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Publisher's Summary

From one of our greatest science writers, this biography of a beech-and-bluebell wood through diverse moods and changing seasons combines stunning natural history with the ancient history of the countryside to tell the full story of the British landscape.

'The woods are the great beauty of this country.... A fine forest-like beech wood far more beautiful than anything else which we have seen in its vicinity' is how John Stuart Mill described a small patch of beech-and-bluebell woodland buried deeply in the Chiltern Hills and now owned by Richard Fortey.

Drawing upon a lifetime of scientific expertise and an abiding love of nature, Fortey uses his small wood to tell a wider story of the ever-changing British landscape, human influence on the countryside over many centuries and the vital interactions between flora, fauna and fungi. The trees provide a majestic stage for woodland animals and plants to reveal their own stories.

Fortey presents his wood as an interwoven collection of different habitats rich in species. His attention ranges from the beech and cherry trees that dominate the wood to the flints underfoot; the red kites and woodpeckers that soar overhead; and the lichens, mosses and liverworts decorating the branches as well as the myriad species of spiders, moths, beetles and crane flies. The 300 species of fungi identified in the wood capture his attention as much as familiar deer, shrews and dormice.

Fortey is a naturalist who believes that all organisms are as interesting as human beings - and certainly more important than the observer. So this audiobook is a close examination of nature and human history. He proves that poetics is compatible with scientific precision. This audiobook is filled with details of living animals and plants, charting the passage of the seasons, visits by fellow enthusiasts, the play of light between branches, the influence of geology and how woodland influences history, architecture and industry.

©2016 Richard Hortey (P)2016 HarperCollins Publishers Limited

Critic Reviews

"A dazzling achievement. Richard Fortey is without peer among science writers." (Bill Bryson)
"This is not a audiobook for people who like science books. It is a audiobook for people who love books, and life...wonderful." (Tim Radford, Guardian)

What members say

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Nike
  • 06-25-16


I loved this book and have always enjoyed Richard's work The book was excellently read too at just the right pace. Makes me look even closer at my small part of the kingdom. Thank you, I will listen again and again.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Tina
  • 07-24-16

A Gem for Nature Lovers

I bought this book before I realised that I knew the author from his fascinating TV programmes so little did I realise what a treat was in store.

This is as entertaining as it is informative with the thoroughness that only an academic can supply but I never felt bogged down in the detail.

A year in the small beech wood is interspersed with the lives of men who would have worked among the trees and the change in fortunes it has undergone in the fifty or so years since the current trees were planted.

An overview of the area and its history only adds to the richness of the tale and the excitement of the author on finding rare plants or specimens for his specially-made collector's cabinet is transferred to the listener.

It is well read and I know it won't be long before I immerse myself in this charming book again.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • tony
  • 10-24-16

The wood for the trees

Richard Fortey bought a wood and he gives a concise and highly interesting review of the Natural History and social history of the region lying in the Chilterns. It moves seamlessly through the seasons. He was obviously fortunate in drawing on the expertise of the NHM in London where he worked for many years. I thought that the narration was rather stilted and forced. Dr Fortey would have been better reading it himself. I think his sense of humour was missed.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
  • Mark
  • 08-12-17

Accessible and erudite

A uniquely well informed take on the social and natural history of a single plot.