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Book Review: The Book of Leaves

The Book of Leaves: A Leaf-by-Leaf Guide to Six Hundred of the World’s Great Trees
Text by Allen J. Coombes
Edited and Photographed by Zsolt Debreczy
Produced by Ivy Press, United Kingdom
Published by University of Chicago Press, 2011.

Reviewed by Penny Lewis

“Nature will bear the closest inspection. She invites us to lay our eye level with her smallest leaf, and take an insect view of its plain.” Henry Thoreau, 1839

From early childhood, many of us have had a fascination with trees from climbing them to running through piles of leaves in autumn. This book is for anyone who has carried this fascination into adulthood.

Beginning with a brief introduction that includes leaf botany, form, function, variations, and identification, Coombes quickly gets down to the business at hand, leaf photographs and descriptions of 600 trees. Each tree has been given an entire page and features a full-size photograph of a leaf from each tree which readers will appreciate when trying to identify closely related trees.

The book is a valuable reference tool and includes comprehensive information such as leaf type, shape, size, arrangement, bark, flowers, fruit, and habitat. Also of interest is the world map with tree range indicated. Additionally, a drawing of the tree form shows the relative size of an adult next to the tree and provides both the identification reference as well as a visual guide to the mature size of the tree.

In addition to its use as a reference tool, this book is fascinating to browse and is full of tree uses and historical anecdotes. There is something captivating about the full-sized leaves that are featured on every page and it is easy to become immersed in comparisons of similarity and differences. By including trees from around the world, Coombes provides the reader with a view of the trees in the backyard and far beyond as well.

More about the book, its author and editor can be found at