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The Wild Trees: A Story of Passion and Daring Hardcover – April 10, 2007

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

[Signature]Reviewed by John VaillantIn this radical departure from Preston's bestsellers on catastrophic diseases (The Demon in the Freezer, etc.), he journeys into the perpendicular universe of the world's tallest trees. Mostly California redwoods, they are the colossal remnants of a lost world, some predating the fall of Rome. Suspended in their crowns, hundreds of feet above the forest floor, is a primeval kingdom of plants and animals that only a handful of people have ever seen. Now, thanks to Preston and a custom-made tree-climbing apparatus called a "spider rig," we get to see it, too.According to Preston, it wasn't until the 1980s that humans made the first forays into the tops of "supertall" trees, in excess of 350 feet high. The people who pioneered their exploration are a rarefied bunch—equal parts acrobat, adventurer and scientist. The book revolves around botanist Steve Sillett, an exceptional athlete with a tormented soul who found his calling while making a borderline suicidal "free" climb to the top of an enormous redwood in 1987, where he discovered a world of startling complexity and richness. More than 30 stories above the ground, he found himself surrounded by a latticework of fused branches hung with gardens of ferns and trees bearing no relation to their host. In this Tolkienesque realm of sky and wind, lichens abound while voles and salamanders live and breed without awareness of the earth below. At almost the exact moment that Sillett was having his epiphany in the redwood canopy, Michael Taylor, the unfocused son of a wealthy real estate developer, had a revelation in another redwood forest 200 miles to the south. Taylor, who had a paralyzing fear of heights, decided to go in search of the world's tallest tree. Their obsessive quests led these young men into a potent friendship and the discovery of some of the most extraordinary creatures that have ever lived. Preston's tireless research, crystalline writing style and narrative gifts are well suited to the subject. Sillett, Taylor and their cohorts, who include a Canadian botanist named Marie Antoine, are fascinating, often deeply wounded characters. Their collective passion and intensity have illuminated one of the most vulnerable and poorly understood ecosystems on this continent. Preston adds a personal twist by mastering the arcane tree climber's art of "skywalking" and partnering with Sillett and Antoine on some of their most ambitious ascents. As impressive as this is, Preston's cameo appearance disrupts the flow of the main narrative and somewhat dilutes its considerable power.John Vaillant is the author of The Golden Spruce: A True Story of Myth, Madness and Greed (Norton) and winner of the Canadian Governor General's Award for Non-Fiction (2005).
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Bookmarks Magazine

Richard Preston, whose previous nonfiction thrillers include The Hot Zone (about the Ebola virus) and The Demon in the Freezer (about smallpox; ***1/2 Jan/Feb 2003), takes a botanical detour in The Wild Trees. Most critics praised this noteworthy, if somewhat less sensational, effort. Yet while some relished the offbeat characters, the action-packed sequences, and Preston's personal climbing experiences, others found fault with Preston's detailed descriptions of his subjects' personal lives, his overdramatization of mundane stories for effect, and his self-important account of going "native" (Cleveland Plain Dealer). Many were also surprised that Preston had little to say about protecting the remaining redwoods despite their continued endangerment.

Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Random House; 1 edition (April 10, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400064899
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400064892
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (220 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #165,178 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Richard Preston is the bestselling author of The Hot Zone, The Demon in the Freezer, and the novel The Cobra Event. A writer for The New Yorker since 1985, Preston is the only nondoctor to have received the Centers for Disease Control's Champion of Prevention Award. He also holds an award from the American Institute of Physics. Preston lives outside of New York City.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

