Review: Around the World in 80 Trees by J Drori and illustrated by L Clerc

Between them, Drori and Clerc have created a poetic, visually entertaining and learned insight into trees.
Review: Around the World in 80 Trees by J Drori and illustrated by L Clerc

Around the World in 80 Trees by J Drori and illustrated by L Clerc.

The memorable poem 'Trees' by Joyce Kilmer begins: 'I think that I shall never see / A poem lovely as a tree’, and concludes that 'Poems are made by fools like me / But only God can make a tree'. Clearly, Jonathan Drori and Lucille Clerc share this love of trees. They have given us 80 beautifully illustrated vignettes of these wonderful creations in a single volume that has got to be worth much more than its purchase price.

In his introduction, Drori broadly defines a tree as 'a plant that has a tall, woody, stem; it can support itself and lasts from year to year'. He mentions that there are at least 60,000 distinct species of trees. Those he has selected for this book, he picked for their interest, diversity and their ramifications for humankind.

Drori points out that climate change has a bearing on the survival of many tree species. He deplores the fact that 'some people think climate change is about belief or opinion, the way they might think about politics or art'. He explains the process of peer-reviewed scientific opinion that concludes that, at the very least, climate change is exacerbated by human activity.

At least two pages are dedicated to each of the 80 trees in this book, giving ample room for Clerc's excellent illustrations and Drori's descriptions of the tree's main characteristics as well as the history and folklore surrounding it. Every so often there is a double-page spread of Clerc's illustrations as an extra illuminating bonus.

The trees are grouped by geographic region starting with Northern Europe and moving to Southern Europe, the Eastern Mediterranean, Africa, Central and South Asia, and so on, covering all the world except for the obviously tree-less Arctic.

And there is so much to discover. We find out that the German superstition that holds that beech trees are struck by lightening less often than other trees appears to have a scientific explanation: apparently the ’[s]leek beech bark is easily wetted by rain, so that when lightening strikes, electric current can flow easily down the side of the tree, causing little damage'.

It  appears that the black walnut has military associations because its wood was long favoured for gunstocks. In World War I, its wood was also used for aircraft propeller blades. Apparently, powdered walnut shell combined with nitroglycerine can be used to make a form of dynamite. This prompts Drori to note 'that black walnut wood has also long been popular for upmarket coffins'.

In his description of the olive tree, Drori can't resist a mention of the olive branch as a symbol of peace and makes a plea for peace in the region that is home to Jews, Muslims and Christians, because that tree is loved and respected in Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Cultivated olive trees can live for a thousand years and have been cultivated for food, medicine and oil for at least the last five millennia. 

Around the World in 80 Trees is a book for browsing, for reference, and for relaxed indulgence – not for reading from cover to cover. But just as searching a dictionary or Googling a topic can lead to unexpected discoveries, so reading about one tree that may be of special interest is likely to tempt the reader to further exploration. Between them, Drori and Clerc have created a poetic, visually entertaining and learned insight into these wonderful plants, without which the human race would not exist.

5 stars ★★★★★ 
Around the World in 80 Trees
Jonathan Drori, illustrations by Lucille Clerc
$24.99
PLC with Jacket
80 illustrations
256 pages
Size: 9 x 6 in
ISBN: 9781786271617
Published: 05/28/2018 

Lawrence King Publishing

Erich Mayer

Sunday 9 September, 2018

About the author

Erich Mayer is a retired company director and former organic walnut farmer. He now edits the blog humblecomment.info