Robert Van Pelt, a forest ecology researcher at the University of Washington and Evergreen State College, has two lifelong obsessions: trees and curious facts. So it seems inevitable that he would hunt out the woody leviathans showcased in his book Forest Giants of the Pacific Coast.


Measuring trees is a science, and Van Pelt takes the reader through a brief overview of how it's done. But the bulk of the book is devoted to 117 champion trees. Each of the 20 species covered has its own chapter that begins with an informative but easy-to-read article giving background on the featured species and a colorful map showing species range and the locations of the giants. Individual profiles of the big trees follow. Van Pelt provides the expected facts, such as height, diameter and wood volume, but also goes beyond the numbers to bring out the unique personality of each tree by delving into the story behind the names (Riker!, named after the Enterprise's second-in-command on Star Trek, is the second-largest noble fir in an area near Mount St. Helens), highlighting some of the trees' quirks (a cedar in Olympic National Park has two full-size hemlocks growing on it), and recounting some of the tales accumulated from the 200,000 miles Van Pelt drove and 700 miles he hiked in search of these trees.


Whether you're a silviculturalist or someone who can barely tell a spruce from a fir, the author's exquisite drawings of each tree are reason enough to pick up this book and a good excuse not to put it down.


Forest Giants of the Pacific Coast, by Robert Van Pelt, Global Forest Society with University of Washington Press, Seattle, 2002. Softcover: $35, 224 pages, 115 color illustrations, 115 line drawings, 22 color maps.