The Man Who Climbs Trees
(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $26)
“James Aldred is the man every kid dreams of becoming,” said Timothy Smith in The Washington Post. A professional tree climber, he travels the world to scale sequoias, ironwoods, kapoks, and other forest giants, rigging ropes that allow scientists and documentary filmmakers to follow him into the canopies. Each tree presents its own set of wonders and challenges—“and his story is even more thrilling when things go wrong.” Though Aldred is just the kind of person whose stories you’d love to hear around a campfire this summer, he’s probably off climbing a tree in Australia or Borneo, “so his book will have to do.”
Though the book is his first, it’s “written with the elegance of a veteran,” said Brian Viner in DailyMail.co.uk. The moment he set his course is vividly drawn: Reaching the top of a towering sequoia in England, he decides, at 16, that he wants to spend as much time as he can in the canopy world he discovers there. But along with his envy-inducing adventures—filming a baby eagle or building the ultimate tree house—he’s been battered too. In Peru, he survived the sting of a bullet ant—arguably the insect world’s most painful. In Gabon, he was nearly killed by African honeybees that forced their way into his nose and mouth. And in the Congo, at least 40 botfly maggots, hatched from eggs on his clothes, burrowed into his skin. His detailed account of that incident “could make a statue wince.”
Some of these tales are mere preteen fare, said Josephine Livingstone in The New Republic. But just before the book’s most exhilarating scene—involving a 250-foot-high dipterocarp, an electric storm, and paralyzing muscle cramps, Aldred recalls a moment of transcendence he experienced in a Bornean jungle. While resting 150 feet off the ground in a neighboring tree, he experienced, he writes, “a feeling of acceptance and belonging—not just to the forest, but to nature itself.” Aiming not to conquer or dominate the nonhuman world, he instead glimpses its intricate vastness, and is so moved he cries tears of joy.