Reviews

Praise for Air

By the time a reader arrives at “Breathing”, the penultimate of seven sections, the apparently weightless and invisible air that most of us take for granted feels packed impossibly tight with all manner of the tough, the elegant, and the destructive, and stands as a force to be reckoned with and an utterly fragile wonder.

Jane Brox, Orion

, on Air

Many of the pieces feel like a natural breath themselves and hew close to poetry in the way as Yeats puts it, “a poem comes right with a click like a closing box”. Most essentially, they also ramify: their meanings accumulate to create a polyphonous work that rewards thoughtful, slow reading.

Jane Brox, Orion   

, on Air

Whether Logan is writing about the weather on D-day, or how an infant’s breathing in the pheromones of its mother brings the infant naturally to the breast to feed, each story in Air is a fascinating look at the role our air plays in our lives and a reminder of how fragile it can be. Air also serves as a warning of how human behavior can taint its journey and the dire effects that can come of it.


“Cheery, chatty and compulsively curious, Mr. Logan is able to draw the reader into pretty much any subject. Who would have thought that the life cycle of the stinkhorn (“the phallic fungi that are spread by flies, whom they attract with an odor more pungent than any steaming pile of dog poop”) might be entrancing? Not I, for sure. Who would have anticipated that the double-breathing ability of the tarpon (gill and lung-bladder) might lead to a consideration of the teeming underwater environment of worms, flagellates and vividly colored cyanobacteria? Interdisciplinary in his learning and rhizomatic in his thinking, Mr. Logan finds affinity between subjects as various as batecholocation, medieval French architecture, Scottish folklore and the sonata form.”


“Poetic, supple, and passionate, Logan writes with the learned insights of an art historian as he discusses the depiction of sky and clouds in medieval painting, then moves seamlessly into the realm of the meteorologist as he demystifies the data-gathering capabilities of weather balloons and satellites. For everyone who has wondered just how a 747 manages to get off the ground, luxuriated in the intoxicating aroma of a bed of roses, or marveled at a tropical sunset, Logan’s meticulously researched and engagingly presented treatise is a breath of, well, fresh air.”

Carol Haggas, Booklist

, on Air

“The invisible is made powerfully, inescapably vivid here. The air is the sea in which we swim, and so this book becomes an account of our (thin, deteriorating) place in the cosmos.”

Bill McKibben, author of Earth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet

, on Air

“A masterpiece. Remarkably, Logan brings our planet’s air to life with riveting accounts—just in time, as humanity’s future depends upon an understanding of our air.”

Jim Hansen, climatologist, NASA

, on Air

“An examination of the all-encompassing role that the atmosphere plays in shaping our lives.

“Arborist Logan weaves together history, philosphy and culture in the third volume of his trilogy. As in his earlier works — Dirt (1995) and Oak (2005) — he celebrates the union of the inorganic and organic realms that nurture life: ‘The air cannot be owned. It cannot be controlled…It changes the fate of creatures and the destiny of peoples.’ The author explains that his purpose is to make us aware of how remarkable the role of the atmosphere is in the evolution of life on Earth and every aspect of daily existence. Too often we take it for granted, he writes, except when problems arise. In our focus on air quality and global warming, we tend to forget that it is the medium in which spores, fungi, airborne bacteria and pollens circulate — along with soot and other pollutants. Logan provides a biting critique of the failure of government officials to be honest with the population of New York City about the dangerous levels of pollution following 9/11, when he was able to accurately measure the air quality as he worked to save the trees in the area. He explains how global patterns of air circulation are responsible for cyclones and describes the problem facing the weather forecasters because of the famous butterfly effect: how ‘the smallest unobserved change could make the difference between a sunny day and a massive storm.’ Logan celebrates the atmosphere as a medium of communication — transmitting pheromones as well as sound, birdcalls, music — and notes that the breath of life separates the living from the dead.

“A tour-de-force journey through the natural world.”


Praise for Dirt

“[A] masterful collection of essays.”

Daryl Beyers, Horticulture: Gardening at Its Best

, on Dirt

“A scientific, historical, and spiritual biography of the rich and often misunderstood matter encasing our planet.”

Avenue Magazine

, on Dirt

“Read this book. You’ll know more about that which you are made of and which is essential to all life on the land part of the planet than you thought imaginable.”

