Mstation Book Reviews
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Mon, 27 Feb 2006

Secret Life of Trees

Colin Tudge - The Secret Life of Trees: How They Live and Why They Matter
Published by the Penguin Group, Penguin Books Ltd, London 2005

Colin Tudge is currently a full time writer (author of such works as The Variety of Life and So Shall We Reap), public speaker and BBC radio documentary maker with a passionate interest in the natural world, having studied zoology at Cambridge. He is also a Fellow of the Linnean Society of London and visiting Research Fellow at the Centre of Philosophy at the London School of Economics.

The subject of his book, The Secret Life of Trees, should really come as no surprise but the word "secret" suggests that there is a lot more to it than meets the eye. Throughout its various chapters, Tudge covers all aspects of trees; starting with how life began; the definition of a tree in comparison with other plants; an explanation of those complicated Latin/Greek classifications; how trees live and evolve; how they have affected the world around them, including the evolution of the human race; the social life of trees; and how we should work with trees in the future.

What I found brilliant about this book is that it is more than a mere biology textbook (although I would certainly recommend it to any student). I have to admit that I had never really considered the significance of trees in the world around us to any great extent before us, and initially found its over 400 pages slightly intimidating, but I was pleasantly surprised. Firstly because the book is very well explained and even those who may not have a biology degree will be able to follow the subject matter. Secondly, there was so much fascinating information that many people would probably not come across or consider otherwise - for example, to what extent trees have affected evolution, ultimately influencing the development of human intelligence, or that trees are aware of their surroundings and actually have a form of memory. But what I enjoyed most about this book was how the author managed to make the subject humorous, leaving the reader pondering such philosophical matters as the meaning of life and our interconnectedness with the natural world. One quote that I feel sums this idea up, regarding the fact that trees may seem at a disadvantage not having brains reads as follows:

"But then, a tree might ask, why bother with brains and all the expense and angst that goes with them, when you can run your life just as well without?"

M. North

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