The Man who Climbs Trees James AldredI’m a bit later than I’d hoped reviewing this book, which was published in June – I’ve had so much to read recently and haven’t prioritised my NetGalley books. I am very glad I read this, though, and recommend it with a few reservations for those who don’t love medical details!

James Aldred – “The Man who Climbs Trees”

(18 June 2018 – NetGalley)

Opening with an exciting climb by James as a 13-year-old boy who has to leap up a handy tree in a hurry, we follow Aldred through three decades of climbing progressively larger trees in progressively more exotic locations (although he’s very clear that, like most tree climbers he knows, he return to a less exotic, local tree when he needs to clear his head). We go from hearing about climbing a big tree with a rock-climber friend and some very dodgy equipment to rigging up a camera on a wire to whizz at high speed towards David Attenborough – for Aldred does manage to carve out a career climbing to support film crews and other projects, as well as teaching others how to climb. And fair play to him, because he writes quite movingly about the peace and sense of home he feels up a tree.

He bases each main chapter around a particular tree, on any of the major continents, and talks with a deep and simple joy about his experience of the tree itself, going into more technical detail about his climb and what he does in the tree, sometimes dealing with helping set up filming platforms, sometimes scoping out a tree or set of trees and the things within them, and twice constructing a treehouse. There are some lovely descriptions of both the animals and birds (there’s a great bit of foreshadowing of a surprise beast up one tree) and people he encounters that round out the chapters. These could involve anything from close-at-hand sniffing by an elephant’s trunk to being glared at by royalty!

Aldred appears to be honest and self-deprecating, sharing the mistakes he makes (and sometimes oversharing on the physical side, detailing some fairly unpleasant medical stuff basically arising from being in hot and damp locations without access to good hygiene: don’t read this over dinner unless you’re made of stronger stuff than I am. The book could have done without this, although of course it appeals to the Bear Grylls drinking your own pee school of interest. I think it could stand on its own without the boils). Read it for the eye-witness accounts of looking out across the canopy of a great forest, having hauled himself up there using only his wits, ingenuity, strength, tenacity and trust in ropes and equipment that really seems kept to a minimum that keeps him safe.

He has a bit to say about how people are more interested in the environment now than when he started out, but his real feelings about preserving great trees are found through his actions and comments throughout the book, even being sad when he inserts a treehouse into what he clearly sees as a living and important form. I really liked this care and commitment rather than being gung-ho and uncaring. We find more about his family and personal life at the end of this entertaining and immersive read, but the trees are the real stars.

Thank you to the publisher, Ebury, for providing a copy via NetGalley in return for an honest review.