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The Man Who Made Things Out of Trees: The Ash in Human Culture and History

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Description

The story of how one man cut down a single tree to see how many things could be made from it.

Out of all the trees in the world, the ash is most closely bound up with who we are: the tree we have made the greatest and most varied use of over the course of human history. One frigid winter morning, Robert Penn lovingly selected an ash tree and cut it down. He wanted to see how many beautiful, handmade objects could be made from it.

Thus begins an adventure of craftsmanship and discovery. Penn visits the shops of modern-day woodworkers—whose expertise has been handed down through generations—and finds that ancient woodworking techniques are far from dead. He introduces artisans who create a flawless axe handle, a rugged and true wagon wheel, a deadly bow and arrow, an Olympic-grade toboggan, and many other handmade objects using their knowledge of ash’s unique properties. Penn connects our daily lives back to the natural woodlands that once dominated our landscapes.

Throughout his travels—from his home in Wales, across Europe, and America—Penn makes a case for the continued and better use of the ash tree as a sustainable resource and reveals some of the dire threats to our ash trees. The emerald ash borer, a voracious and destructive beetle, has killed tens of millions of ash trees across North America since 2002. Unless we are prepared to act now and better value our trees, Penn argues, the ash tree and its many magnificent contributions to mankind will become a thing of the past. This exuberant tale of nature, human ingenuity, and the pleasure of making things by hand chronicles how the urge to understand and appreciate trees still runs through us all like grain through wood.

From Publishers Weekly

Apr 11, 2016 – Journalist Penn (It's All About the Bike) was clearing some of the trees around his home when he noticed that many were of the ash variety. Ash is one of the world's most hardy and versatile woods, used to make everything from ladders and looms to fishing rods and umbrella handles. Intrigued by the species, he decided to have the tree professionally felled and processed at the local sawmill, and set out to determine how much one tree can produce. Penn charts his delightful quest, introducing readers to artisans specializing in all manner of highly specific items, including John Lloyd, the latest in his family's line of axe handle manufacturers; Phill Gregson, a wheelwright ("an almost extinct craftsperson"); and Brian Hillerich, whose great-great-grandfather established Hillerich & Bradsby, proud makers of baseball bats. Penn also encounters bowl-turners and toboggan-makers, among other artisans. In each case, Penn manages to deftly weave the story of the wood, the product it yields, and the craftsperson into a fiendishly fascinating story as he explains the hows and whys of seasoning timber, proper wood-chopping technique, and the ash tree's archenemy: the emerald ash borer, a type of beetle. The tree ended up producing the material for 44 objects in all; Penn doesn't go into the details of each one, but the items he chooses to highlight give his story arc and momentum, and readers are sure to come away with a deeper appreciation for trees and the artisans who craft with wood.

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The Man Who Made Things Out of Trees: The Ash in Human Culture and History
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  • $11.99
  • Available on iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, and Mac.
  • Category: Nature
  • Published: Jul 25, 2016
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company
  • Seller: W. W. Norton
  • Print Length: 256 Pages
  • Language: English
  • Requirements: To view this book, you must have an iOS device with iBooks 1.3.1 or later and iOS 4.3.3 or later, or a Mac with iBooks 1.0 or later and OS X 10.9 or later.

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