—Wes Jackson, president and founder of the Land Institute and author of Meeting the Expectations of LandAltars of Unhewn Stone, and Becoming Native to This Place

, on Dirt

“Dirt evokes from William Bryant Logan the same kind of rapturous, poetic response that love or baseball inspires in other writers. . . . This book isn’t so much a natural history as a series of comic-rhapsodic pensées on the commonest of sublunary substances. The author’s joyful prose-poetry elevates his lowly subject into something worth contemplating with curiosity and pleasure.”

Boston Globe

, on Dirt

“Compulsively readable. . . . Logan balances the seriousness of his subject with the ability to communicate his wonder on a layperson’s level.”

Jane Barker Wright, Horticulture: The Magazine of American Gardening

, on Dirt

“Even someone who can’t tell a flocculated benthic from a haploquod soil will find much of interest in William Bryant Logan’s Dirt.”

The New York Times Book Review

, on Dirt

In these brief, elegant essays, the author raises the concept of dirt to new levels. Logan, a monthly columnist for the New York Times, looks at soil formation and development. His topics range from quarries and the foundations of cathedrals to graveyards and earthworms, from husbandry in ancient Rome to composting in Florida. Logan pays tribute to the dung beetle as a symbol of renewal; he notes that dirt is the source of many drugs that work against infectious diseases (penicillin, streptomycin). He discusses the many forms of clay and the agricultural practices of John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and the Iroquois. Dirt is a natural history of the soil and our connection with it.

Publishers Weekly

, on Dirt

“Logan displays a precision of language that would be envied by any poet.”

The Independent

, on Dirt

“Marvelous. . . . A gleeful, poetic book. . . . Logan is especially good at telling stories like this, stories that have a moral, yet are about something so essential—the foundation on which we live—that they defy notions of good and evil. . . . Like the best natural histories, Dirt is a kind of prayer.”

Sue Halpern, Los Angeles Times Book Review

, on Dirt

Praise for Oak

“A generous and appreciative offering of oak lore.”

Orion 

, on Oak

“An intriguing and well-written examination.”

Science Books and Films

, on Oak

“Eloquent . . . explained in fascinating detail. The writing style, while very personal and story-based, is packed with both information and insight.”

G. D. Dreyer, Choice

, on Oak

“A lively, involving history . . . makes easy and enlightening leisure reading.”

Donovan’s Bookshelf

, on Oak

“Logan is a gentle ecologist, and paints an enthralling picture of the cooperative business going on underground.”

Richard Mabey, Guardian 

, on Oak

With the luminous clarity and exuberant detail of one who loves what he writes about, Logan traces the ways in which humans have shaped, and in turn been shaped by, the versatile, hospitable oak. By the time you emerge from this engrossing book, you’ll be convinced that we are descended from trees. Darwin showed that our remote ancestors climbed down from the branches to stand upright on the ground. Logan shows that our more recent ancestors have used every portion of the oak to meet nearly every human need, from shelter to shoes, from worship to warfare, from filling our stomachs to tracking the stars.”

Scott Russell Sanders, author of Hunting for Hope and The Force of Spirit

, on Oak

“Insightful.”

Viveka Neveln, American Gardener

, on Oak

“One of the year’s most absorbing and thoughtful books in any category. . . . Logan demonstrates persuasively how oaks have shaped who we are and how we got this way.”

Patricia Jonas, Plants & Garden News

, on Oak

“A unique and interesting perspective. . . . Oak is filled with unique and interesting depictions of historical events.”

Bob Davis, San Antonio Express 

, on Oak

“[Logan’s] underpinning achievement . . . is to make us appreciate just how central one family of trees has been to a whole spectrum of human activities and achievements.”

Mark Cocker, Science

, on Oak

“A witty, ironic, self-effacing, elegantly crafted—and learned—cultural history of a generalizer in nature: the oak. . . . Oak is equally for those who think they know all about trees and for those who never thought twice about them. None will ever contemplate an oak in the same way again.”

Shepard Krech III, author of The Ecological Indian

, on Oak

Oak: The Frame of Civilization has a broad appeal, ranging across history, shipbuilding, engineering, forestry and anthropology. But it’s a comforting tale as well for those of us with the mighty limbs still dangling over our roofs.”

Lynn N. Duke, Orlando Sentinel

, on Oak

“Oak trees have participated in a surprising swath of human history, and now they have finally been recognized for it. William Logan’s Oak is an utterly fascinating story and, in a strange way, a humbling one.”

John Berendt, author of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil

, on Oak

“[Logan] uses oak as a prism through which to view the rise of human civilization, examining the ways in which human use of oak became more sophisticated. It’s an interesting way to sift through human history, and yields interesting insights.”

