Reviews of The Treeline by Ben Rawlence

The Treeline

The Last Forest and the Future of Life on Earth

by Ben Rawlence

The Treeline by Ben Rawlence X
The Treeline by Ben Rawlence
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     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Feb 2022, 320 pages

    Dec 12, 2023, 320 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Rose Rankin
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About this Book

Book Summary

In the tradition of Elizabeth Kolbert and Barry Lopez, a powerful, poetic and deeply absorbing account of the "lung" at the top of the world.

For the last fifty years, the trees of the boreal forest have been moving north. Ben Rawlence's The Treeline takes us along this critical frontier of our warming planet from Norway to Siberia, Alaska to Greenland, Canada to Sweden to meet the scientists, residents and trees confronting huge geological changes. Only the hardest species survive at these latitudes including the ice-loving Dahurian larch of Siberia, the antiseptic Spruce that purifies our atmosphere, the Downy birch conquering Scandinavia, the healing Balsam poplar that Native Americans use as a cure-all and the noble Scots Pine that lives longer when surrounded by its family.

It is a journey of wonder and awe at the incredible creativity and resilience of these species and the mysterious workings of the forest upon which we rely for the air we breathe. Blending reportage with the latest science, The Treeline is a story of what might soon be the last forest left and what that means for the future of all life on earth.

The Zombie Forest

Pinus sylvestris, Scots pine


As the ice retreated to higher ground at the beginning of the current interglacial period, the boreal forest set off in pursuit. Plants that had not been seen on the islands of Britain for thousands of years began, gradually, to return. Ice persisted on the uplands of north Wales and the Highlands of Scotland, but in the valleys and the plains, lichens formed a crust on the exposed rocks. Then came mosses with their creeping fur, laying the ground for grasses and sedges first, soon to be followed by the pioneer shrubs of hazel, birch, willow, juniper and aspen. This boreal system worked its way north, across the land bridge where the English Channel now is, a sweeping tide of green on the heels of the ice, the cocktail of early seeds dispersed according to the natural cycles of wind, rain and the migratory patterns of animals, including humans.

Ten thousand years later, I follow. Pointing the ...

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The Treeline is a moving meditation on what climate change truly means for ecosystems and their human inhabitants in a rapidly evolving, ecologically unique part of the world. Rawlence addresses the dislocations and disasters that will ensue, and indeed already have begun, but it isn't with hopeless fatalism. Instead, he ends with a call to action for humans to adapt and survive. Through scientific lessons, anthropological accounts and lyrical language, The Treeline is a valuable addition to the growing canon of climate change writing...continued

Full Review Members Only (834 words).

(Reviewed by Rose Rankin).

Media Reviews

Minneapolis Star Tribune
The book is at times a bit of a slog. Rawlence occasionally repeats himself. He presupposes a level of scientific knowledge (and vocabulary) not every reader will bring. But it is worth the effort. We're already beginning to feel the impact of climate change through droughts, food insecurity and supply chain problems. Rawlence offers no solution, but notes that understanding the danger we face and 'accepting that the status quo is irretrievable is also the door to action.'

The Spectator (UK)
This clear-headed, perspective-altering book lifts the lid on the changes underway in the largest forest on Earth, and the people facing the brunt of them... Rawlence manages to craft a beautiful and evocative portrait of the natural world. It is essential reading for those hoping to better understand our changing planet.

The Financial TImes
[A] sweeping account of the Arctic forest that circles the world in an almost unbroken ring

The Mail on Sunday (UK)
[A] lyrical and passionate book... a sobering, powerful account of how trees might just save the world, as long as we are sensible enough to let them'.

Booklist (starred review)
Compelling, intriguing, and thoroughly engaging…A title of the utmost importance at a time of tremendous peril, The Treeline is a game-changer.

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
Rawlence evokes the natural world in lyrical, delicate prose...A timely, urgent message delivered in graceful fashion.

Library Journal (starred review)
[Rawlence's] writing vividly brings readers inside the natural boreal forest settings he visits...Highly recommended for readers interested in nature, conservation, and climate change.

Publishers Weekly
[E]loquent...Rawlence's research leads him to conclude that change is inevitable, and every person—and every tree—must adapt to survive. His awe at the beauty and power of trees is moving...Nature lovers and travelers alike will find this a lovely paean to a rapidly changing landscape.

Author Blurb Ben Ehrenreich, author of Desert Notebooks: A Roadmap for the End of Time
What an extraordinary book this is! Rawlence writes with elegant clarity about a world knocked out of whack. The Treeline is a fine work of science journalism, an adventure tale that tracks the shifting fortunes of the planet's northernmost forests, a record of the cruel legacies of capitalism and colonialism. Most of all it is a sustained act of attention, of observing and listening to a land that observes and listens back. This is not just a description of a warming world but an active invitation to live differently, to participate with wisdom and humility in the cacophonous and ever-unfinished abundance of terrestrial life.

Author Blurb M.R. O'Connor, author of Wayfinding
In this beautiful homage to the world's northernmost forests, Ben Rawlence brings the zeal of a journalist and the heart of a naturalist to his journey following the treeline east into the rising sun. As Rawlence explores vast wildwoods of pine, birch, larch, and spruce, he uses alluring prose to present fascinating and challenging ideas of what a forest is: not a static place on a map but a creative, evolutionary process―a 'mobile community.' Rawlence documents how the treeline is now undergoing one of its greatest transformations with enormous consequences for humanity and the planet. By focusing his formidable curiosity and craft on the arboreal biosphere, Rawlence has given both trees and people an enormous gift.

Author Blurb Sophy Roberts, author of The Lost Pianos of Siberia
A fascinating book drawing on a brilliant, original line of thinking to reveal the roots and reach of our changing boreal forests. Once again, Rawlence delivers a perfect combination of lyrical writing and rigorous reporting. Utterly illuminating.

Reader Reviews

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Beyond the Book

Species Reintroduction to Save the Permafrost

Drawing of wooly mammoths and other animals grazing on steppeIn his book The Treeline: The Last Forest and the Future of Life on Earth, Ben Rawlence describes how global warming is altering northern ecosystems like the tundra of Siberia. As temperatures rise, the permafrost no longer lives up to its name; instead of staying permanently frozen, the ice within is melting. This causes the ground to collapse into sinkholes as the water drains away, or the soil turns to slush underground, as Siberian scientists are finding.

As it warms, the permafrost releases greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide and methane, that have been trapped in the ice for eons. This aggravates the warming that is causing the melting in the first place, since these gases trap more heat in the atmosphere and warm the ground...

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Read-Alikes Full readalike results are for members only

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