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Best Books of 2020 – Chapter 2

This was such a great book, that after reading it, I don’t believe I will ever think of trees in the same way.  Ironically, the only reason I read this book, Urban Forests: A Natural History of Trees and People in the American Cityscape, by Jill Jonnes was not because I had a great interest in trees, but rather that I had previously read and thoroughly enjoyed two of her earlier books, one about the Eiffel Tower and one about Penn Station in New York.  But after I finished it, I had gained a whole new appreciation for trees.

Jonnes sketches the arboreal history of urban forests (trees in cities) from their earliest beginnings through many of their trying events.  It was sad to learn how American Chestnut, American Elm, and American Ash—all stories I was unfamiliar with—had all but been practically wiped out by either disease or pests (or both), many unwittingly by the importation of infested wood products.  It was inspirational to learn of the stories of so many heroes who fought to save them by creating quarantined zones much like containment efforts to stem the spread of the coronavirus which was daily claiming more victims as I was reading this book.

But once efforts were successful in quantifying the benefits of city trees, steps to restore the arbor canopy above our cities became more easily justified financially and moved from just those “tree hugger” politicians to include many city leaders spearheading the charge.

Two stories of particular interest to me included in the book was first the discovery of a long thought extinct “Dawn Redwood” in China that was successfully propagated and planted on the campus of the University of California-Berkeley and which I had unwittingly seen without knowing its significance while visiting my daughter in school there.  Before this discovery, branches of the tree had only been seen in fossils along with dinosaur remains.

The other story was of the “Survivor Tree” that although fatally wounded standing next to one of the Twin Towers on 9/11—a mere stump with a single green sprig—had been relocated, nursed to recover, and then replanted near the South Tower Pool at the site of the 9/11 Memorial.

The theme that really resonated with me upon finishing this book was the appreciation that we don’t plant trees for ourselves, or even our kids or grandkids, its future generations 75 to 100 years from now that truly benefit from these towering giants that can live hundreds of years.  I must have had a bit of this feeling within me nearly forty years ago as I recall planting a small volunteer maple the year our first child was born.  It would be interesting to go back and see how big it is now.  But further, it is interesting to note that our two sons both ended up in fields that planting trees is a big part of their job.  And even more gratifying is seeing our youngest son’s daughter, carrying on that tradition.


I had been looking forward to seeing the movie, Ford vs. Ferrari, ever since I learned of its upcoming release last year.  After it became available on NetFlix and I did see the movie, I wished for more and was most pleased to see that the movie was actually based on this book, Go Like Hell: Ford, Ferrari, and Their Battle for Speed and Glory at LeMans, by A.J. Baime.  I bought it the next day.

Part of the reason I wanted to read the book was to clarify a couple of things that had been confusing in the movie.  But also, I wanted to see how much of the movie was fictionalized, as is often the case in a movie.  The book cleared up the confusion for me but also left me surprised by some of the movie scenes that had deviated from history.

I enjoy reading about an equal number of fiction and non-fiction books, but it is a rare non-fiction that I have to force myself to put down each night and go to bed.  This was one of those non-fiction books.  I was not disappointed.

Having seen the movie first, I couldn’t help but see Matt Damon’s face whenever Carroll Shelby spoke in the book.  But that didn’t matter as he portrayed Shelby quite well in the movie.  And even though I knew how the movie ended, I still found myself on the edge of my seat as the race scenes were recounted in the book.

While I am not a race car fan, this book well blended that aspect with the creation of truly remarkable cars.  And with all of the politics and rivalry between Ford and Ferrari, it made for a most enjoyable read.

I was 10 years old in 1966 and do not recall this story at all.  But I became aware of it when Ford created their Ford GT, a modern version of their 1966 GT40, and their publicized quest to win the Le Mans again, 50 years after they did it the first time.  Now I know the interesting details behind that original victory.

Here is another great BookBub find, a Memoir by Dick Van Dyke.  I had previously enjoyed reading a book about Mary Tyler Moore so when I came across this title, it just seemed I should read about the other half of the “Rob and Laura Petrie” story.  I’m glad I did as it was a fun book to read.

From his perspective, he was in fact lucky or as some might say being in the right place at the right time.  Everyone is so familiar with his character from The Dick Van Dyke Show, but what might be surprising is how much of an impact that brief five-season sit-com had on his career.  It certainly made him a household name.

Dick tells a very complete story of his life, not just the fun and significant roles he played, but also the low points in his life when he was battling more than one addiction.  He shares unselfishly stories of his whole family, both the tragedies as well as the honors they received.  And whenever I came across another movie or TV series he was in, I would check in our NetFlix account to see if it was available.

For those of us who grew up with The Dick Van Dyke Show and his other movies and TV series, this book offers an enjoyable walk down memory lane.

To be continued…

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