The Forest Unseen

paperback3DWinner of 2013 Best Book Award from the National Academies

Finalist for 2013 Pulitzer Prize in General Nonfiction

Runner-up for 2013 PEN/E.O. Wilson Literary Science Writing Award

Winner of the 2013 Reed Environmental Writing Award

Winner of the 2012 National Outdoor Book Award for Natural History Literature

Dapeng Nature Writing Award. Shenzhen, China. 2016.

Barnes and Noble

A biologist reveals the secret world hidden in a single square meter of forest

“…a welcome entry in the world of nature writers. He thinks like a biologist, writes like a poet, and gives the natural world the kind of open-minded attention one expects from a Zen monk rather than a hypothesis-driven scientist.” James Gorman, The New York Times

“Very much a contemporary biologist in his familiarity with genetics and population ecology, he also has the voracious synthetic imagination of a 19th-century naturalist. Most important, Mr. Haskell is a sensitive writer, conjuring with careful precision the worlds he observes and delighting the reader with insightful turns of phrase.” Hugh Raffles, The Wall Street Journal

“…focusing not on the showy megafauna but on the small and fundamental forest dwellers, from glimmering lichen to slow-moving slugs. He writes with a scientist’s meticulous attention to detail and a poet’s way with words. As he spins his tales of the tiny and the ordinary, we see the big picture issues, from evolution to climate change, unfold in the everyday world.” from the PEN/E. O. Wilson Judges’ Citation

“…a new genre of nature writing, located between science and poetry.” Edward O. Wilson, Harvard University

“David Haskell’s The Forest Unseen is a ‘nature book,’ and a great one, but it’s also and less obviously a book about human nature. You can’t read its lyrical, tactile prose without confronting the whole question of our place in the natural order, and of what we’re doing here. If we want to last much longer on this planet, we’ll have to learn to think differently and more deeply about those things, and Haskell can be one of our guides.” —John Jeremiah Sullivan, author of Pulphead

“An extraordinary, intimate view of life… Exceptional observations of the biological world…” Kirkus Reviews, Starred Review for “books of remarkable merit.”

The Forest Unseen was published on March 15th, 2012, by The Viking Press, an imprint of Penguin USA. The Penguin paperback edition was published on March 26th, 2013. A short introductory video is available on YouTube.

David Haskell’s interviews on The Diane Rehm Show and  To The Best of our Knowledge are now available online. Links to full reviews are here.

Selected by Kirkus Reviews for their Best of 2012 review.

23 thoughts on “The Forest Unseen

  1. Pingback: Author and professor to show "riches of the biological world" | University of Richmond Collegian — University of Richmond News

    1. David George Haskell Post author


      Thank you so much for these very kind words. I’m delighted that you enjoyed the book and grateful to you for spreading the word through your blog. Word of mouth is the best way of getting news about a new book into the world, so thank you!

      The comment on the blog mostly does not address the points made in the book — it is a long list of defensive arguments about why we need forest management. What I argue is that we DO need management, ” thoughtful management for the long-term well-being of both humans and forests.” I state elsewhere in the book that wood products are part of the answer to living sustainably in the world. I also think that in some cases, plantation management is appropriate — but not everywhere and not over huge areas. In our region, huge areas of native forest have been wiped out to make room for plantations. This seems to me to be a little unbalanced. It was also, it turned out, bad business — most of the plantations got killed by beetles, so the landowners lost their investment in the plantations.

      The main argument, though, is that we need to know and understand our forests before we can hope to “manage” them well. In my experience, that knowledge is being lost, at least in some parts of the land management world.

