Top ten tree books

The New Sylva book
The New Sylva

I wrote this post more than five years ago, and its been one of my most popular ever since. Naturally more excellent trees books have been published in the intervening years and the list is worth updating. I’ve since written my own books so it would remiss of me not to give my own books a mention!

The New Sylva was published in 2014, receiving excellent reviews. I’ve recently written two fictional stories.

You can read more about my own books here.


I am often asked to recommend books.  There are so many great books on trees and forestry that it’s difficult to know where to begin.  I’ve tried to create a diverse list that may appeal to many different reader interests.  Inevitably there are many other books that I’ve left off that may otherwise have been in my top ten.  Perhaps you have your own top ten tree and forestry books – feel free to list them in a Comment.  Anyway, here are my top ten – updated September 2016.

Ten

Savill: The silviculture of trees used in British forestryThe silviculture of trees used in British forestry.  Peter Savill.  1991.  CABI Publishing. 191pp.  ISBN 0851987397.  A concise guide to the main commercially relevant species used in British forestry, covering their taxonomy, silviculture, wood properties and uses.  This is a popular book with students, professionals and academics.  Illustrated with very clear line drawings of botanical features. Available here

Nine

Starr: Woodland managementWoodland management: a practical guide.  Christopher Starr. 2005. Crowood Press.  192pp.  ISBN 1861267894.  A practical guide aimed at woodland owners with very clear and straightforward advice.  Highly recommended if you own, or have ambitions of owning, a woodland. Buy here

Eight

Collins: Tree GuideCollins Tree Guide.  Owen Johnson & David Moore.  2004.  Harper Collins.   464pp.  ISBN 0007139543.  The tree and shrub identification guide that sets a standard against which all others should be judged.  Illustrated with clear colour drawings, and with a good working key.  If you are interested in identifying British trees in winter you may want to consider the affordable and excellent A guide to the identification of deciduous broad-leaved trees and shrubs in winter produced by the Field Studies Council. Available here

Seven

Louv: Last child in the woodsLast Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-deficit Disorder. Richard Louv. (2010 recent edition). 416pp. ISBN 1848870833.  A ground-breaking book introducing the term ‘nature deficit disorder’ (read more), describing modern society’s distance from the natural world with a clarion call for current and future generations of children to reconnect with nature. Buy here

Six

Hallé: In praise of plantsIn praise of plants.  Francis Hallé.  2002.  Timber Press.  334pp.  ISBN 0881925500.  A scientific book celebrating all forms of plant life, not only trees, providing a new and original perspective and understanding of plants.  Beautifully written, considering that it is a translation, and well-illustrated throughout.  It provides insightful knowledge that is informative and sometimes humourous.  It will transform the way that you think about and observe plants. Buy here

Five

Tudge: Secret life of treesThe Secret Life of Trees: How They Live and Why They Matter.  Colin Tudge.  (2006.)  Penguin Press Science.  452pp.  ISBN 0141012935.  A book which looks in-depth at the botanical science and evolution of trees.  It is a masterclass in making science understandable, best illustrated by an opening statement: “a tree is a big plant with a stick up the middle”. Available here

Four

Thomas: Trees their natural historyTrees: their natural history. P. A Thomas.  (2000). Cambridge University Press. 296pp. ISBN 9780521459631.  This is a gem of a book in which the author manages to introduce quite technical information while making it accessible and interesting.  There is so much diverse and important information that every reader will learn about trees; whether a botanist, dendrologist, forester or tree enthusiast.  I can’t recommend it highly enough. Now available as a Second Edition

Three

Thomas: Trees their natural historyThe Man Who Planted Trees and Grew Happiness. Jean Giono (1954). Peter Owen Ltd. (14th Edition, 2008) 80pp. ISBN0720613345.  The only fictional book in my list but definitely in my top three. An inspirational short story that helped to transform public attitudes towards tree planting. Its rich yet simple prose is a delight to read.  I love it so much I was inspired to write a sequel: The Man Who Harvested Trees and Gifted LifeAvailable from Amazon.

Two

Deakin: WildwoodWildwood: a journey through trees.  Roger Deakin. (2007).  Penguin. 416pp.  ISBN 0141010010.  This is a book that is difficult to categorise but it is truly beautifully written; full of anecdotes, facts and new insights, and a celebration of the importance of trees in all our lives. I was privileged to be included in this book, and delighted that Roger subsequently travelled to Kyrgyzstan to see the walnut-fruit forests there following our discussions. Roger Deakin died in 2006.  Read more. Available to purchase here

One

Evelyn-SylvaSylva: Or, a Discourse of Forest-Trees, and the Propagation of Timber in his Majesty’s Dominions.  John Evelyn (1664). The Royal Society, London.  Widely viewed as the first book on forestry.  It was commissioned initially as a report by the Royal Society in 1662, when there was real concern that supplies of timber for the Royal Navy were dwindling.  There were four editions published in Evelyn’s lifetime, and many more posthumously.  The text is a wonderful celebration of the silvan world with reports of meetings with knowledgable tree people across Europe, anecdotal reports, contemporary scientific knowledge, and practical advice – all intermingled with a richly descriptive text.  Old editions appear fairly regularly for auction but can sell for several thousand pounds.  A free download of the text is available from Project Guttenberg or, if you’re a Kindle user, for free from Amazon. I updated this work in a major work of my own, titled The New Sylva published by Bloomsbury in 2014 – the 350th anniversary of Evelyn’s first edition.

Gabriel Hemery

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