Books

Book Review: The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben

The full title is The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate – Discoveries from a Secret World. First, I state I cannot give an unbiased review of this book. I have been studying for two months straight to use nature as a therapeutic environment and instrument. I have dwelt deeper on the belly of nature and how it influences our mental and physical health. So a book about trees and how they behave and connect with each other, how they sprung offspring, and how they influence the world around them is music to me.

I get the criticism people have given to this book about anthropomorphizing trees and brushing the scientific argumentation off too quickly. The book indeed does that, but the trouble is with me, I don’t mind. I know some people are strict about using humanistic terms about animals and nature. Some people see it as diluting the specialness of human beings. I disagree with those people, this planet of ours hasn’t come to be just for us. The fact that we build universities doesn’t make us better than ants or antelopes or bumblebees. It tells me we have different kinds of environmental needs to survive and thrive. Still, the fact is that all need to interact with the environment they are at even trees. And it is fascinating to read how they do it. How they have root and mushroom networks under the soil both to communicate with each other and share resources. How they send signals through the air of insects and other issues so the others can prepare. Now we get to the second problem with anthropomorphizing, which are in the last sentence, prepare and send signals. Do they actually consciously do that, or is it just a reaction with benefits? The question is if there is fore-thinking before action. We could question that even with humans, are our reactions a product of stimulus and history of our growth pre- and postnatal. I’m one of those who advocate for free will, but I’m not sure what extent that carries with trees. Who knows, it would be wonderful if it did. About the hurried argumentation of scientific proof, that is the downside of this book. I understand this was written for the general public, but I believe there could have been a balance between actual scientific references and a clear, easy-to-read language.

Now that anthropomorphizing is out of the way, and you can disagree or agree with me, we can concentrate on what I loved about this book. Did I already mention the root network and the coexistence with mushrooms? I think I did. That is amazing. Trees cooperate with each other to balance out the differences with nutrients. They can even sustain a dead trunk for years and have done so. No one knows why. The fact, how trees carry on their seeds and what a new tree needs to go through to become a strong, enduring tree also blew my mind. Not to mention for the fact how rare it is for a tree to follow its parent. Now when I see a tree, I can’t help to think how long it has taken for it to grow to its height. Often enough, more than I have been stumbling on this rock of ours. Way more. You could say I was in awe with this book and its description of the trees’ life cycle.

I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in nature, trees, our planet, and those who wonder about the question of clear-cutting or cutting trees at all. The writer isn’t against tree cutting; he proposes in the book to do it so that it will continue to ensure the diverse life of the forest, and I might add our own survival. In Collapse book, Jared Diamond writes about the destruction of civilizations and the connection to wiping woods out. As you note, I’m biased with the subject.

Thank you for reading and have a beautiful day!

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