Enter your mobile number or email address below and we'll send you a link to download the free Kindle App. Then you can start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required.
To get the free app, enter your mobile phone number.
The Baron In The Trees Paperback – March 28, 1977
The Gift of Science
Check out these featured resources for fun learning with Science.
Frequently Bought Together
Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought
Text: English, Italian (translation)
About the Author
Top Customer Reviews
Like an arboreal Robinson Crusoe who has chosen his fate, Cosimo determines to make his living in the contiguous group of trees that link his family's garden with those of his neighbors and the forests beyond the town. He travels between trees by climbing and jumping from branch to branch, becoming as nimble and elusive as a squirrel, while he trains himself to survive by hunting wild animals for food and clothing and building a flume to draw drinking water from a waterfall. Even in the trees he engages in activities normally reserved for people on the ground: He continues his formal education, befriends a dachshund that helps him hunt, supports a bumbling brigand's reading habit, and even has an adventure on a pirate ship without touching the deck.
Through his life in the trees, Cosimo becomes notorious throughout Europe and attains a reputation for madness that gradually turns into a strange sort of esteem. He converses with strangers, meets a group of Spanish exiles who also happen to be tree-dwellers, becomes a writer and natural scientist, and wins the hearts of many ladies who provide him with sexual gratification--in the branches, of course. Far from becoming a Rousseauian savage or a hermit, however, he remains quite civilized and gregarious; his palpable wisdom and curious residence ironically earn him more respect than he would get from the people if he were just a normal land-dwelling baron.
Calvino presents the story as a biography narrated by Cosimo's younger brother Biagio, who with affectionate patience describes in vivid detail every aspect of Cosimo's life and is quite hilarious in his explanations of their beleaguered father, militaristic mother, and gruesome, mischievous sister Battista, a "kind of stay-at-home nun." His efforts to explain Cosimo require him to delve into the mind of a political philosopher who aspires to be as influential as Machiavelli: When his father admonishes him that living in trees does not befit a nobleman, Cosimo replies that a true leader is someone who has ideas and communicates them to the people, not a man with an inherited title.
"The Baron in the Trees" may be read as a parable about withdrawing from reality and creating an isolated fantasy world in which to live free from the constraints of society as the ultimate expression of individuality, or as just a wonderful fable about a boy becoming a man on his own terms. One thing is sure: you'll never look at a tree the same way again.
The story begins, as the first line of the novel tells us, on the fifteenth of June, 1767. Cosimo Piovasco di Rondò is a member of a family whose father has sights on climbing the aristocratic ladder. In the very first chapter there is a family scuffle, during dinner, which results in Cosimo going into the trees and vowing never to come down ("And he kept his word" Cosimo's brother, who narrates the story, states). Cosimo then resigns himself to a life in the trees. After some initial mishaps (dealing with rain, bathing, food, etc), he proves himself very adaptable to living off the ground. Human adaptability seems to be at the back of the story (along with many other things); his family and town almost grow accustomed to Cosimo's darting amongst the branches. Cosimo even makes a name for himself "up in the trees" (Voltaire asks about him, and Napolean insists on meeting him). Of course the big question that comes from this action, in the very opening of the novel, is why did Cosimo go up into the trees? Why didn't he simply run away? One possible answer is that he wanted to make an example of himself. Living in the trees (especially in the 18th century) would likely make one into a spectacle. Running away wouldn't make as strong of a point, and would sever ties to his family which Cosimo does not want to do (this becomes more obvious as the novel moves on). And why does he stay in the trees? One possible answer is that which his brother gives to Voltaire: "My brother considers that anyone who wants to see the earth properly must keep himself at a necessary distance from it." Another possibility is, close to the novel's end, Cosimo is speaking with a Russian officer, who says, right after some members of his unit present him with the severed heads of some hussars, "You see.. War... For years now I've been dealing as best I can with a thing that in itself is appalling; war... and all this for ideals which I shall never, perhaps, be able to fully explain to myself..." Cosimo answers in like: "I too have lived many years for ideals which I would never be able to explain to myself; but I do something entirely good. I live on trees." Rambunctous and impetuous youth led Cosimo into the trees (he was only twelve when he took to the branches), but his ideals, once established, kept him there the rest of his life. All of us make descions in our youth that we either follow through with or abandon. Cosimo never abandoned his decision, for good or ill.
The novel reads like an adventure in places (e.g., when the feared, or imaginary, "Gian dei Brughi" is terrorizing the countryside, but evetually becomes addicted to novels - which in and of itself makes for a hilarious few chapters - Cosimo is there for almost every move); in other places it reads like a heartbreaking love story (e.g., Cosimo's nearly lifelong affair with Viola, which becomes so intense it's almost painful to read). A lot of action goes on in the trees, and the reader will likely not conclude that Cosimo has "missed something" as a result of his decision. Overall the novel is so readable that it's hard to put down (it could probably be completed in one long sitting). It has that mix of reality and fantasy that Calvino is famous for (it's easy to find references to Calvino as "one of the world's best fabulists"). Like other Calvino it's funny (Cosimo's sister serves bizarre arrangements of food to the family), heartbreaking (did Cosimo find true love in the trees or did he fail miserably?), poignant (he finds a great comrade in a small daschund he names "Ottimo Massimo" but the dog ultimately belongs to someone else), and a great read. The decisions one makes in life have impact on oneself and others, and in Cosimo's case his decision had vast impact on his immediate surroundings, regardless of the reasons why. Make a good decision for yourself and read this book.