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Children around the world know that to tell how old a tree is, you count its rings. Few people, however, know that research into tree rings has also made amazing contributions to our understanding of Earth's climate history and its influences on human civilization over the past 2,000 years. In her captivating new book, Tree Story, Valerie Trouet shows readers how the seemingly simple and relatively familiar concept of counting tree rings has inspired far-reaching scientific breakthroughs that illuminate the complex interactions between nature and people.
Trouet, a leading tree-ring scientist, takes us out into the field, from remote African villages to radioactive Russian forests, offering readers an insider's look at tree-ring research, a discipline formally known as dendrochronology. Tracing her own professional journey while exploring dendrochronology's history and applications, Trouet describes the basics of how tell-tale tree cores are collected and dated with ring-by-ring precision, explaining the unexpected and momentous insights we've gained from the resulting samples.
Blending popular science, travelogue, and cultural history, Tree Story highlights exciting findings of tree-ring research, including the locations of drowned pirate treasure, successful strategies for surviving California wildfire, the secret to Genghis Khan's victories, the connection between Egyptian pharaohs and volcanoes, and even the role of olives in the fall of Rome. These fascinating tales are deftly woven together to show us how dendrochronology sheds light on global climate dynamics and reveals the clear links between humans and our leafy neighbors. Trouet captivates us with her dedication to the tangible appeal of studying trees, a discipline that has taken her to the most austere and beautiful landscapes around the globe and has enabled scientists to solve long-pondered mysteries of the earth and her human inhabitants.
Chapter 1. Trees in the Desert
Chapter 2. I Count the Rings Down in Africa
Chapter 3. Adonis, Methusaleh, and Prometheus
Chapter 4. And the Tree Was Happy
Chapter 5. The Messiah, the Plague, and Shipwrecks under the City
Chapter 6. The Hockey Stick Poster Child
Chapter 7. Wind of Change
Chapter 8. Winter Is Coming
Chapter 9. Three Tree-Ring Scientists Walk into a Bar
Chapter 10. Ghosts, Orphans, and Extraterrestrials
Chapter 11. Disintegration, or The Fall of Rome
Chapter 12. It's the End of the World as We Know It
Chapter 13. Once upon a Time in the West
Chapter 14. Will the Wind Ever Remember?
Chapter 15. After the Gold Rush
Chapter 16. The Forest for the Trees
List of Tree Species
Valerie Trouet (Tucson, AZ) is an associate professor in the Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research at the University of Arizona.
"Trouet is at her best when recounting field experiences or telling stories about fortuitous discoveries in the lab. Readers worldwide who enjoy popular science and its links to human history will enjoy this book."
– Sarah Boon, hydroecologist / science writer / editor, Watershed Moments
"Extolling the virtues of dendrochronology as a laudable tool for unlocking the secrets of natural and human history, this refreshing book will interest anyone who wants to understand the meaning of their existence, the miracle of life, and the beautiful ways in which our natural history has brought humans to our current state of civilization."
– Paul J. Krusic, University of Cambridge
"A witty and engaging book that brings the story of tree rings to a wider audience."
– Neil Pederson, Harvard Forest, Harvard University
"Trouet does a splendid job of elucidating the connections between dendrochronology (the precise dating of tree rings to the calendar year when they were formed) and advances in climatology, hydrology, archaeology, ecology, and history. A significant contribution and overview of dendro-science writ large. Engagingly written; the scholarship is highly commendable."
– Henry F. Diaz, emeritus research meteorologist, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
"Perfect for scientifically-curious readers, Tree Story is a fascinating book about a field that has made major contributions to our understanding of past societies, as well as our current climate predicament."
– Amy Hessl, West Virginia University
"Beautifully captures the balance between science and engaging narrative. There are no similar books that tell the exciting story of dendrochronology."
– Erika Wise, University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill
"As Valerie Trouet explains in this beautifully-written book, one of the best ways to understand the magnitude of today's climate crisis is to burrow into the bark of old trees. Trouet eloquently guides readers though this exciting science, revealing not only how science is done, but also how scientists think, how they respond to moments of inspiration and disappointment, and how their careers may unfold in surprising ways. This book is a timely love letter to a discipline and to the academic way of life."
– Dagomar Degroot, Georgetown University / Climate History Network, author of The Frigid Golden Age: Climate Change, the Little Ice Age, and the Dutch Republic, 1560–1720
"For anyone who has been intrigued by the growth rings in a tree stump, this book is for you. Dr. Trouet, a renowned scholar, weaves together science and adventure as she unlocks the many secrets hidden in the hearts of trees."
– Lisa J. Graumlich, Dean, College of the Environment, University of Washington
"Trouet writes that the purpose of this book is to excite people about science, and she succeeds by creating an engaging, credible work sprinkled with anecdotes [...] With this brief, accessible look at the wisdom of tree rings, Trouet draws readers into a narrative that clearly displays her joy for her work and offers some fun with word play."
– Library Journal
"An accomplished and globally recognized dendroclimatologist, Trouet is knowledgeable across diverse fields of science and is a talented writer and engaging storyteller [...] Drawing from a diversity of tree-ring research and interdisciplinary collaborations, Trouet chronicles fascinating examples of how dendrochronology helps to answer questions about past environments and human history."
– Lori Daniels, Science