The Bodley Head, 2018
(first published in Germany as Das Geheime Netzwerk der Natur 2017)
Reviewed by David Llewellyn Foster
If I have learned anything at all in a life replete with obstacles and opportunities, it is to read more carefully.
The enthusiasm of youth is wonderful; invariably we are energized and even inspired, but also driven by the full range of circumstance. So experience and maturity afford us the opportunity to appreciate the effects of time, and to reflect; to process events, absorb and consider things. What we call Nature is the supreme embodiment, the indisputable context, of all enduring, strange and sometimes fleeting phenomena, that instantiate our understanding of life’s intimate engagement with temporal existence.
Peter Wohlleben prefaces his profoundly accessible account of the deeply hidden and subtly reciprocal networks of life thus: Nature is like a giant clockwork mechanism. Everything is neatly arranged and interconnected. Everything has its place and its function…
Ah yes, you may well suppose; of course, he is a German scientist…so one might expect such a predictable metaphor. However, after illustrating that with the initial example of wolves in our accepted biological hierarchy of classification & describing this briefly, he then cites a childhood example of his inability to reassemble a clock his Grandfather had given him when on holiday; & concludes: …But nature is much more complex than a clock. In nature, not only does one cog connect with another: everything is connected in a network so intricate that we will probably never grasp it in its entirety…It’s important for us to realise that even small interventions in nature can have huge consequences, and we’d better keep our hands off anything that we have no pressing reason to touch…
He then proceeds to enlighten us over 16 admirably concise and enthralling chapters, about the exquisite subtlety of these diverse, often counter-intuitive relationships and their acute sensitivity to change – especially the devastating (not too strong a word,) impacts of human intervention; and our species’ compulsive, whilst ostensibly pragmatic, interaction with fellow species and habitats – through agriculture, forestry, mining, resource management, population, climate effects and so forth.
This is a superb book, finely translated by Jane Billinghurst. I began by browsing at random and swiftly found myself eager to absorb every detail. I recommend it whole-heartedly.
(By way of a footnote; frankly, some (English language) reviews have been woefully misleading; even spurious in ways that suggest the reviewer(s) had skimmed a book of their own imagining, rather than the actual text in their hands. I’ll spare you tiresome examples – why waste our precious time or squander mental resources when we should be enjoying this splendid work freely, unimpaired by irrelevant distractions…enjoy!)