Oak The Frame of Civilization

Logan is a gentle ecologist, and paints an enthralling picture of the cooperative business going on underground.”

The ultimate distance race is within your reach — a completely updated edition of the now-classic work.

Professional arborist and award-winning nature writer William Bryant Logan deftly relates the delightful history of the reciprocal relationship between humans and oak trees since time immemorial — a profound link that has almost been forgotten. From the ink of Bach’s cantatas, to the first boat to reach the New World, to the wagon, the barrel, and the sword, oak trees have been a constant presence throughout our history. In fact, civilization prospered where oaks grew, and for centuries these supremely adaptable, generous trees have supported humankind in nearly every facet of life. With an unabashed enthusiasm for his subject” (Carol Haggas, Booklist) Logan combines science, philosophy, spirituality, and history with a contagious curiosity about why the natural world works the way it does. At once humorous and reverent, this splendid acknowledgment of a natural marvel” (Publishing News) reintroduces the oak tree so that we might see its vibrant presence throughout our history and our modern world.

Praise for Oak

Oak has plenty to teach us. . . . In his own way, Logan is restoring knowledge that disappeared, and in the end it is his passion for the trees themselves that makes this book remarkable.”
Boston Globe
“A generous and appreciative offering of oak lore.”
“An intriguing and well-written examination.”
Science Books and Films
“Eloquent . . . explained in fascinating detail. The writing style, while very personal and story-based, is packed with both information and insight.”
—G. D. Dreyer, Choice
“Logan is a gentle ecologist, and paints an enthralling picture of the cooperative business going on underground.”
—Richard Mabey, Guardian
“A lively, involving history . . . makes easy and enlightening leisure reading.”
Donovan’s Bookshelf
—Viveka Neveln, American Gardener
“One of the year’s most absorbing and thoughtful books in any category. . . . Logan demonstrates persuasively how oaks have shaped who we are and how we got this way.”
—Patricia Jonas, Plants & Garden News
“A unique and interesting perspective. . . . Oak is filled with unique and interesting depictions of historical events.”
—Bob Davis, San Antonio Express
“[Logan’s] underpinning achievement . . . is to make us appreciate just how central one family of trees has been to a whole spectrum of human activities and achievements.”
—Mark Cocker, Science
“A witty, ironic, self-effacing, elegantly crafted—and learned—cultural history of a generalizer in nature: the oak. . . . Oak is equally for those who think they know all about trees and for those who never thought twice about them. None will ever contemplate an oak in the same way again.”
—Shepard Krech III, author of The Ecological Indian
“With the luminous clarity and exuberant detail of one who loves what he writes about, Logan traces the ways in which humans have shaped, and in turn been shaped by, the versatile, hospitable oak. By the time you emerge from this engrossing book, you’ll be convinced that we are descended from trees. Darwin showed that our remote ancestors climbed down from the branches to stand upright on the ground. Logan shows that our more recent ancestors have used every portion of the oak to meet nearly every human need, from shelter to shoes, from worship to warfare, from filling our stomachs to tracking the stars.”
—Scott Russell Sanders, author of Hunting for Hope and The Force of Spirit
Oak: The Frame of Civilization has a broad appeal, ranging across history, shipbuilding, engineering, forestry and anthropology. But it’s a comforting tale as well for those of us with the mighty limbs still dangling over our roofs.”
—Lynn N. Duke, Orlando Sentinel
“Oak trees have participated in a surprising swath of human history, and now they have finally been recognized for it. William Logan’s Oakis an utterly fascinating story and, in a strange way, a humbling one.”
—John Berendt, author of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil
“[Logan] uses oak as a prism through which to view the rise of human civilization, examining the ways in which human use of oak became more sophisticated. It’s an interesting way to sift through human history, and yields interesting insights.”
—Adekke Waldman, Christian Science Monitor
“This splendid acknowledgment of a natural marvel deserves to be another Longitude.”
Publishing News
