The Life, Death, and Rebirth
of a Perfect Tree
In the first years of the 20th century, a mysterious blight began to infect the majestic American chestnut trees of the east. Thirty years later, as many as four billion had been felled by a virulent scourge from Asia, sweeping like a relentless wildfire through forests from Maine to Georgia. Freinkel's enthralling synthesis of science and sentiment chronicles the devastating impact of the chestnut tree's precipitous disappearance on generations of hardscrabble Appalachian homesteaders, who lost a flavorful nugget of nutrition that got their families through bitter winters, and on flummoxed but determined botanists, who battled with politicians in the early 1900s about the best way to halt the blight's inexorable advance. As the presence of towering stands of the perfect tree faded into melancholic memory, she shows that resolute citizens and scientists have set out, with almost religious fervor, to resurrect the dead—with signs of success. Detailed explanations of the science of crossbreeding, hypovirulence (fighting disease by infecting the infection) and genetic engineering often make for heavy if informative slogging. But time after time, this impassioned book strikes resonant emotional chords that transform dry facts into dynamic prose.