Richard Mabey's new book is about beech trees – but also, of course, about numerous other issues, including global warming and the importance of trees in the landscape.
Beech trees reached Britain about 8000 years ago, and they were workhorses, not ornaments – fuel for Rome's glassworks; firewood for London; oars for the ships of Venice; raw material for furniture, cut and turned by 'bodgers' who lived like nomads among the trees in huts made of beech wood shavings. Mabey covers Europe as well as Britain, and autobiography as well as history and natural history. His beeches are characterful – 'hectic, gale-sculpted, gnomic' – and he writes about the bluebells, orchids, fungi, deer and badgers associated with them, as well as the narratives we tell about trees and the images we make of them.
Many other kinds of tree are featured, and the portraits and celebrations of the beech always point to the larger story.
Richard Mabey is
"Britain's greatest living nature writer"
- The Times
"a man for all seasons, most regions and every kind of landscape"
- Andrew Motion, Financial Times
Among his acclaimed publications are Food for Free (his first book and never out of print), Gilbert White (Whitbread Biography of the Year) and the ground-breaking bestseller Flora Britannica, which won the British Book Awards' Illustrated Book of the Year and the Botanical Society of the British Isles' President's Award and was runner-up for the BP Natural World Book Prize. He collaborated on Birds Britannica (which was his idea) and his most recent book, Nature Cure, described as 'A brilliant, candid and heartfelt memoir', had such wide appeal that it was shortlisted for no fewer than four prestigious prizes: the Whitbread Biography, the J.R. Ackerley for autobiography, Mind (for its investigation into depression) and the Ondaatje for the evocation of the spirit of place. Richard Mabey was born and brought up among the beech woods of the Chilterns, and now lives in Norfolk.
"A remarkable achievement [...] a fresh kind of tree-writing, which will both change our ways and confirm our woodland understanding"
– Ronald Blythe, TLS January 11, 2008.