139 of 146 people found the following review helpful By Rob Hardy HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on April 12, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Kids climb trees. Then they grow up and climbing trees is one of the things of childhood they put away. Except some don't give it up. Some keep it as a hobby, and some even make academic careers from climbing trees. Richard Preston is the hobbyist kind. He is better known as a nonfiction author of such bestsellers as _The Hot Zone_ and _The Demon in the Freezer_, scary nonfiction books about dangerous diseases. He has turned his attention to tree-climbing, done by him and by professional and amateur tree enthusiasts in _The Wild Trees: A Story of Passion and Daring_ (Random House). There are still scary stories here, because this isn't the sort of tree climbing that kids do. These climbers take special equipment and haul themselves up the redwoods, 35 stories high. Sometimes they fall, but the risk of the endeavor does not seem to the attraction. They have a romantic obsession with the big trees; some of them have harnessed the obsession into academic papers and college careers, but others just climb to do so. The tree canopy sounds like an enticing place, as Preston describes it, "a world between the ground and the sky, an intermediary realm, neither fully solid nor purely air, an ever-changing scaffold joining heaven and earth, ruled by the forces of gravity, wind, fire, and time." Understandably, most of us aren't going to visit there, and most of us aren't going to meet the climbers who are smitten by the canopy, but Preston's lovely, enthusiastic descriptions of the climbers and the climbed make this an enticing report from a foreign world.

Botanists estimate that the bigger ones are over two thousand years old.
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75 of 77 people found the following review helpful By Winter in Fredburg on April 28, 2007
Format: Hardcover
My wife and I are voracious readers and often settle for books that are OK, but not noteworthy. Every so often a jewel pops out of nowhere and The Wild Trees is just such a book.

We were early readers of The Life of Pi, and feel this book is just such a read. Editorially, they are miles apart, but both books surprise you by just being wonderful and refrshing.

Within 30 pages of the start, you will be breathless, and then the character development begins. There is the poor son of a billionaire, a wonderful love story and of course the trees. The wonderful magnificent trees. And, it's all true.

I just bought 12 copies to send to my reading friends and just felt it would be a good thing to let others know.

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27 of 28 people found the following review helpful By Yesh Prabhu, author of The Beech Tree VINE VOICE on April 21, 2007
Format: Hardcover
With the publication of The Wild Trees, Richard Preston has added one more magical book of nonfiction to the impressive list of books he has written.

This book, an exploration of the miniature world of the coast redwood trees of northern California, will imprint on your mind an indelible picture of the bounteous nature.

These gentle behemoths, the largest and tallest living things on our planet, the "blue whales of land", are awe-inspiring indeed. But they are also fragile, says the author. The largest of these trees has a thirty feet wide trunk, and it is more than three hundred fifty feet tall. The author explores the world of these wild trees with the help of Steve Sillett and Marie Antoine, a couple, both of them botanists, and Michael Taylor, a son of a wealthy real estate developer, and a small group of botanists and amateur naturalists.

This book will open your eyes to the grandeur of these trees. And it will show you the small world of insects, mosses, lichens, wandering salamanders and other small animals, ferns and plants and bushes such as huckleberry and even small trees, all living and thriving on the branches and trunks of these coast redwood trees. Exploring the canopy of these wild trees is an arduous task indeed; to climb a tree one must carry a heavy load of very long ropes and climbing gear. The author took lessons in climbing a tree at a tree-climbing school in Atlanta.

While we can all rejoice that quite a few of these sequoias are allowed to live for now in Northern California and also a couple of other parts of our country, we should always remember that ninety-six percent of the ancient redwood trees have been felled by the logging industry.
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34 of 39 people found the following review helpful By Seth J. Frantzman HALL OF FAME on April 15, 2007
Format: Hardcover
This brilliantly written story combines science and trees and climbing into one long adventure that makes the reader happy and brings these great trees to life. Redwoods are massive, the tallest trees int he world and the tallest one has recently been discovered at 379 meters by Michael Taylor, a tree surfer and avid climber who pioneered new climbing techniques. This book explores not only his story but that of many others who have come to love the Redwoods and understand them.

The trees themselves are more than 2,000 years old, at least the oldest are and there is much we can learn about our world through them. They contain up to 50% of all the new species being discovered in the world today in their living canopies. A veritable ecosystem grows up in the canipy of the tree, so that there are in fact mini-climate zones within the trees expanse.

This book evokes the granduer and majesty of the natural environment and those that have pioneered studies and also climbing and other mavericks and wonder-lusts.

A brilliant, rollicking book.

Seth J. Frantzman
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