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What we’re reading: May 2018

Introducing the five books that have piqued our interest this month

What we’re reading: May 2018

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Around the World in 80 Trees

From India’s sacred banyan to the perfumed cedars of Lebanon, take an illustrated tour of the world, with trees that define each destination’s history, spiritual life and folklore legend

Printed on FSC-approved, sustainably sourced paper, this is the latest labour of leafy love from Jonathan Drori CBE (Eden Project trustee, WWF ambassador and former commissioner of countless BBC TV series on science and nature). It’s an erudite read that employs plant science to illuminate how trees play a key role in every part of human life; as a provider of food, a source of poison, a maker of medicines and building materials. With at least 60,000 distinct species, Drori has done a monumental job of pruning to focus mainly on those trees that tell a story about each of the 180 destinations featured, augmented by luscious botanical illustrations by French illustrator Lucille Clerc.

It makes for colourful armchair travelling, too. In Egypt, for example, we learn that the date palm, subject of 3,000-year-old Hebrew literature, Assyrian bas-reliefs and Egyptian papyri, is also a time traveller. Date stones found at a ruined Dead Sea fortress, carbon-dated as around 2,000 years old, have been successfully germinated. Meanwhile, in Ghana, we follow the kola nut’s journey from its slave trade origins to its export to the USA, where it became a key ingredient in Coca-Cola.

In Iran, the much-eulogised pomegranate is more than just another superfood. It truly shapes the landscape; from groves of its scarlet and crimson-flowered trees, to markets nationwide stacked with the rosy fruits. Its gem-like seeds are scattered on everything from ice cream to rice, or reduced to a dark-brown molasses and added to savoury dishes. And as for the most widely travelled tree? Perhaps it’s the jacaranda, a purple-flowering species so pretty it’s migrated from its native home in Argentina to decorate the streets of temperate-climate destinations worldwide. 

RRP £17.99 (Laurence King)

Water words: Four more we recommend

Galápagos

This extensive study of the Galápagos is a work of self-publishing art by photographer Josef Litt. RRP £29.90 (mostlyunderwaterbooks.com)

Lakes: A Very Short Introduction

A fast-track insight into lakes, from how they’re formed to a hit list of ‘extreme lakes’ in unusual places. Packed with facts but not (ahem) a dry read. RRP: £7.99 (OUP)

Over The Top

Author-yachtsman Adrian Flanagan recounts his solo round-the-world sailing trip — he’s the only person to have managed such a journey vertically, rather than horizontally. RRP: £10.99 (Adlard Coles)

Catching Thunder

The gripping story of the 1,000-mile, 100-day race by Norwegian investigative journalists to catch the illegal fishing ship, Thunder. A clarion call for those who want to save our seas. RRP: £12.99 (Zed Books)

Published in the May 2018 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)