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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon October 20, 2010
The Tree Where Man Was Born (Classic, Nature, Penguin)The Tree Where Man Was Born

by Peter Matthiessen

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I bought this book before I knew who Peter Matthiessen was, namely, one of the greatest nature writers of all time. Because of the book's title, I thought the author would tie present day East Africa to a by-gone era when man was primitive and evolving and nature ruled. I read the first one-hundred fifty pages and put it down for five years before returning to it. At that time, I was lost in my passion for the life and times of early man and not so interested in anything that rhymed with 'present day'.

Then, after finishing that portion of my writing, I returned to what might be Matthiessen's greatest nature book (well, there is Snow Leopard and At Play in the Fields of the Lord. Hard to pick). When I picked it up the second time, I couldn't put it down. His descriptions of nature, the depth of understanding he voices for the people of the land, his vivid descriptions of what happens around him are like no one else. Here are a few of my favorites:

* Soon vegetation crowded the road, which was crossed at dusk by a band of bush-pig, neat-footed and burly, neck bristles erect, as if intent on punching holes right through the truck
* Soft hills inset with outcrops of elephant-colored boulders rose beyond a bright stretch of blue river
* Kamande Gatora is a contained person with the watchfulness of the near-blind; he had taken the Mau-Mau oath and been imprisoned, in the years after his mistress had gone home to Denmark, despite 'the kind deeds I was receiving from her untold and the old life we stayed with her
* Marsabit in June: great elephants and volcanoes, lark song and bright butterflies and far below, pale desert wastes that vanish in the sands.
* By morning the wind was blowing up in sandstorms. Flights of sand grouse, seeking water, hurtled back and forth over the cracking palms, and a train of camels etched a slow crack into the desert to the south.
* Inland, black boulders climb to far-off ridges that rise in turn to the Kulal Mountains, in Rendille Land.
* ...because the heat is dry and because the wind is never still for more than a few hours.
* Since gnu are ever willing to stampede, the crossing is a hazard for the calves, and one morning of early winter more than six hundred drowned.
* By late afternoon, when the predators become restless, raising their heads out of the grass to sniff the wind, those calves would already be running.

I'm only to pg. 127... Does it take your breath away, too?
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on January 21, 2014
The first half reads like some scholarly botanical report, with words from multiple languages and dialects thrown in for additional distraction. The last 100 pages are a fair read but never make up for that first 150. The book covers trips over a ten year period and sometimes it's tough following the when and where.

It's not a bad book, just not my cup of tea.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon April 18, 2012
I purchased this book in anticipation of a journey to Africa. This chronicle is nonfiction, but it reads with the depth and intensity of poetry. Even though this book was written about the author's experience and impressions of Africa on a series of trips in the 1960's his insights remain timeless. The politics of Africa are convulsive and the boundaries of countries dynamic, but much of Tanzania and Kenya lands have been preserved and remain essentially the same as when Matthiessen visited 50 years ago. His descriptions of natural occurrences like the systematic attack of wild dogs on a new born zebra made me want to beg him to stop. But, he gives life to the landscape and all the animals that dwell there with same brilliant mastery of the language and pulls the reader forward. He does speak of mans beginnings as the title suggests, "Baboons in silhouette looked like early hominids hurling wild manic howling at my head." Even though the information about the descent of mankind is fascinating, for me it is Matthiessen's incredible descriptive powers that give magic to a land that is often harsh and unforgiving to man and beast. Speaking about Kilimanjaro he said, "The glacier glistens. A distant snow peak scours the mind, but a snow peak in the tropics draws the heart o a fine shimmering painful point of joy."
I will read this book again when I return from Africa to compare notes and take lessons from a truly gifted writer.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on June 25, 2014
The Tree Where Man Was Born - much like the Snow Leopard - is not light reading. Although this frustrated me when I first started reading Matthiessen, I've come to relish his writing. In an era of constant distractions and mindless entertainment, Matthiessen's work requires my complete attention. At times I wasn't so much reading this book as I was meditating on it. Thoreau wrote that "Books must be read as deliberately and reservedly as they were written." I have no doubt that a great deal of care and deliberation went into the creation of this book.

Reading The Tree Where Man Was Born was worth every effort because of the frequent stunning prose - which evokes sadness, humor and an almost spiritual sense of beauty. His insights into the relationships between African and European and man and animal left me stunned and sad. I found the book incredibly moving. One of my favorite examples of Matthiessen's eloquence and insight comes while describing the prolonged death of a lioness:

"I was swept by a wave of feeling, then a pang so sharp that, for a moment, I felt sick, as if all the waste and loss in life, the harm one brings to oneself and others, had been drawn to a point in the lonely passage between light and darkness."

If you're interested in Africa, nature, or just beautiful prose, then you should read this book. If you read it with the care with which it was written, I'm certain you will not be disappointed.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on October 1, 2012
Typically beautiful description of the East African area. Would have liked more detail of the tribes living in the area. Peter Matthiessen is well known for painting glorious word pictures of all the locals he has been to. I have read most of the books he has written and am always enchanted by his love for and understanding of the lands he travel in.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on November 1, 2010
This is very interesting, it had material I was not familiar with, it was well researched and cited. It gave me leads to other aspects relating to this text. I was very happy with it. The author has a very good, clear, consise style. I would buy and read anything he writes. John
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on April 23, 2015
The Tree Where Man Was Born is an interesting account of Peter Matthiessen's travels in East Africa in the 1960s. It is most interesting--and sometimes moving--when Matthiessen relates his encounters with native peoples, some of great antiquity, and describes the forces of modernity that even then were threatening their traditional ways. The only impediment to enjoyment lies in the proliferation of factual details--peoples and places--that Matthiessen presents the reader without much accommodation in the form of maps, glossaries, or an index. Some such orientation would have been helpful in the effort to keep things in geographical and anthropological perspective.
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on July 25, 2014
Spectacularly written. My first Matthiessen, discovered after reading an obituary earlier this year, I have been enthralled by it. More travelogue than I expected but beautifully handled and with a deep appreciation for the people and clear love of the land and animals of East Africa. Wonderfully well researched and a romantic throw back.
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on August 7, 2014
Well worth the read. I am wondering today with so many foreign investors in Africa and with the USA just committing millions of dollars for infrastructure development, if there will remain any of the wild Africa we are accustomed to thinking of.
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on November 5, 2015
Great read. If you're heading to Africa - this is a great one to read before the trip.
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