City of Trees by Sophie Cunningham [ 9/10]

Author of the landmark history of Darwin’s Cyclone Tracy, Sophie Cunningham is a must read and “City of Trees: Essays on Life, Death and the Need for a Forest” could well be my standout book of 2019. A mix of investigative travel reporting, naturalist discoursing, and personal memoir essays, it explores nature within the human-dominated Earth using a lens of writing about ten trees in various cities around the world. Cunningham rejoices in (or sometimes bewails the fate of ) Mountain Ash, Coolibah, and Moreton Bay fig in Australia; olive groves in Puglia; and Giant Sequoia, Yellowwood, and coast live oak in America. Evocative author sketches accompany poignant descriptions and historical musings within these tree-related essays. And interposed are personal essays on the swirling politics and life in her life, including the deaths of her two fathers. She is a lovely writer, economical yet lyrical, never a wasted word. Unlike many such books, the underlying mood is gentle and contemplative, laced with an undercurrent of rage: “But not just weeping. We should also be fighting for their [in this case elephants] survival.” This is a book to savor and then to lament with and finally to use as stimulus for action, action to leave a legacy for future generations.

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