Another different offering from me, and I think it will make a great gift:
A History of Trees by Simon Wills The perfect gift for nature lovers who enjoy amusing trivia, stories, and photographs.
Have you ever wondered how trees got their names? What did our ancestors think about trees, and how were they used in the past? This fascinating book will answer many of your questions, but also reveal interesting stories that are not widely known. For example, the nut from which tree was predicted to pay off the UK’s national debt? Or why is Europe’s most popular pear called the ‘conference’? Simon Wills tells the history of twenty-eight common trees in an engaging and entertaining way, and every chapter is illustrated with his photographs. Find out why the London plane tree is so frequently planted in our cities, and how our forebears were in awe of the magical properties of hawthorn. Where is Britain’s largest conker tree? Which tree was believed to protect you against both lightning and witchcraft? The use of bay tree leaves as a sign of victory by athletes in ancient Greece led to them being subsequently adopted by many others – from Roman emperors to the Royal Marines. But why were willow trees associated with Alexander Pope, Napoleon Bonaparte, and Samuel Johnson? Why did Queen Anne pay a large sum for a cutting from a walnut tree in Somerset? Discover the answers to these and many other intriguing tales within the pages of this highly engrossing book.
About the author:
Simon Wills is a history journalist, wildlife photographer and genealogist who writes for many magazines. He is an expert adviser to the BAFTA award-winning ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’ TV series and has also appeared on the show. He is a regular presenter at ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’ Live, and other history-related events. Simon enjoys the meticulous research that’s needed to provide an authentic account of the past, but believes in telling a good story too, and reviewers have noted that he creates a very readable account.
You can follow Simon on Twitter @WillsyWriter or via webpage www.birdsandtrees.net
Simon’s latest publication is ‘A History of Birds’ featuring his original photos. This book is a bit like the TV programme ‘QI’, but for birds: lots of fascinating but true tales, told in an entertaining and informed way, and with many myths debunked. It’s the ‘back story’ to the birds in our everyday lives and covers everything from the ancient Egyptian belief that the Heron was the first animal created, to the arrest of a pigeon for plotting against the Indian Prime Minister in 2016.
His next book will be ‘A History of Trees’, due for publication in October 2018.
Simon’s well-received ‘Wreck of the SS London’ is the intriguing tale of the loss of a luxury liner in 1866. Only three passengers survived the disaster, and it left an indelible mark on Victorian society because the death toll was so heavy. It’s an intriguing story that is at times hard to believe. The unexpected twists and turns of real-life events open up the lost seafaring world of Victorian Britain.
Simon’s practical guide to photographs of our maritime ancestors, ‘Tracing Your Seafaring Ancestors’, reveals the stories behind the images. What rank is that Royal Navy officer? Did he work for P&O? When was this Royal Marine photo taken? Are they lifeboatmen? How can I trace the career of a yachtsman? If you enjoy old photos, like to analyse them, or have seafaring ancestors, then this heavily-illustrated book will keep you interested.
Shortlisted for the Mountbatten Maritime Literature Award, Simon’s novel ‘Lifeboatmen’ is a surprising but true story set in 1866. Lifeboatmen are famed for their courage, but what happens when things don’t go according to plan in the middle of a hurricane?
‘Voyages From The Past’ tells the true stories of passengers who travelled by ship from the 16th to the 20th centuries. Their first-hand accounts illustrate how life at sea has changed dramatically over the centuries. Each voyage is full of the amusing, tragic, or everyday anecdotes of real people – from smelly ship’s captains and crooked ship-owners, to pirates, rats and disease.
Simon also has a longstanding interest in the history of healthcare – working part-time as an information adviser to the NHS. When he’s not working, his interests include cycling, cricket, birdwatching, the theatre, and his dog, Max.
Thanks to Rosie and the whole team at Pen & Sword for providing me a hardback copy of this beautiful book that I freely chose to review.
I love trees and I can’t imagine living in a place with no trees at all, even if they are not in their natural environment, as is the case in cities. I’m not a connoisseur, although I’ve read some books that featured trees prominently and have enjoyed them, and this volume seemed the perfect opportunity to learn more.
This is a beautiful book that would make a perfect present for anybody interested in trees, in general, and UK trees in particular. It is a photographic book, but it also contains a wealth of written information about trees: factual and botanical data, historical events related to specific trees, folk and mythological stories about them, literary connections, etc. As the author explains in the introduction, due to the limits in the length of the book he could not include all British trees, and he selected the ones he felt were not only better known but had also the best tales to tell. Not that I had any doubt about it, but the author makes a good case for his choice of topic in the introduction: “Beyond their practical utility to us and our simple liking of them, trees form the great forests of the world, which are said to be the lungs of the planet. So trees, more than anything else, keep us alive” (Wills, 2018, p. vi).
The list of trees included in the book are: alder, apple, ash, bay, beech, birch, cherry, elm, hawthorn, hazel, holly, hornbeam, horse chestnut, lime, London plane, magnolia, maple, monkey puzzle, oak, pear, pine, poplar, rowan, sweet chestnut, sycamore, walnut, willow and yew.
This is a book one can deep in and out of as one fancies, or read it cover to cover. I often found myself picking it up just to have a quick look, and discovered an hour later that I was still glued to its pages and its wonderful stories. The original photographs are beautiful, and there are also well-chosen images from the British Library and the Welcome collection, as the author explains in his acknowledgements. The writing is supple and I’d dare say it will appeal to a large variety of people, because although it is not perhaps addressed at botanists or experts, it shares plenty of anecdotes and stories likely to interest most readers.
I had to share this ditty, because we’re in spring already and, well, one never knows:
The fair maid who, the first of May,
Goes to the fields at break of day,
And washes in dew from the hawthorn tree,
Will ever after handsome be (Wills, 2018, p. 67).
If you try it and it works, don’t forget to let me know!
I enjoyed the pictures, the stories, and I became convinced as I read the book that I’d like to read more of the author’s works, and I’d love to attend one of his lectures. Of course, he had me at the acknowledgements already, when he mentioned his dog, Max (oh, don’t worry; there’s a picture of him too).
“Finally, I would like to thank Max, to whom this book is dedicated, for allowing me to frequently stop his walk and take photos of trees. He’s very tolerant” (Mills, 2018, p. viii).
In sum, this is a beautiful, informative, entertaining, and amusing book that will delight all those who love nature, trees in particular, and who enjoy trivia, stories and photographs. Perfect as a present, for yourself or others, as an inspiration, and as a breath of fresh air. Enjoy!
Wills, S. (2018). A history of trees. Barnsley, UK: Pen & Sword White Owl.
Thanks to Rosie and Pen & Sword, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, click, and keep reading and smiling!