This review was written for and first published by Bookmunch.
“We animals are only 0.3 percent of our planet’s biomass, while plants are 85 percent […] that we humans have by now placed ourselves above nature, is one of the gravest dangers to the survival of our species”
Stefano Mancuso is a leading authority in plant neurobiology. He is an agronomist, studying plants and the land in which they grow. Many regard this as something that belongs more to farming than science. As with most fields of knowledge, there is much more to it.
Tree Stories offers eight entertaining examples of the wide ranging impact trees have as both a life force and life enhancer. Told as stories – anecdotes – the book may be educative but is also eminently readable. There are obvious reminders of why trees are a source for good, for us and the ecosystems on which all rely for survival. There are also more niche examples of where trees have been key in expanding knowledge and endeavour.
After a brief preface, the collection opens with a puzzle. This stems from an encounter the author had with a fellow book collector in Paris. Both have an interest in plants and history. Their investigations lead them back to revolution, and the hope engendered by liberty trees.
The second story explores the evolution of cities. Cultural heritage is often highly valued but the rapidity with which populations have moved from rural living to urban centres is in contradiction to the expansion of necessary support networks. Colonising any environment transforms it for all organisms reliant on it.
“Studying and planning cities by pursuing only the immediate needs of people who inhabit them is the best way to ensure that, not long from now, those very needs will no longer be guaranteed.”
Cities require a plethora of interconnected activities to thrive and so too do trees, including underground. Their root systems intertwine and the next story explores how this aids both growing specimens and the stumps left when felling occurs. The mystery of why such zombie stumps continue to be supported is explored, offering a fine metaphor for the value of community.
“Our vision of the world as a place in which conflicts and privation are the basic forces that dominate evolution is a classic example of this animal distortion”
Wood is, of course, a valuable resource for humans. Sadly some can only regard trees in such a way. The story of those specimens favoured by luthiers, particularly Stradivari, was of interest. Yet it felt out of tune here due to the reverential tone employed. Trees will, of course, be cut down for many uses, including as a plaything. I preferred the stories of their grandeur and wider value when alive.
The fifth story is therefore more hopeful, offering as it does a tale of how living trees were used to grow knowledge. It may contain a reminder of just how foolish man can be even when dealing with a product he finds valuable in situ. This helps put in perspective the blip in planet earth’s long history humankind keeps proving himself to be.
The next story includes: Dickens, pigs, bananas, halucinogenics. As with many of the tales there is humour alongside the cutting down to size of man’s ego. I wouldn’t normally comment on the work of a book’s translator but must commend Gregory Conti for including this line that works perfectly in context:
“After weeks of tribulation, tribology had given me a chance for vindication”
The penultimate entry explores the potential value of plant matter in solving crimes, something forensic scientists often neglect despite positive precedent. There is: a transatlantic flight, a kidnapping, clues in an attic.
The collection closes with a story of moon trees, another example of rare, meritorious behaviour leading to a lasting, greater good.
Given the seemingly endless damage being inflicted on our beautiful and intricate life support system, it can be hard at times to remain upbeat about man and his behaviour. Tree Stories provides a tonic for such thinking, offering reminders of how trees, however cherished, are so much more than the obvious we see.
I must mention the illustrations included between each entry, adding to the aesthetic pleasure of a pleasingly bound publication.
Any Cop?: An unusual but highly engaging collection of stories, all true but presented here with the deftness of fiction. An appreciation of trees in many forms that will appeal to wider audiences than those with an established interest in nature. A varied and always entertaining read.