Book Report: The Secret Wisdom of Nature

Yay! It’s time for another naturalist-centered book report. This book, which IS about the entire earth, has the extra-lengthy title of:

The Secret Wisdom of Nature: Trees, Animals, and the Extraordinary Balance of All Living Things – Stories from Science and Observation

Buy it here!

It’s by Peter Wohlleben, the German forester who wrote The Inner Life of Animals, which I reviewed recently. It’s the third volume in a trilogy that started with The Hidden Life of Trees, which I promise to finish and review, too.

You’ve just got to like Wohlleben, because he does not give a hoot if others think his ideas are not quite “scientific” enough or if he’s personifying non-human entities. Nope, he just calls things as he sees them, and seeing is his specialty. He doesn’t just look around his forest or anywhere else he visits, he carefully observes from the macro level to the micro level, and from the far past to the present. He doesn’t hesitate to ponder about the future, either. To me, this is the kind of teacher we all need, because he inspires all his readers to think beyond stereotypes and actually pay attention to what’s going on in front of them.

All the scientists out there will also appreciate that he backs up his observations with recent scholarship and provides us with a hefty bibliography for further exploration.

Why is this important?

As I was reading this book, I began to get a sinking feeling of concern. Wohlleben chronicles all sorts of ways humans have interfered with the interconnected web of life on this planet, and how the consequences are very far reaching. Changing the types of trees in European forests meant some organisms had nowhere to live, while others could march in and find new homes (or eat new things). Not having enough shade in the forest also meant huge differences.

And animals, like the herding deer found in Europe had to learn to hide in the woods which pushed around the kind of solitary deer that already lived in the woods. And where are the wolves?

His views on fires in forests are really thought provoking, so I do want to mention them. We keep reading about how forests need fires and how good they are, but Wohlleben presents a much more complex and nuanced view, pointing out how few fires there probably were originally in Europe, because the deciduous trees, when healthy, wouldn’t actually burn. It’s only the conifers and eucalyptus (really? they brought those in?) that burn easily. My explanation is nowhere near as good as his, though, so I encourage you to get this book and think about it.

I certainly don’t want to tell you all the interesting things in The Secret Wisdom of Nature, because it’s a lot more fun to read about them in the charming fashion with which he shares his stories. bringing in his own family, his pets, and his garden in addition to far-flung places.

The book stands up very well on its own, so you don’t have to read the other two volumes to enjoy this book. It would be a great choice for a nonfiction/nature-centered book club!

Author: Sue Ann (Suna) Kendall

The person behind The Hermits' Rest blog and many others. I'm a certified Texas Master Naturalist and love the nature of Milam County. I manage technical writers in Austin, help with Hearts Homes and Hands, a personal assistance service, in Cameron, and serve on three nonprofit boards. You may know me from La Leche League, knitting, iNaturalist, or Facebook. I'm interested in ALL of you!

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