Category Archives: The Forest Unseen

The Forest Unseen audiobook from Tantor

Unseen it may be, but it will not now be unheard. Tantor Audio has just published an audio edition of The Forest Unseen, narrated by Michael Healy. I have not yet listened to the whole reading, but the parts that I’ve heard are great.

You can hear a sample, buy the CDs or mp3s, and hear some clips from the woods on Tantor’s website.

Cover art for the CD case, with Buck Butler’s great photo making another appearance:



Mandalas at National Academy of Sciences

Mandalas take many forms. These circular representations of the Universe are most well developed in Buddhist and Hindu traditions, but they also appear in other realms, some of them quite unexpected. Jung thought that the mandala was an archetype, “the psychological expression of the totality of the self,” a interesting interpretation, albeit one that is perhaps at odds with the self-transcendent meaning seen by many others.

Two mandalas converged in National Academy of Sciences building on the Washington Mall last week. I brought one of them, embedded in the words of The Forest Unseen. I discovered the other mandala as I entered the building and looked up. The dome of the Academy’s Great Hall is representation of the totality of science, with the words “Ages and cycles of nature in ceaseless sequence moving” scribed on its inner rim. Do I hear an echo of Buddhist impermanence here in a space opened in 1924 as a “Temple of Science“?

NASMANDALAAt the center: the sun. Around: symbols of the various divisions of early Twentieth Century science (information theory, quantum mechanics, and genomics are missing, among others). The artwork was created by Hildreth Meière, one of the most prolific and honored of the Art Deco  public artists, and one of America’s most lauded mosaicists. For this project she used tile painted with hot gesso, producing a luminous, textured surface.

For better photos than my cameraphone shot above, see the NAS’s flickr page. NAS also has some excellent information about the meanings of the various elements in the design. If you have an iPad, you can get an app that walks you through the symbolism of the dome, a joy that is not yet available to the unpadded.

As I walked into the building to receive the book’s award and to talk about the forest mandala, my sweaty-palmed tension was eased a little by Meière’s mandala. Science and mandalas can, perhaps, be in fruitful conversation.

The Forest Unseen wins “Best Book Award” from the National Academies

The Forest Unseen has won the “Best Book Award” in the 2013 Communication Awards from the National Academies.

I’m absolutely thrilled that they chose the book. Giving voice to the incredible scientific stories that lie hidden away inside the ivory tower was one of reasons I started this project. That the National Academies should find merit in the result of this work is stunning and gratifying, to say the least. I’m also very humbled to be in the incredible company of the other finalists and winners (see below for the full list).

The award is given by the The National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, and Institute of Medicine, with support from the Keck Foundation. The full press release is reproduced below and is found on the National Academies website.

Press release: The Forest Unseen Wins Best Book Award From National Academies; Science Magazine, PRI’s ‘The World,’ and USA Today Also Take Top Prizes


WASHINGTON — The National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, and Institute of Medicine announced today the recipients of the 2013 Communication Awards. Supported by the W.M. Keck Foundation since 2003 as part of the Keck Futures Initiative, these prestigious annual awards — each of which includes a $20,000 prize — recognize excellence in reporting and communicating science, engineering, and medicine to the general public. The winners will be honored during a ceremony on Oct. 16 at the National Academy of Sciences building in Washington, D.C.


“We had a wide range of outstanding nominees from which to choose,” said May Berenbaum, chair of the 11-member communication awards selection committee, an NAS member, and professor and head of entomology at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. “The winners are excellent examples of science communication that can inform and engage the public.”


Selected from approximately 300 print, broadcast, and online entries, the recipients of this year’s awards for works published or aired in 2012 are:



David George Haskell for The Forest Unseen (Viking Penguin)

“…for his exquisite portrait of nature’s universe, drawn from one tiny patch of forest.”



Joanne Silberner, David Baron, and PRI’s “The World” for “Cancer’s Lonely Soldier,” “Pink Ribbons to Haiti,” “An Ounce of Prevention,” and “The Infectious Connection”

“…for shining a light on the hidden toll cancer takes in impoverished nations, killing more people than HIV, malaria, and TB combined.”



Eliot Marshall, Elizabeth Culotta, Ann Gibbons, and Greg Miller at Science for their stories “Parsing Terrorism,” “Roots of Racism,” “The Ultimate Sacrifice,” and “Drone Wars,” which appeared in a special issue on human conflict (May 18, 2012)

“…for an articulate, wide-ranging examination of what social scientists have learned about human violence, conflict, and terrorism.”



Alison Young and Peter Eisler (reporters), John Hillkirk (content editor), and the entire team at USA TODAY for the series “Ghost Factories”

“…for a nationwide investigation of abandoned lead factories that armed reporters and citizens with the knowledge and technology to recognize threats in their own backyards.”



The following were finalists:


David Quammen for Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic (W.W. Norton and Co.)


Paula Apsell and Sarah Holt for “Cracking Your Genetic Code” (WGBH/NOVA and Holt Productions)


Nell Greenfield-Boyce for “Scientists Take Cautious Tack on Bird Flu Research,” “Scientists Debate How to Conduct Bird Flu Research,” “Bird Flu Studies Getting Another Round of Scrutiny by Panel,” and “Bird Flu Researchers to Meet About Research Moratorium” (NPR)


Jeff Montgomery, Molly Murray, and Dan Garrow for “Climate Change Puts Coast in Crosshairs,” The News Journal, Wilmington, Del.


            The Keck Futures Initiative was created in 2003 to encourage interdisciplinary research and is funded by a 15-year, $40 million grant from the W.M. Keck Foundation.  Nominations for the 2014 Communication Awards will be accepted in early 2014 for work published or broadcast in 2013.  For more information on the National Academies Keck Futures Initiative and the Communication Awards, please visit  For more information about the W.M. Keck Foundation, please visit


            Members of the media who would like to attend this year’s awards ceremony on Oct. 16 in Washington, D.C., should email to receive complimentary tickets.


            The National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, Institute of Medicine, and National Research Council make up the National Academies.  They are private, nonprofit institutions that provide science, technology, and health policy advice under a congressional charter.  The Research Council is the principal operating arm of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering.  For more information, visit




William J. Skane, Executive Director

Molly Galvin, Senior Media Officer

Office of News and Public Information

202-334-2138; e-mail

Twitter: @NAS_news and @NASciences

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The Forest Unseen paperback edition; copies for course adoption available

paperback3DThe Penguin paperback edition of The Forest Unseen went on sale this week. Having read and enjoyed hundreds of books adorned with the smart little penguin, I’m very happy to see my book published under this imprint. All the other editions of the book — the hardcover, the various e-books — are still available. I’m hoping that this new edition will make the book available and attractive to new readers.

One such group of readers are students. The book is already in use in a few biology, environmental studies, literature, religion and philosophy classes, with great results so far. If you’re a teacher and would like an examination copy, Penguin has free copies available for “course-use consideration.” If you’re interested, please e-mail with your shipping address, course title and enrollment, and decision date. Please include “The Forest Unseen, ISBN: 978-0-14-312294-4” in the email. Penguin does not ship to P.O. boxes, so you’ll need to give a physical address. If you encounter any problems with the process (unlikely), just let me know and I’ll make sure that the books get where they need to go.

I’d be very grateful if you could spread the word to friends and colleagues who might be interested. (To make sharing easier here is the shortlink for this webpage:

To the many readers who have supported the book since its publication last year: Thank you! I’ve been bowled over by your generosity and enthusiasm.

Rambles will continue tomorrow. On the docket (literally): sex, nature and the Supreme Court, with a little help from the Grey Lady.