Book Review: The Forest Unseen – A Year’s Watch in Nature

the-forest-unseen book recommendation

I love science books that read like fiction books!
This one, The Forest Unseen, was written by a biologist, David George Haskell, on his experiences watching a “mandala” circle of old growth, Tennessee forest for a whole year. Each chapter centers around something that he sees happening in the mandala on a certain day and then branches out through millenia of evolutionary history that’s sprinkled with fascinating facts, clever metaphors and thought-provoking social commentary. This is one of the few non-fiction books that both looks interesting AND can stand up to the test and really hold my attention.

Quick example of why I think this book is so awesome:
The chapter that happened on February 2nd starts out with some simple, nibbled branch tips and white-tailed deer tracks. Then it branches out into a discussion of the cellulose-digesting micro-organisms in deer’s rumens (like a pre-stomach stomach) that make it possible for them to digest woody branch tips. That’s when it happens. That’s when he wakes me up with a clever metaphor that brings all those interesting facts into focus for me: “Protists have a special fondness for starch grains, perhaps regarding them as potatoes to accompany their meal of bacterial sausages.” Just when I was drifting off and getting lost, he woke me right back up! I seriously laughed out loud, then went back and read the whole paragraph again! He goes on to explain how the rumen’s microbes form a mini-ecosystem, saying that if you change a deer’s diet too abrubtly (say feeding them greens in winter when they’ve been subsisting on branch tips) the ecosystem of microbes won’t be balanced for the new diet and the deer could even bloat up and die. Which is when he slips in a little social commentary, noting that this is why it’s a problem for us to take grass-munching cows and put them into feedlots to eat only corn for the final months of their lives. He doesn’t go into that part very deeply, rather he leaves the reader to extrapolate what they’ve heard about feeding corn to cows or to investigate it for themselves. Every chapter of The Forest Unseen is this cool, and most chapters are only 4 pages long!

I’m seriously surprised at how many interesting things I’m learning from this book! I’m finding that’s it’s the perfect time of year to start reading this book, too. The author is in Tennessee, so only the first few chapters are what seem like winter weather to me, which means that I’m getting to read about spring happenings in nature as spring is happening all around me! A bit like reading The Secret Garden if it was a true story!

I highly recommend checking out The Forest Unseen if you’re interested in nature and science!

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Wow, sounds like a great read from a unique perspective.

I put a reserve on it at my local library and can’t wait to start exploring.



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