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216 × 138 × 20 mm
208 pages
88 illustrations, 72 in colour
01 Oct 2012

Oak Peter Young

The reputation of the oak is based not on superlatives but on personality. In human terms, it is not a celebrity, but a reliable citizen. Its enduring legacy is evident in place- and surnames, in landmarks and buildings and as a sturdy staple of engineering material.

More than any other tree, the oak has been a symbol of strength and durability. Venerated in pagan societies, elements of its worship were absorbed by other religions: Celtic mythology, for example, where it is believed to be a gateway between worlds; or Norse, where it is sacred to Thor, god of thunder, as the tree most often struck by lightning.

The oak has been adopted by many countries as a national symbol, particularly in western Europe and the United States. Several individual oaks are of great historical importance, such as the Royal Oak within which King Charles II of England hid to escape the Roundheads, and the Charter Oak in Hartford, Connecticut, which became a symbol of American independence.

In Oak, Peter Young illuminates and examines this magnificent and ubiquitous tree, tracing its biological history in its many manifestations, natural and cultural. Much-loved internationally, the oak is to be found in works of art, folk-tales, poems and songs. Oak narrates the biography of the tree that since time immemorial has been a symbol of loyalty and strength, generosity and renewal.

‘This slim volume is literally a romp in the park full of painters, novelists and historians. Oak establishes its credentials very quickly, then dashes along. The illustrations are marvellous . . . part of an attractive, lavishly illustrated new series, perfect for house gifts if youre visiting someone wholl welcome you with clean towels and a trowel.’ — New York Times Book Review

‘Every page is crammed with well-researched facts and vignettes, not a boring one among them. It is not Peter Youngs purpose to range across the huge and varied oak family rather, he describes the oak in the context of the natural world and how it has served and influenced man from the Stone Age up to the present day . . . His story of oak both the tree and the versatile timber is uplifting: a pity, I thought, to end with the gloomy and familiar refrain about climate change. But that is a small quibble I still want to own this book, not just as a work of reference but also for the enjoyment it gives.’ — House and Garden

‘Youngs carte blanche sends him off in all kinds of colourful and diverting by-ways . . . Young writes with great verve and what appears to be a genuine love of oak trees. The illustrations are equally wide-ranging and, in some cases, quite surprising. Lets hope that future titles in this series succeed with similar brilliance.’ — Hortus

‘Whether youre a hard-core gardener or simply have a curiosity about plants, [a] new title from London-based Reaktion Books [is] sure to command your attention . . . Young explores the history of the oak and its origins, habitats and place in civilization. The oak has been integral in religious rites, he tells us, dating to the Druids. Geoffrey Chaucer, Frank Lloyd Wright and Harry Truman all drift through Youngs narrative. He also explains the threats the oak faces today and informs us that the first electric chair, first used in 1890, was constructed of oak.’ — Chicago Tribune

‘Reaktion Books publishes handsomely designed and beautifully written volumes on subjects you might not think youre interested in . . . The best thing about Geranium and Oak, the first two volumes in a new botanical series, is the focus on cultural history’ — Boston Globe

‘a wonderfully researched book with elegant photographs and illustrations . . . it is factual as well as decorative and amusing . . . The pictures of the oak tree as a thing of beauty and friend of mankind are well chosen and informative . . . dipping in is addictive.’ — Quote

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Peter Young is an independent scholar who lives in Crawley, West Sussex. He is author of Person to Person (1992), a social history of the telephone,Tortoise (2003) and Swan (2007), both published by Reaktion.

1. Seeing the Trees
2. Diversity
3. Home
4. Away
5. Wood in Words
6. Symbols and Superstitions
7. Stature
8. The Arts
9. Conservation

Further Reading
Associations and Websites
Photo Acknowledgements