Five Forest Books to Read this Summer

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American Forests Staff Recommends Five Forest-Related Books for Summer Reading

Summer means a lot of things. One is having time to read something other than email messages and reports. Below you will find recommendations from American Forests’ staff on five books to read, along with descriptions of the books from Goodreads. We are a little bit forests-obsessed, so all the books relate to forests (and trees, more specifically) in some way. While some are heavy pieces of fiction and some are lighter novels, they all can be enjoyed in your favorite reading spot. Under a tree, of course.

1. Braiding Sweetgrass

By Robin Wall Kimmerer

As a botanist, Robin Wall Kimmerer has been trained to ask questions of nature with the tools of science. As a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, she embraces the notion that plants and animals are our oldest teachers. In “Braiding Sweetgrass,” Kimmerer brings these lenses of knowledge together to show that the awakening of a wider ecological consciousness requires the acknowledgment and celebration of our reciprocal relationship with the rest of the living world. For only when we can hear the languages of other beings are we capable of understanding the generosity of the earth, and learning to give our own gifts in return.

“This collection of essays was a reminder to me to slow down, observe, listen to and honor nature. I particularly enjoyed the essay “Wisgaak Gokpenagen: A Black Ash Basket,” which details the thoughtful, patient and ecologically-sensitive process that has been followed by many generations of Potawatomi basket makers. Honor and respect for black ash trees are deeply imbedded in the basket weaving tradition.”
– Rhode Island Urban Tree Equity: Climate & Health Fellow Molly Henry

2. Flight Behavior

By Barbara Kingsolver

“Flight Behavior” is a novel that takes on one of the most contentious subjects of our time: climate change. With a deft and versatile empathy, Barbara Kingsolver dissects the motives that drive denial and belief in a precarious world. “Flight Behavior” transfixes from its opening scene, when a young woman’s narrow experience of life is thrown wide with the force of a raging fire. In the lyrical language of her native Appalachia, Kingsolver bares the rich, tarnished humanity of her novel’s inhabitants and unearths the modern complexities of rural existence. Characters and readers alike are quickly carried beyond familiar territory here, into the unsettled ground of science, faith and everyday truces between reason and conviction.

“This book gives readers an insight to both the social and physical sciences, as they relate to climate change. Human emotions and experiences reflect how we perceive crisis. Kingsolver weaves a story full of empathy and grief—matched with science and solutions.”
– California State Director Brittany Dyer


3. Trees in Trouble

Daniel Mathews

Climate change manifests in many ways across America, but few as dramatic as the attacks on our western pine forests. In “Trees in Trouble,” Daniel Mathews tells the urgent story of this loss, accompanying burn crews and forest ecologists as they study the myriad risk factors and refine techniques for improving forest health and saving this important, limited resource. Mathews transports the reader from the exquisitely aromatic haze of ponderosa and Jeffrey pine groves to the fantastic gnarls and whorls of 5,000-year-old bristlecone pines, from genetic test nurseries where white pine seedlings are deliberately infected with their mortal enemy to the desert-like expanses at the heart of the hottest mega-fire sites and neighborhoods leveled by fire tornadoes or ember blizzards. “Trees in Trouble” explores not only the devastating ripple effects of climate change, but introduces us to the people devoting their lives to saving our forests. Mathews also offers hope: a new approach to managing western pine forests is underway.

“This book features many of American Forests’ favorite scientists and foresters, such as Dana Walsh, Diana Six and Diana Tomback. The author focuses on why people care and are working so hard to protect and restore western U.S. pine forests. It even has a few chapters dedicated solely to whitebark pine, one of the tree species American Forests is working to protect.”
–Senior Forest Conservation Manager Austin Rempel

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4. The Hidden Life of Trees

By Peter Wohlleben

In “The Hidden Life of Trees,” Peter Wohlleben shares his deep love of woods and forests and explains the amazing processes of life, death and regeneration he has observed in the woodland and the amazing scientific processes behind the wonders of which we are blissfully unaware. Much like human families, tree parents live together with their children, communicate with them and support them as they grow, sharing nutrients with those who are sick or struggling and creating an ecosystem that mitigates the impact of extremes of heat and cold for the whole group. As a result of such interactions, trees in a family or community are protected and can live to be very old. In contrast, solitary trees, like street kids, have a tough time of it and in most cases die much earlier than those in a group. Drawing on groundbreaking new discoveries, Wohlleben presents the science behind the secret and previously unknown life of trees and their communication abilities; he describes how these discoveries have informed his own practices in the forest around him. As he says, a happy forest is a healthy forest, and he believes that eco-friendly practices not only are economically sustainable but also benefit the health of our planet and the mental and physical health of all who live on Earth.

“This book opened my eyes to the overwhelmingly complex inner life of trees. Whether you are a curious, casual reader or an expert forester looking to rekindle your passion, you will be delighted as Wohlleben guides you through the mysterious, wonder-filled world of trees.”
– Senior Manager of Data Science Rohit Musti

5. Barkskins

By Annie Proulx

In the late seventeenth century, two penniless young Frenchmen, René Sel and Charles Duquet, arrive in New France. Bound to a feudal lord, a “seigneur,” for three years in exchange for land, they become wood-cutters—barkskins. René suffers extraordinary hardship, oppressed by the forest he is charged with clearing. He is forced to marry a Mi’kmaw woman and their descendants live trapped between two inimical cultures. But Duquet, crafty and ruthless, runs away from the seigneur, becomes a fur trader, then sets up a timber business. Proulx tells the stories of the descendants of Sel and Duquet over 300 years—their travels across North America, to Europe, China, and New Zealand, under stunningly brutal conditions—the revenge of rivals, accidents, pestilence, Indian attacks, and cultural annihilation. Over and over again, they seize what they can of a presumed infinite resource, leaving the modern-day characters face to face with possible ecological collapse.

“This book is particularly relevant for anybody familiar with the forests of Maine, eastern Canada, New Zealand and the Great Lakes. You will be wistful for what could have been.  Lots of attention to historic details and vivid imagery.”
Vice President of External Affairs Leslie Jones

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