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

4.6 out of 5 stars 14 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com 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 (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #262,103 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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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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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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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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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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