  2. Meaghan Wiedemann

    Hi! I have been reading your blog for quite some time. I moved to Sewanee about 3 years ago, but have never explored it. I recently came across the path to Lost Cove after seeing a sign for it behind the soccer fields on Ball Park Rd. However, I was unsure if I should really be exploring all of this without someone else that is more acquainted with the surroundings. So, my question: Is there a hiking group in Sewanee? I don’t really mind going back there with my fiance…it’s just I will mind if I encounter a mountain lion or anything along those lines. Do you think it is safe to hike back there with it being just the two of us? I am not really a naturist…I can tell very few trees apart, I treat all snakes as if they are poisonous because I can’t tell the poisonous ones from the non-poisonous…Anyways..I am rambling. I enjoy your blog very much! I have a lot of respect for environmentalists and people that do care for the land around them.

    1. David George Haskell Post author

      Meaghan, I’m very happy to hear you’ve enjoyed the blog!

      About trails: I recommend stopping by the Sewanee Outing Program ( in the Bishop’s Common to get a trail map from them (see also here for info on trails and a digital copy of the map: There are lots of great trails. All these trails are, in my opinion, very safe. Mountain lions are extraordinarily unlikely here. I hike these trails alone and with company all the time. I know many others, men and women, who do the same. So, going out on the trails with your partner is a great idea.

      A great trail that connects to the one that you found at Ball Park is the Caldwell Rim trail. This is a great loop.

      There is no official hiking club that I know of, but the Outing Program does organize hikes. There is one on the Caldwell Rim loop this Saturday. I’ll post the email that they sent around below:


      Parents! Students! Brothers and Sisters!

      Hike the

      Caldwell Rim Trail! (2.4 mi. loop)

      Leaders: Elizabeth Sega, C’ 15

      Brita Brudvig, C’ 15

      When: Sat. Oct 6th @ 9am

      Where: Meet at the B.C. (to self-drive/carpool to trailhead)

      Come with your kids! Come with your parents! Come without your kids!

      In 2008, Sewanee acquired 3,000 acres in Lost Cove just south of central campus. Seeing as Sewanee students can be a little outdoor-curious we ask, “What is the point of a bunch of beautiful land with no trails?” Thus, the Caldwell Rim Trail was born and named in memory of Dr. Hugh Caldwell, beloved philosophy professor and legendary founder of the Sewanee Outing Club.

      The 2.4 mile loop begins following Depot Branch stream, nearing the tip of Point Disappointment. Suddenly, the trail crosses several creeks, and approaches the bluff line overlooking Lost Cove in all its glory. After hiking along the bluff overlook, the closing stretch loops right and connects to a fire lane. This brings our hike to a casual Saturday morning stroll, a pace quick enough to return you in time for the game against Centre. If you’ve ever walked, this should be a breeze (level of difficulty similar to that of Piney Point and Beckwith’s Point trails).

      Directions to Caldwell Rim Trail:

      The trailhead is located at the end of Bob Stewman Road, a short bike ride from campus. From University Avenue, cross 41A in downtown Sewanee (past the Sewanee market) and take a left onto Lake O’Donnell road. The second right is Bob Stewman Rd. Follow Bob Stewman road until it dead ends, then take the unpaved road on the right to the new trailhead parking area.

      Sign-Up Outside the SOP office or just show up.

  3. Katie Brugger

    Dear Dr. Haskell,
    I’ve just finished reading The Forest Unseen. I have slowly savored your book over many weeks, reading one day’s entry, at most two, at one sitting. I have never read anyone who combined a meditative consciousness with a scientist’s mind so beautifully. You presented the theme of the interconnectedness of all things so delightfully in so many amazing forms: bird’s eggs, vultures, lichen, and the roothair-fungus relationship all come easily to mind as examples.

    Long ago I learned to walk in the woods without a goal. I live in western North Carolina and for many years lived on a gravel road surrounded by national forests. I carved my own hiking trails to special places—a rock outcropping, a particular tree, a springhead flowing over a small rock cliff—and would walk to those places and then sit and observe.

