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The Treeline

The Last Forest and the Future of Life on Earth

Ben Rawlence

St. Martin's Press

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ISBN10: 1250270235
ISBN13: 9781250270238


320 Pages



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For the last fifty years, the trees of the boreal forest have been moving north. Ben Rawlence's The Treeline takes us along this critical frontier of our warming planet from Norway to Siberia, Alaska to Greenland, Canada to Sweden to meet the scientists, residents and trees confronting huge geological changes. Only the hardest species survive at these latitudes including the ice-loving Dahurian larch of Siberia, the antiseptic Spruce that purifies our atmosphere, the Downy birch conquering Scandinavia, the healing Balsam poplar that Native Americans use as a cure-all and the noble Scots Pine that lives longer when surrounded by its family.

It is a journey of wonder and awe at the incredible creativity and resilience of these species and the mysterious workings of the forest upon which we rely for the air we breathe. Blending reportage with the latest science, The Treeline is a story of what might soon be the last forest left and what that means for the future of all life on earth.


Praise for The Treeline

"[A] sweeping account of the Arctic forest that circles the world in an almost unbroken ring."—Financial Times

"This clear-headed, perspective-altering book lifts the lid on the changes underway in the largest forest on Earth, and the people facing the brunt of them . . . Rawlence manages to craft a beautiful and evocative portrait of the natural world. It is essential reading for those hoping to better understand our changing planet."—The Spectator

"[A] lyrical and passionate book . . . a sobering, powerful account of how trees might just save the world, as long as we are sensible enough to let them."—Mail on Sunday

"Rawlence is a fine ecologist and an excellent writer with the rare ability both to tell an absorbing tale and to convey the subtleties of science . . . Timely, salutary and eminently readable. Excellent."—Resurgence & Ecologist

"Blends nature, travel and science writing . . . thought-provoking."—Gardens Illustrated

"Absolutely fantastic and devastating."—Emma Gannon, host of Webby nominated podcast Ctrl Alt Delete

"What an extraordinary book this is! Rawlence writes with elegant clarity about a world knocked out of whack. The Treeline is a fine work of science journalism, an adventure tale that tracks the shifting fortunes of the planet’s northernmost forests, a record of the cruel legacies of capitalism and colonialism. Most of all it is a sustained act of attention, of observing and listening to a land that observes and listens back. This is not just a description of a warming world but an active invitation to live differently, to participate with wisdom and humility in the cacophonous and ever-unfinished abundance of terrestrial life."—Ben Ehrenreich, author of Desert Notebooks: A Roadmap for the End of Time

A fascinating book drawing on a brilliant, original line of thinking to reveal the roots and reach of our changing boreal forests. Once again, Rawlence delivers a perfect combination of lyrical writing and rigorous reporting. Utterly illuminating."Sophy Roberts, author of The Lost Pianos of Siberia

"In this beautiful homage to the world’s northernmost forests, Ben Rawlence brings the zeal of a journalist and the heart of a naturalist to his journey following the treeline east into the rising sun. As Rawlence explores vast wildwoods of pine, birch, larch, and spruce, he uses alluring prose to present fascinating and challenging ideas of what a forest is: not a static place on a map but a creative, evolutionary process—a 'mobile community.' Rawlence documents how the treeline is now undergoing one of its greatest transformations with enormous consequences for humanity and the planet. By focusing his formidable curiosity and craft on the arboreal biosphere, Rawlence has given both trees and people an enormous gift."—M.R. O'Connor, author of Wayfinding

“Our trees are on the move but we have no place left to go. The Treeline is a moving, thoughtful, deeply reported elegy for our vanishing world and a map of the one to come."—Nathaniel Rich, author of Losing Earth and Second Nature

"Rawlence takes us on an unforgettable personal tour of the major treelines of the Northern Hemisphere. His prophetic insights on how global climate change is rapidly rewriting the boundaries and biodiversity of earth’s boreal forests are colored by the insights of the botanists, glaciologists, and indigenous peoples he met along the way. The Treeline is a page-turner that poetically challenges us to confront the elephant in the room."—James McClintock, author of Lost Antarctica and A Naturalist Goes Fishing

"Urgent and insightful tour of some of the world’s strangest, most bewitching and most endangered environments . . . A tribute to indigenous wisdom, a paean to the otherworldly beauty of the taiga and the tundra, and a highly readable overview of the latest science. This is an important book, and one I will be pressing into other people’s hands."—Cal Flyn, author of Islands of Abandonment

"The very treeline is on the move: a devastating image. This book is an evocative, wise and unflinching exploration of what it will mean for humanity."—Jay Griffiths, author of A Sideways Look at Time

“Rawlence evokes the natural world in lyrical, delicate prose . . . A timely, urgent message delivered in graceful fashion.”—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“Compelling, intriguing, and thoroughly engaging . . . A title of the utmost importance at a time of tremendous peril, The Treeline is a game-changer.”—Booklist (starred review)

"Eloquent . . . Nature lovers and travelers alike will find this a lovely paean to a rapidly changing landscape."—Publisher's Weekly

Reviews from Goodreads


Read an Excerpt


The Zombie Forest

Pinus sylvestris, Scots pine


As the ice retreated to higher ground at the beginning of the current interglacial period, the boreal forest set off...

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About the author

Ben Rawlence

Ben Rawlence is a former researcher for Human Rights Watch in the horn of Africa. He is the author of City of Thorns and Radio Congo and has written for a wide range of publications, including The Guardian, the London Review of Books, and Prospect. He is the founder and director of Black Mountains College and lives with his family in Wales.

(c) Jonny Donovan

Ben Rawlence

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Read Ben Rawlence in the Guardian