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The Tree: A Natural History of What Trees Are, How They Live, and Why They Matter Paperback – October 23, 2007

4.2 out of 5 stars 29 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In an elegant tribute to denizens of nature that humans too often take for granted, British biologist Tudge (The Famine Business) presents a wealth of intriguing facts about trees. Basing his information on science and writing "in a spirit of reverence," he explains how biologists identify the different kinds of trees; how trees have evolved over millions of years; how they adapt to their habitats, survive and reproduce. Describing a multitude of species, Tudge emphasizes the distinctive characteristics of each. He marvels, for example, at banyans with their roots hanging down from their branches, palms whose roots grow directly from their trunks, mangroves standing with their roots in the sea, baobabs holding so much water in their swollen trunks that they are extremely resistant to drought, figs in partnership with the minute wasps that pollinate them—"one dedicated species of wasp for each of the 750 species of fig." Tudge concludes with a chapter emphasizing the importance of all types of trees for humankind's well-being—a persuasive call to action for the preservation of the environment so that trees, and humans, can survive. 33 exquisite line drawings. (Oct.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* British biologist and science-writer-extraordinaire Tudge offers a sumptuously specific tour of the phenomenal world of trees. Earth's longest-lived sentinels, trees serve as the planet's lungs, organic metropolises for wildly diverse species, and the source of food, medicine, our most versatile building material, and a large quotient of nature's most majestic beauty. After tracking the slow evolution of plant life from "metabolizing slime" to trees attaining gravity-defying heights, Tudge declares that trees are engineering marvels and that "wood is one of the wonders of the universe." He is equally in awe over the astonishing variety of forms trees achieve around the globe, and precisely describes them, from oaks to baobabs to the mighty kauri. "Without trees, our species would not have come into being at all," declares Tudge, and now in this time of global warming, trees are key to our survival. Tudge's explanation of how climate change will endanger trees is invaluable. Along with Wangari Maathai, founder of Kenya's Green Belt Movement (see Unbowed, p.29), Tudge shares knowledge and issues a call to action in this indispensable celebration of one of our most precious natural resources. Donna Seaman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Broadway Books; Reprint edition (October 23, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307395391
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307395399
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.1 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (29 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #334,185 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Stephen A. Haines HALL OF FAME on May 11, 2006
Format: Hardcover
"I never met a Tudge I didn't like" is a fitting adage for this wide-ranging author. Having written an "unauthorised biography" of life, the impact of agriculture on human development and other works, Tudge has created a masterpiece of science writing. No longer can we claim that we can't "see the woods for the trees" since he has detailed the mechanics of both in exquisite detail. At) least so far as we know now. If nothing else is clear from this book, what we don't know about the mechanisms of trees far exceeds what we've learned. Trees, so ubiquitous in their presence and so meaningful in our lives, remain a great mystery to be solved. In three almost independent segments, he spells out what is known and what needs to be revealed.

He opens with one of the most understated definitions in science writing: "a tree is a big plant with a stick up the middle". From this simplistic opening, he then develops an image of how complex that "stick" and "plant" combination is in the final product. This complexity didn't appear from nowhere - the author explains how evolution built it from simple beginnings. Most readers will be familiar with the fact that 46 chromosome are needed to make a human. Trees, through various mechanisms, may develop hundreds of chromosomes depending on conditions. The structure of a single tree almost pales against the variety of trees growing around our planet. Tall trees, spreading ones, trees that we often call "shrubs" - which are merely superbly adapted to their local environment - all reflect the immense diversity trees have developed over the ages. Although generally divided into but two forms, conifers and "flowering" trees, they comprise thousands of species, many probably still unknown.
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Format: Hardcover
One of the most beloved and memorable of all popular poems is Joyce Kilmer's 'Trees' " I think that I shall never see/ a poem as lovely as a tree'/ A tree whose hungry mouth is prest/ against the earth's sweet flowing breast/.

The sheer wonder, delight, and inspiration 'Trees' give to our poetic nature is only one side of what they are.

In this learned and detailed study of Trees,Colin Tudge tells us more about them than we might ever have wanted to know. He describes the different species, provides a survival guide to the way Trees manage in often challenging environments, considers the special qualities of different kinds of trees, helps us understand how Trees are a benefit not only to the 'natural world' but to human civilization and society.

He does this as he also points out the new dangers facing various species from global- warming. And he has specific recommendations on how we can better create an environment more beneficial to the natural world as a whole.

The book is disappointingly poor in one element most of its readers will certainly want to have, good illustrations of Trees. But it nonetheless is an overall encyclopediac treasure for those for whom one of the natural world's great stars are an ongoing source of interest and attraction.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
...but only an environment can make a tree. The necessary adaptation of plants to their environment, which makes some of them shape themselves as trees, is one of Colin Tudge's central points in this immense study of the evolutionary history of trees, of their fantastically complicated taxonomy, of their "life styles" as stationary but highly active organisms, and of their place in a world increasingly managed by a species of primate whose origins were arboreal.

As other reviewers have noted, The Tree has three distinct trunks. The first 86 pages - What Is a Tree? - answers its own question by stating that "a tree is a big plant with a pole in the middle". Later the author continues: "...there are many lineages of trees--quite separate evolutionary lines that have nothing to do with each other except that they are all plants...'Tree' is not a distinct category like 'dog' or 'horse,' It's just a way of being a plant." Thus it seems, the concept of 'tree' is more of a Platonic form than a solid scientific classification. Tudge continues to discuss the convergent evolution of trees in terms of their competitive adaptation to specific environments. I believe he would agree with me that the 'specific' is most often the root of the 'species.'

The second section of the book - All the Trees in the World, 160 pages - is an exhaustive and exhausting catalog of the families, genera, and species of trees world-wide. Unless you are the kind of reader who finds taxomony more entertaining than table tennis, this plethora of info may blur in your mind and you may abandon the book before the final section. That would be a shame, since the final section is by far the most interesting. The good news is that you can vault over the trees without losing your way in the forest.
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Format: Paperback
Tudge is to nature writing what the late, Nobel Laureate, Jorge Luis Borges, was to literature; he examines every aspect of a topic, turning it over until his examination is complete, and leaving no stone, or in this case leaf, unturned. And doing so with wit and style in a way no one else could.

This is the longest book length tome on natural history I've seen just devoted to trees, and it contains a huge amount of information, enough to put off the casual reader. For example, don't listen to the two negative reviews, they should have started with a beginning book on trees as Tudge's book is just too advanced. Tudge knows his audience well, which is that of already learned and literate natural history buffs, and trying this book before laying the groundwork is like trying to learn calculus without first learning algebra and trigonometry.

But I don't need to defend Tudge as his accomplishments speak for themselves. Overall, this is probably the most detailed piece of expository writing on trees ever done, outside of formal dendrology texts, which aren't nearly as readable (I know, I've read them). If you love trees and want to learn more about their biology, classification, and ecology, there is no more enjoyable way to do it than with this book, and it is probably destined to become a masterpiece and classic of the nature genre.
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