The best books about trees, living and dead

Who am I?

I study streams and rivers and it took me a while to recognize that many of the streams that flow through forests should have far more downed wood pieces and logjams than are commonly present. The lack of wood in streams reflects a long history of deforestation along rivers, as well as actively pulling wood out of rivers for navigation and flood control. As I’ve come to appreciate dead wood and the many benefits it creates for a wide range of inland, coastal, and marine ecosystems, I’ve also become increasingly interested in the lives that trees live before they become dead wood.


I wrote...

Dead Wood: The Afterlife of Trees

By Ellen E. Wohl,

Book cover of Dead Wood: The Afterlife of Trees

What is my book about?

The world is full of magnificent trees: skyscraping sequoias, thick-trunked baobabs, and fragrant cedars. We appreciate trees during their glory years, but how often do we consider what happens to a tree when it dies? We see downed logs in forests and driftwood on the beach, but is it just dead wood? In Dead Wood, Ellen Wohl takes us through the afterlives of trees, describing the vital roles played by standing and downed dead wood in forests, in rivers, along beaches, in the open ocean, and even on the deepest parts of the seafloor. Far from being unsightly waste that needs to be cleared away, dead wood is a critical resource for many forms of life.

The books I picked & why

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The Songs of Trees: Stories from Nature's Great Connectors

By David George Haskell,

Book cover of The Songs of Trees: Stories from Nature's Great Connectors

Why this book?

Haskell uses ultrasensitive microphones to record the sounds that trees make. We learn the sounds of trees in distress, trees living their daily lives, and trees responding to the passing seasons. This book made me look at trees and forests in an entirely new way and helped me to imagine all the unseen and unheard activities going on around me. It’s like spying on the trees and learning their fascinating secrets.

The Songs of Trees: Stories from Nature's Great Connectors

By David George Haskell,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Songs of Trees as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.


The Overstory

By Richard Powers,

Book cover of The Overstory

Why this book?

Powell’s insight and imagination as a novelist illuminate why some people spend a lifetime studying trees, others put their own life on the line to save old-growth trees and forests, and still others regard trees as commodities to be cut and sold. The writing is so evocative that there were times when I had to put the book down because I was furious with the actions of a fictional character or upset at imagining the destruction wrought by clearcutting.

The Overstory

By Richard Powers,

Why should I read it?

14 authors picked The Overstory as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Overstory, winner of the 2019 Pulitzer Prize in Fiction, is a sweeping, impassioned work of activism and resistance that is also a stunning evocation of-and paean to-the natural world. From the roots to the crown and back to the seeds, Richard Powers's twelfth novel unfolds in concentric rings of interlocking fables that range from antebellum New York to the late twentieth-century Timber Wars of the Pacific Northwest and beyond. There is a world alongside ours-vast, slow, interconnected, resourceful, magnificently inventive, and almost invisible to us. This is the story of a handful of people who learn how to see…


The Forest Unseen: A Year's Watch in Nature

By David George Haskell,

Book cover of The Forest Unseen: A Year's Watch in Nature

Why this book?

Haskell writes evocatively of the fascinating life of the forest floor, from invisible microbes to colorful fungi and beautiful birds. I was fascinated by the interconnected lives on the floor of an old-growth forest in the southeastern United States, and I appreciated Haskell’s own passion for his subject when unforeseen destruction of a portion of the forest floor by ginseng hunters triggered a heart attack and trip to the emergency room for Haskell—fortunately, he was ok.

The Forest Unseen: A Year's Watch in Nature

By David George Haskell,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Forest Unseen as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.


Life in the Treetops: Adventures of a Woman in Field Biology

By Margaret D. Lowman,

Book cover of Life in the Treetops: Adventures of a Woman in Field Biology

Why this book?

I have been fortunate enough to go on canopy walkways through tropical forests and the diversity of colors, shapes, scents, and sounds are fascinating. Lowman describes how the first scientists to venture into the unexplored world of the forest canopy actually got up there and what they found. Lowman tells the story of her own life in the canopy, providing a window into how scientists work, and explaining how she has balanced a research career featuring international travel and motherhood.

Life in the Treetops: Adventures of a Woman in Field Biology

By Margaret D. Lowman,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Life in the Treetops as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Forest canopies have been characterized as one of the last biotic frontiers on Earth: tree crowns have been difficult to study scientifically because access to them has been so challenging. During the past two decades, however, methods for canopy access have greatly improved. In this book a pioneer canopy scientist describes the mysteries of the treetops-their inhabitants, flowers and fruits, growth and mortality, patterns of diversity, and plant and animal interactions. Margaret Lowman writes about different canopy access techniques in conjunction with the scientific hypotheses she was addressing while using each one. She also portrays the life of a field…

Finding the Mother Tree: Discovering the Wisdom of the Forest

By Suzanne Simard,

Book cover of Finding the Mother Tree: Discovering the Wisdom of the Forest

Why this book?

Simard brings communities of trees alive as beings that communicate with and help each other. She explores the underground network of roots, fungi, and tiny creatures that send signals and allow healthy trees to help ailing trees and mature trees to aid saplings. Simard is a perfect example of how natural scientists, far from being detached number-crunchers, are deeply and passionately engaged with the organisms and communities they study.

Finding the Mother Tree: Discovering the Wisdom of the Forest

By Suzanne Simard,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked Finding the Mother Tree as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in trees, Tennessee, and forests?

6,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about trees, Tennessee, and forests.

Trees Explore 38 books about trees
Tennessee Explore 49 books about Tennessee
Forests Explore 29 books about forests

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

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