Oak has plenty to teach us. . . . In his own way, Logan is restoring knowledge that disappeared, and in the end it is his passion for the trees themselves that makes this book remarkable.”
—Anthony Doerr, Boston Globe
“I don’t do jacket blurbs, but I haven’t seen a book in years I’d rather write one for than Oak if I did. It’s a wood-lover’s delight.”
—Andrew A. Rooney
“Certified arborist and nature writer William Bryant Logan has brought a literary voice to the story of the mighty oak. This wonderful history is written in a storyteller’s voice.”
—Debra Prinzing, Seattle Post-Intelligencer
“The oak is referred to as both mighty and majestic, used in everything from furniture to food, and found in nearly every temperate region of the earth. It’s contribution to and sustenance of cultures since the dawn of humanity is easily, and often erroneously, taken for granted. Other trees, Logan claims, may be older, taller, more imposing, but none are so essential or so impressive as the oak. In this eloquent exploration of all things oak, Logan traces the historical applications and appreciations of the many ways in which the oak’s byproducts have shaped civilizations throughout the world. From Homo sapiens’ earliest harvesting of acorns as a basic foodstuff to the durable oak ships of the intrepid armadas that circumnavigated the globe, oak has been a vital contributor to humanity’s economic, geographic, and cultural evolution. With an unabashed enthusiasm for his subject, Logan speaks almost conversationally of the oak’s attributes, offering a comprehensive and entertaining history of this highly adaptable and overwhelmingly valuable natural resource.”
—Carol Haggas, Booklist
“There’s good reason for the oak being called mighty, writes certified arborist and former New York Times columnist Logan in this sprawling biography of a tree. It’s ubiquitous, highly adaptable and was once the most essential tree in the Earth’s temperate zones. Easily harvested acorns arguably nurtured people long before they learned to sow and hunt. Oak lumber, readily available and remarkably flexible, once made possible the naval and trading ships of seafaring nations; the same wood, shaped by craftsmen using fundamentally the same tools for thousands of years, was used to craft casks that stored water, wine and food on long voyages and through the seasons. Now, the tree that, according to Logan, once shaped civilizations, providing all ‘the material necessities for human life,’ is used primarily in the Western world for wooden pallets and low-end flooring. With this multidisciplinary study’s recipe for acorn bread, its paean to the currier’s leather-making craft and the cooper’s barrel-making skill, and its thumbnail forays into religious rites, natural science and the importance of squirrels and jays, this work is an entertaining and instructive homage to the oak.”
Publishers Weekly
“The biography of a tree that has been collectively embraced for its multifaceted grandeur. The oak has never been taken for granted. It may not be the tallest of trees, nor the oldest or strongest, but it is common, flexible and generous in its many uses. In this superb and inviting profile, arborist/journalist Logan (Dirt: The Ecstatic Skin of the Earth, 1995) tells of how post-glacial humans followed the oak much as Basques followed cod, eating of their bounty-acorns in this case-on their way to new worlds, be they Kurd, Kashmiri or Korean. We get one savory oak tidbit after another. Early people used oak to make roads through fens, and employed oak cysts as coffins (‘a suit of oak’). The trees were prized for their spiritual qualities-Druid comes from dru, meaning oak, and wid, meaning to see or know: ‘oak knowledge’-and for their sacred sites (or at least that’s what some of the sites appear to be, though their function is still guesswork), such as the great floating wooden island of Flag Fen, or the many henges that were more often made of wood than stone. And there’s much more to mull over, all of it handled with care and thought by Logan: the construction of northern longboats, the brilliance of the oaken barrel’s design, the superiority of gall ink (Leonardo’s favorite), the oaken ships that allowed for world trade. The author delves also into the tree’s physical make-up, from its clouds of roots to the mechanics of leaf making. Logan takes such joy in his subject that he can find humor even in the tanners’ toil: ‘When the bark came away, it made a noise like a quack, so a party of barkers sounded like a flock of ducks.’ The Royal Oak, the democratic oak, an oak for every seasonand purpose, all respectfully, admiringly and insightfully laid out for readers to marvel at. And marvel they will.”
Kirkus Reviews