground out 22 pseudonymnous potboilers for the Scott-Meredith Literary Agency, some of them while completing work on the second of two master's degrees (English, library service). In his return to respectability, he surfaced in Washington, D.C, as press and public relations assistant to the Librarian of Congress and newsletter editor. He was later a magazine editor in New York, where the second of his two daughters was born.

As a publisher, Plotnik brought five national awards to the American Library Association's book imprint. He won numerous honors also as editor of "American Libraries," ALA's flagship magazine.

Plotnik has written scores of magazine articles and columns, eight nonfiction books (including his first writer's guide, "The Elements of Authorship") and short stories and poems. He has appeared in publications ranging from "La Prensa" (Bolivia) and "Playboy" to "The New York Times" and "Los Angeles Times." A contributor to "The Writer Magazine" and member of its editorial board, he has also contributed to "Britannica Book of English Usage" and the "American English" column of "American Way" in-flight magazine.

A passionate observer of trees, he is author of "The Urban Tree Book: An Uncommon Field Guide for City and Town," illustrated by his wife, the artist Mary H. Phelan. "The New York Times Book Review" called this work "indispensable." On July 4 of the Constitution's 200th birthday year (1987), the National Archives published his "The Man Behind the Quill," a biography of the Constitution's calligrapher, Jacob Shallus. The award-winning book was highlighted in "Time" magazine and praised as "a small miracle of research."

A popular speaker, Plotnik taught briefly in the journalism department at Columbia College in Chicago. Special honors include service as a charter board member, American Book Awards, and first place in the prestigious "Verbatim" national competition for essays on the English language. He is listed in "Who's Who," "Contemporary Authors," "Journalists of the United States, and other directories of writers and journalists. He lives in Chicago with his wife, the artist Mary H. Phelan, and is represented by literary agent Roger Williams of New England Publishing Associates.


BRAGGIN' ON "SPUNK & BITE" AT TEN. This year (2015) I'm reveling in the 10th anniversary of SPUNK & BITE my "Writer's Guide to Bold, Contemporary Style." Random House published the hardcover in 2005 and the paperback in 2007. About 37,000 sales later it's still chugging along, scoring gratifying reviews, in use at Harvard and in many writing programs, and--perhaps most pleasing-- winning thanks from aspiring individuals. Just today this tweet appeared from a writer who goes by "Danger Geist": "I used Spunk&Bite to spice up my 2012 war memoir. It turned out better than it should have. I am grateful . . . ." And I'm grateful--as a writer who has experienced plenty of the trade's downsides--for the sweet life of this one effort. Pictured: The paperback cover, with designer Nora Rosansky's spunky pooch. --Feb. 23, 2015

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Hugh Williamson on October 15, 2000
Format: Paperback
Typically, when I browse learned books, be they history, science, art, whatever, if the author's qualifications to teach me about the subject don't measure up, they go back on the shelf. Talented amateurs have their place, but with so many good books out there, I can't afford to risk having my time wasted.
This book is a great exception. By touching only lightly on the dry botanical aspects of the trees, and focussing on their characters, the author shows confidence in the subject while letting his enthusiasm and wit have full rein.
Again, most illustrations drawn by authors' partners usually serve for breaking up the text. Not these. The unison between the illustrations and the textual descriptions is evidence of true collaboration and a rare conjunction of talent.
If you're interested in "those big things with the leaves", and you don't happen to live in a forest, but this book.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By James E. Swan on June 23, 2000
Format: Paperback
As a traveller, walker, and jogger, I've spent a lot of time perusing various urban landscapes over the past quarter-century. If only I'd had "The Urban Tree Book" handy all those years! Like many, I've acquired a superficial knowledge of the trees and shrubs I've encountered by perusing guides and fieldbooks, but those aren't books for reading. Arthur Plotnik's book, loaded with fascinating facts, lively personal observations, and helpful illustrations, is the exception. I bought it out of idle curiosity but immediately proceeded to read it straight through. Mr. Plotnik, clearly a tree "amateur" (lover) in the best sense of the word, has brought the writer's art to the tree guide. "The Urban Tree Book" has the feel of a good travel book, written by a friendly and knowledgeable companion eager to share the delights of the journey. It's a book I'll return to frequently and can recommend highly.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Mary Esterhammer-Fic VINE VOICE on February 11, 2004
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I got this book to help me learn about--not just identify--my neighborhood trees. It's excellent. It's written for the layman, and it is so comprehensive and interesting to read.
I've gone through much of this book with my kids, who, because they're city-dwellers, rarely get a chance to thoughtfully examine the fauna that's all around us. Now my 9-year-old can explain differences between maples as well as point out ash, linden, and several species of oak.
This book is great for people who want to train themselves to notice details, like leaf arrangement, general shape, and bark patterns. It makes you a better observer, and it helps you notice much more than the trees themselves (like what lives on, or in, them).
This is fun to take on a walk through the park.
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful By H. Bell on May 13, 2000
Format: Paperback
Buy "The Urban Tree Book" by Arthur Plotnik if you want a well reasoned authoritative and beautifully written book on urban trees. The author does pure and poetic justice to many of my favorite city trees, and like many of us, he loves them all, worts and all. As an example, the "Tree of Heaven," Ailanthus altissima, is a tree many an Arborist or Landscaper loves to hate -- for a number of good reasons as the author points-out. He then goes on to tell of the many beauties and uses of this tree that "...Grows In Brooklyn." He finishes always the diplomat as he asks: "Is it a weed? It's your city. You decide." Arthur validates those of us who believe that, here in the West, many urban landscapes would have few city trees of consequence if it weren't for the so-called weed trees. At the same time he acknowledges the drawbacks of plants that encroach upon the native landscape. With humor and grace he tell's of the natural and not so natural histories of his chosen subjects, explaining virtues and vices of our arboreal friends in manner delightfully entertaining as well as edifying. He explains reasons for banning on city tree lists. Nevertheless, ever the arboreal gentleman, Mr. Plotnik treats all with fairness and honesty as he describes their beauties and many other reasons for appreciating them. Among other tough and sometimes-maligned arboreal foreigners, he features a favorite of mine, Paulownia, the Princess/Empress Tree. He speaks of the "Red Menace" and other maples that tear-up sidewalks, and scatter seeds, etc., but he then waxes eloquent on the irreplaceable beauties of all 'his' maples.Read more ›
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By P. van Rijckevorsel on December 2, 2000
Format: Paperback
When after all those rave reviews I bought a copy I was slightly dissappointed. This is an unassuming paperback. There are books on trees you buy for the illustrations: this is not one of them. The illustrations are nice, even tasteful (although I assume they would look a lot better in color) but are nothing more than just that, an illustration of the text.
However, when actually reading in the book I was quickly forced to the conclusion that this is a real find. Arthur Plotnik not only is inspired by trees, he also did his home-work (in a big way!) and he surely can write. This book reminds me very strongly of D.C.Peattie, as he would write if he were to live today. What can I add to that?
P.S. I can add that this book has an impressive list of references for further reading and a perhaps even more impressive list of internet sites on trees.
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