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Your forest reading list: 6 must-read books about trees

Summer in the Northern Hemisphere isn’t over yet — which means there’s still time to curl up in a hammock in the shade of a leafy tree with a good book. Relax and venture into the woods with one of these forest-related book recommendations by Conservation International staff.

1. “White Waters and Black,” by Gordon MacCreag

“This is one of my all-time favorite books. The Amazon basin is famous for its biological diversity and new species are still being found all the time. No one even had a firm estimate of how many kinds of trees are in the Amazon until a great new study came out, just this month. What we know about the Amazon is built on the work of thousands of scientists and their expeditions, and ‘White Waters and Black’ is a laugh-out-loud, irreverent account of a major expedition from 1923. Well worth a read!”

– Steven Panfil, Technical Adviser of REDD+ Initiatives

2. “American Canopy: Trees, Forests, and the Making of a Nation,” by Eric Rutko

“This is a bit different than other forestry books in that it is an American history book that examines history from the perspective of its forests — how important they have been and how they have been viewed over time (from a resource to be exploited to a resource to be enjoyed through recreation).  I learned a lot of interesting info about just how central forests have been to the development of the U.S. This book marks the first time someone has treated America’s forests and trees as a subject for a broad historical study spanning four centuries. At the same time, the book is highly accessible and an enjoyable read.”

– Agustin Silvani, Vice President of the Ecosystem Finance Division

3. “In the Shadow of the Banyan,” by Vaddey Ratne

“This is not a book about forests. And yet it is. To conserve a place you really need to understand the stories of the people who live there. ‘In the Shadow of the Banyan’ is a fictional but deeply personal story about one woman’s experience living through the brutal conflict and social upheaval of Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge years. The protagonist’s journey is in-your-face with raw humanity, but ever-present beneath the surface are glimpses of forests, rivers and soils and how Cambodia’s shifting population relate to them culturally and depend on them physically: the titular banyan, the Tonle Sap River and its unique, periodic backward flows from the Mekong. The impacts of this period persist beyond the time covered in the book — impacts both on the millions of Cambodians that lived through the period and on the simultaneously scarred, beautiful lands and waters that still support those people today.”

– Will Turner, Senior Vice President of Global Strategies

4. “The World Without Us,” by Alan Weisma

“This is a thought provoking, post- apocalyptic non-fiction novel that explores how nature will prevail long after humans are gone. This message is similar to our ‘Nature Is Speaking’ campaign, where nature doesn’t need people, people need nature. I enjoyed the vivid description of a future Earth overtaken by nature in our absence, but scarred by the artifacts we left behind. Would our civilization be interpreted as intelligent and caring or violent and careless? What is the legacy we want to leave?”

– Karyn Tabor, Director of Ecosystem Modeling and Early Warning Systems

5. “The Last Child in the Woods,” by Richard Louv

“As a child who grew up exploring the woods, I am saddened that my children may not have the same opportunities to have endless free time to explore outside in nature. Louv’s book coins the term ‘nature-deficit disorder’ to describe the health, social and developmental consequences resulting from our alienation from nature. This book helps reinforce my value of nature that my mom instilled in me and that I want to hand down to my children.”

– Karyn Tabor

As for my own recommendation:

6. “State of Wonder,” by Ann Patchet

On its surface, this is a book that appears to be set in a forest more than it is about a forest — a story about science, sacrifice, civilization and wilderness. A good portion of the novel is dedicated to detailing both the struggle and the beauty of the Amazon rainforest, equipped with breathtaking descriptions of flora and fauna. However, the book’s emotional heart — as the title suggests — is not the protagonist’s physical trek through the real Amazon but her psychological and emotional journey through the forest in her mind.

Happy reading!

Ben Koses is an intern for Conservation International.

Further reading