This book is extraordinary… outstanding… superb! (I think you might have got the drift of my opinion by now!)
David Haskell is a professor of biology at the University of the South, but just in case that makes people think his writing may be stiff & starchy, or perhaps overly-technical, this is what James Gorman of the New York Times wrote about the Forest Unseen: “[Haskell] thinks like a biologist, writes like a poet, and gives the natural world the kind of open-minded attention one expects from a Zen monk rather than a hypothesis-driven scientist.” …. And I couldn’t agree more, even though I’ve never actually met any Zen monks!
On page 238, Prof. Haskell himself writes:
” Scientific models and metaphors of machines are helpful but limited. They cannot tell us all that we need to know. What lies beyond the theories we impose on nature? This year, I have tried to put down the scientific tools and to listen: to come to nature without a hypothesis, without a scheme for data extraction, without a lesson plan to convey answers to students, without machines and probes. I have glimpsed how rich science is but simultaneously how limited in scope and in spirit. It is unfortunate that the practice of listening generally has no place in the formal training of scientists. In this absence science needlessly fails. We are poorer for this, and possibly more hurtful. What Christmas Eve gifts might a listening culture give its forests?
“What was the insight that brushed past me as squirrels basked? It was not to turn away from science. My experience of animals is richer for knowing their stories, and science is a powerful way to deepen this understanding. Rather, I realized that all stories are partly wrapped in fiction — the fiction of simplifying assumptions, of cultural myopia and of storytellers’ pride. I learned to revel in the stories but not to mistake them for the bright, ineffable nature of the world.”
And the price of this immensely enjoyable work of genius — a book that any nature lover can easily read — is $16; not bad for a masterpiece! I kid you not when I say that now that I know what’s in Forest Unseen, I would happily have paid $100 for it.
See also the excellent books by Bernd Heinrich