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The Tree: Meaning and Myth by Frances Carey (The British Museum Press, £25)
THROUGHOUT history trees have been revered by humans for their beauty and supposed mystical powers.
In the first part of this magnificent book, we read of how we gained knowledge of the natural history of the tree and how the cross-culture of civilisations helped our understanding of the world, its legends and art works.
All great people and religions have the tree as a source of myth such as that of Daphne, a Greek nymph being turned into laurel tree, beautifully illustrated here by the image on a tin-glazed earthenware bowl from 16th century Italy.
We read of the tree of Good and Evil and how Eve eating its apple caused the downfall of mankind only to have it redeemed when Christ was crucified on a cross supposedly grown from that same tree’s seed.
Oaks were worshipped by Druids, and Buddha sat under a kind of fig tree, the Bodhi that became the tree of enlightenment.
There is a broad and enthralling section on the different kinds of trees that have shaped our lives.
Here in Yorkshire, as well as having some of the oldest oaks in the country, we have had rare samples found of birch preserved from the Mesolithic period and a wooden sword sheath of ash from the Iron Age, all of which are now in The British Museum.
The concluding part is taken up with our care for our woodlands in the future.
Frances Cary writes in an informative way which is also entertaining, with illustrations, mostly from the British Museum, on every page. We learn how the tree is embedded in our psyche as we talk of ‘our roots’, ‘branches of a family’ and indeed, the tree of life itself.
The British Museum Press produces books that all bibliophiles will yearn to own and this is no exception. It is a bargain at the price.
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