Adekke Waldman, Christian Science Monitor

, on Oak

“This splendid acknowledgment of a natural marvel deserves to be another Longitude.”

Publishing News

, on Oak

Oak has plenty to teach us. . . . In his own way, Logan is restoring knowledge that disappeared, and in the end it is his passion for the trees themselves that makes this book remarkable.”

Anthony Doerr, Boston Globe

, on Oak

“I don’t do jacket blurbs, but I haven’t seen a book in years I’d rather write one for than Oak if I did. It’s a wood-lover’s delight.”

Andrew A. Rooney

, on Oak

“Certified arborist and nature writer William Bryant Logan has brought a literary voice to the story of the mighty oak. This wonderful history is written in a storyteller’s voice.”

Debra Prinzing, Seattle Post-Intelligencer

, on Oak

“The oak is referred to as both mighty and majestic, used in everything from furniture to food, and found in nearly every temperate region of the earth. It’s contribution to and sustenance of cultures since the dawn of humanity is easily, and often erroneously, taken for granted. Other trees, Logan claims, may be older, taller, more imposing, but none are so essential or so impressive as the oak. In this eloquent exploration of all things oak, Logan traces the historical applications and appreciations of the many ways in which the oak’s byproducts have shaped civilizations throughout the world. From Homo sapiens’ earliest harvesting of acorns as a basic foodstuff to the durable oak ships of the intrepid armadas that circumnavigated the globe, oak has been a vital contributor to humanity’s economic, geographic, and cultural evolution. With an unabashed enthusiasm for his subject, Logan speaks almost conversationally of the oak’s attributes, offering a comprehensive and entertaining history of this highly adaptable and overwhelmingly valuable natural resource.”

Carol Haggas, Booklist

, on Oak

“The biography of a tree that has been collectively embraced for its multifaceted grandeur. The oak has never been taken for granted. It may not be the tallest of trees, nor the oldest or strongest, but it is common, flexible and generous in its many uses. In this superb and inviting profile, arborist/journalist Logan (Dirt: The Ecstatic Skin of the Earth, 1995) tells of how post-glacial humans followed the oak much as Basques followed cod, eating of their bounty-acorns in this case-on their way to new worlds, be they Kurd, Kashmiri or Korean. We get one savory oak tidbit after another. Early people used oak to make roads through fens, and employed oak cysts as coffins (‘a suit of oak’). The trees were prized for their spiritual qualities-Druid comes from dru, meaning oak, and wid, meaning to see or know: ‘oak knowledge’-and for their sacred sites (or at least that’s what some of the sites appear to be, though their function is still guesswork), such as the great floating wooden island of Flag Fen, or the many henges that were more often made of wood than stone. And there’s much more to mull over, all of it handled with care and thought by Logan: the construction of northern longboats, the brilliance of the oaken barrel’s design, the superiority of gall ink (Leonardo’s favorite), the oaken ships that allowed for world trade. The author delves also into the tree’s physical make-up, from its clouds of roots to the mechanics of leaf making. Logan takes such joy in his subject that he can find humor even in the tanners’ toil: ‘When the bark came away, it made a noise like a quack, so a party of barkers sounded like a flock of ducks.’ The Royal Oak, the democratic oak, an oak for every seasonand purpose, all respectfully, admiringly and insightfully laid out for readers to marvel at. And marvel they will.

Kirkus Reviews

, on Oak

“There’s good reason for the oak being called mighty, writes certified arborist and former New York Times columnist Logan in this sprawling biography of a tree. It’s ubiquitous, highly adaptable and was once the most essential tree in the Earth’s temperate zones. Easily harvested acorns arguably nurtured people long before they learned to sow and hunt. Oak lumber, readily available and remarkably flexible, once made possible the naval and trading ships of seafaring nations; the same wood, shaped by craftsmen using fundamentally the same tools for thousands of years, was used to craft casks that stored water, wine and food on long voyages and through the seasons. Now, the tree that, according to Logan, once shaped civilizations, providing all ‘the material necessities for human life,’ is used primarily in the Western world for wooden pallets and low-end flooring. With this multidisciplinary study’s recipe for acorn bread, its paean to the currier’s leather-making craft and the cooper’s barrel-making skill, and its thumbnail forays into religious rites, natural science and the importance of squirrels and jays, this work is an entertaining and instructive homage to the oak.”


Publishers Weekly

, on Oak