Book Review – The Songs of Trees: Stories from Nature’s Great Connectors by David George Haskell

The Songs of Trees
by
David George Haskell

I enjoyed this book that explores the deep connection between trees, nature and humans. Haskell studies twelve trees from around the world and explains in descriptive detail how the trees grow, adapt, sense, and provide living space for a multitude of living things.

From the Ceibo in the Amazon, to the Redwoods and Ponderosa Pines in Colorado, to the Japanese White Pine, we learn about these and other regional trees, their chemistry, their leaves and adaptive roots, the fungi that help them grow, how the trees protect themselves, and the effects of climate change over millions of years. In addition, we learn about regional cultures and their relationships to specific species. Haskell also describes the spiritual, economic and political connections with the trees.

While I enjoyed learning about all the trees he described, I particularly enjoyed reading about the Ceibo in Ecuador. Haskell ascended a structure through the canopy of this part of the forest and was able to see and experience the vast network of creatures living within the branches, animals that never visit the ground. That includes the bullet ant, known for its intensely painful sting! I also liked learning about how humans and the Hazel tree arrived in Scotland at the same time, during the Mesolithic Age. These civilizations had a deep dependency on the Hazel, used its wood for fuel and ate hazelnuts to survive. Haskell also studies several urban trees, including the Cottonwood in Denver and the Callery Pear in Manhattan. Both of these species have become gathering places for people, in Denver, to enjoy shade along the Cheery Creek and the South Platte River and in New York, as a place to step away for a bit from the busy sidewalk traffic. In Jerusalem, he looks at the olive tree, how it adapts to dry conditions and the effects of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on its farmers and their families.

To say that Haskell is descriptive is a major understatement! He packs every sentence with a multitude of adjectives and scientific detail. That makes for a slower read, perhaps the author’s deliberate attempt to make readers truly understand and experience the atmosphere he describes. At 252 pages, you may think you can read this quickly, but I’d recommend taking it at about ten to twenty pages at time. I was under pressure to read it for my library job and had to commit to fifty pages a day to get it done. That was a little tough, time-wise. I’d recommend this book to readers who like books about natural history and enjoy the connection between nature and civilization.

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16 thoughts on “Book Review – The Songs of Trees: Stories from Nature’s Great Connectors by David George Haskell

  1. This sounds fascinating, Barbara. I have a children’s book about the rainforests that opens up and shows the different layers of animal and insect life in the tree canopy.

  2. Hi, Barb – Thank you for this very timely recommendation. I am currently taking a course on trees. This book looks like the perfect companion to that course! I’m off to look for that book now.

  3. Thanks for your wonderful review, Barbara. My family loves trees from our camping and backpacking adventures, especially Redwoods. We’re truly tree huggers, so this book sounds like an interesting read.

    1. Oh good – not the type of book I would normally read, but it was for a work event and I thought it was interesting. Thanks for reading and commenting.

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