Feb 11

Book Review: The Hidden Life of Trees

The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate – Discoveries from a Secret WorldThe Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate – Discoveries from a Secret World by Peter Wohlleben

This book taught me a lot about trees that I didn’t know, and what I did know about trees had mostly come from secondhand accounts of this book before I read it. For example, that trees can communicate via chemical signals in the wind or through fungal connections in their roots. I suspected from personal experience, that it’s better if a tree grows slowly in its first few years of age so that it becomes much stronger as an adult, but from Lab Girl I thought that trees had a teenage period in which they did most of their growing and that they slowed down as an adult and this book countermands that. I guess there’s just a lot I don’t know about botany.

The best and the worst thing about this book was the way in which it describes trees and healthy forests as much more than a collection of inanimate objects. That trees are alive, we knew. That they have familial relationships, that they keep one another going after one has been cut down, that they communicate (and that they can’t communicate if not raised there, because of the symbiotic relationship with fungus) was all mind blowing. It was almost supernatural how foreign these concepts feel to me.

That was the best thing, that I learned something that completely changed how I thought about the world. The worst thing is that it completely changed how I thought about trees. I used to feel pretty good about my simple IKEA furniture of birch and pine (a renewable resource!) and now that I know how interdependent trees are and how irreplaceable old growth forests are, I feel less virtuous about all the wood pulp and paper products I consume. I already feel kind of bad for the animals I eat, now I gotta feel bad about the plants that are killed on my behalf?

I got the audiobook, which was read well enough, though some of the content felt a little dry. The author writes for a German audience, and supposes that all of his readers are well-acquainted with hardwood European forests. He says things like “the next time you go for a walk in the woods” as if this were a common, everyday occurrence (which, admittedly, for Germans, it often is.) It was the kind of book you’re glad to have read, even if you maybe don’t really enjoy it at the time.

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