    Now I live in Asheville, in a mountain cove with a lawn that is mostly Prunella vulgaris. Four or five afternoons a week (I work at home) I spend time in a little patch of this lawn with my cat, sitting and observing the ants, spiders, and other creatures crawling over the vegetation. You’ve inspired me to see this suburban patch as my own mandala and look even close than before.

    You’ve created a book that I know I will enjoy reading many times in my life. I already plan on having my husband read this aloud to me, so we can savor it together.

    Btw, I wrote this before I read the other comments; it’s no coincidence that two of us use the word “savor.” I will also blog about your book to spread the word.

    1. David George Haskell Post author

      Katie, Thank you very much for this very kind note. I’m very happy to hear that you enjoyed the book and delighted that you’ll be returning to its pages. I’m particularly honored that someone so attuned to contemplation of nature should find something of worth in the book. So: thank you for your generous words! Your garden mandala sounds fabulous. With my best wishes, David

      1. Katie Brugger

        I am happy to say I have remained inspired by your book: I have been looking closer at my backyard mandala. Just last week I noticed a ground-hugging plant with velvety leaves that were warm and soft to the touch while the other plants nearby had leaves that were smooth and cold. And I noticed the patch of melting snow wasn’t just a blob (what I always had seen before); when looked at closely it revealed textures that hinted at the hexagonal structure of the snow flakes that had fallen, with the glint of ice crystals in the sun at the edge. I’ve put a strap on my viewer so I remember to take it out with me every day. Thank you again!

  4. Pingback: Home Sweet Homewood « Travels with the Blonde Coyote

    1. David George Haskell Post author

      Teo, Thank you! I’m very happy that you’ve enjoyed the book and I’m honored that you have written about it in your blog. I like your emphasis on integrating the various winter survival strategies of the forest creatures. I send my best wishes for springtime!

  5. David Orr

    I’ve begun your book on the recommendation of Dr. Heather Reynolds of the Indiana University biology department. It was the first book that came to her mind, and I can see why. As a master’s student in graphic design, my thesis idea is to explore the idea of “the designer as naturalist.” The method I devised was similar to what you do in “The Forest Unseen,” to observe carefully one spot in my local woodlands, but the elegance of how you approach the subject and document is humbling. I’m inspired. I intend to put this book into so many hands in the future. Thank you so much for writing it.

    1. David George Haskell Post author

      Thank you! (And thank you for connecting on Twitter.) I hope the book provides some good food for thought as you develop your ideas. Thank you for these very kind words! And good luck with the project — it sounds great.

    2. Harrison Glasgow

      You are obviously not the David Orr of Oberlin College. Judging by your comment, perhaps you would also enjoy that David Orr’s book, Nature by Design. Also inspirational.

  6. Summer Songs

    In one hour I have,
    a. Googled “wild white aster – Images.” And reviewed the images, choosing among DOZENS,
    b. The image of ‘heath’ aster from your blog, reading and commented, and
    c. Visited the website of Cudzoo Farms, marvelled at the beauty of the soaps;
    d. Located this blog, and been transfixed, and finally coming to the above post and realizing,
    If I had chosen any other photo to click on, I would have missed your entire offering here!
    Today is my lucky day. Next stop: my library for a copy of your book.

  7. Martine Vincent

    Hello Mr Haskell,
    for a few months, your book has been published in French. I was lucky enough to hear about it and to read it. I just wanted to thank you for it, for sharing the life of the mandala with your readers, for the observations you made there, for the clear descriptions and explanations of the processes and relationsships between the different living beings, for your experiences and your emotions. I can´t barely express the pleasure it provided to me
    Thank you very much for this wonderful present.

    Martine Vincent, an enthusiastic french reader from Germany.

    1. David George Haskell Post author

      Dear Martine,

      I am delighted that you found the book and that you have found some worth in its pages. Thank you for this kind note: Je vous envoie un grand merci pour les sentiments généreux que vous exprimez ici.

      Avec mes remerciements et mes meilleurs voeux,


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