American Chestnut: The Life, Death, and Rebirth of a Perfect Tree

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9780520247307: American Chestnut: The Life, Death, and Rebirth of a Perfect Tree
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The American chestnut was one of America's most common, valued, and beloved trees—a "perfect tree" that ruled the forests from Georgia to Maine. But in the early twentieth century, an exotic plague swept through the chestnut forests with the force of a wildfire. Within forty years, the blight had killed close to four billion trees and left the species teetering on the brink of extinction. It was one of the worst ecological blows to North America since the Ice Age—and one most experts considered beyond repair. In American Chestnut, Susan Freinkel tells the dramatic story of the stubborn optimists who refused to let this cultural icon go. In a compelling weave of history, science, and personal observation, she relates their quest to save the tree through methods that ranged from classical plant breeding to cutting-edge gene technology. But the heart of her story is the cast of unconventional characters who have fought for the tree for a century, undeterred by setbacks or skeptics, and fueled by their dreams of restored forests and their powerful affinity for a fellow species.

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From the Inside Flap:

"In prose as strong and quietly beautiful as the American chestnut itself, Susan Freinkel profiles the silent catastrophe of a near-extinction and the impassioned struggle to bring a species back from the brink. Freinkel is a rare hybrid: equally fluid and in command as a science writer and a chronicler of historical events, and graced with the poise and skill to seamlessly graft these talents together. A perfect book."—Mary Roach, author of Stiff and Spook

"A spellbinding, heart wrenching, and uplifting account of the American chestnut that asks the vastly important question: Have we learned enough, and do we care enough, to begin healing some of the wounds we've inflicted on the natural world?"—Scott Weidensaul, author of Return to Wild America and Mountains of the Heart

"This is a beautifully written account of the passing of one of the botanical wonders of the North American landscape, the American chestnut tree, which was nearly extirpated by a plague that entered the ecosystem and swept these great trees away. Freinkel, a gifted writer whose research is impeccable and whose reporting is topnotch, tells of the impassioned work of scientists over the past century and up to today, trying to bring the American chestnut back from the brink of extinction. Only a person in love with trees could have written this lovely book."—Richard Preston, author of The Hot Zone and The Wild Trees

"Graceful, provocative, and inspiring. Thoreau would be proud."—Alan Burdick, author of Out of Eden, a 2005 National Book Award finalist

"In this beautifully written volume, Susan Freinkel ably describes the marriage of science and passion that is being brought to bear to save this majestic American tree from extinction. The people whose ancestors lived among chestnut trees and their places come alive for the reader, as does the appearance and spread of the blight and the heroes who are struggling with it today. The book concludes with a tantalizing vision of chestnuts in the forests again—a thought of making the world right where it has gone wrong."—Peter H. Raven, Director of the Missouri Botanical Garden

About the Author:

Susan Freinkel is a freelance science journalist whose feature writing has appeared in Discover, Health, Smithsonian, and the Reader’s Digest, among many national magazines.

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9780520259942: American Chestnut: The Life, Death, and Rebirth of a Perfect Tree

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Publisher: University of California Press, 2009
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