Magazine

  • Chandana Banerjee

Ladders to Heaven by Mike Shanahan

When I asked rain forest ecologist and writer Mike Shanahan if I could review his book ‘Ladders to Heaven’, I thought it was all about the environmental impact of #fig #trees. But when I cracked it open and tumbled through the first few pages, I knew this was going to be so much more than a set of dry scientific facts about a bunch of trees.



Crafted with poetical prose, each chapter is a richly laid-out story about some secret, mind-boggling facet of fig trees. As you follow the author, who has a PhD in ecology and colossal hands-on experience in the field, you’ll go on a fig tree-centered adventure through snake-entangled forests, ancient temples and bubbling volcanoes, making your way through diverse cultures, civilizations and times, and meeting a plethora of well-known people, who were charmed, amazed and inspired by the Ficus.


While this book is focused on the impact of fig trees on the ecology and environment, it is also a vibrant tapestry that weaves in mythology, history and geography within its folds. Imagine yourself, the reader, crouched in a time capsule, as you explore with wide-eyed awe, how fig trees played a major role in the lives of Adam and Eve, Gautam Buddha, Lord Krishna, Muhammad and Jesus. Of how fig trees were still around when the dinosaurs roamed this earth; played an important role in the independence struggle of Kenya; offered hope to the Pharaohs of Egypt; restored life after a volcanic eruption; inspired Wangari Maathai to start an eco revolution; and, so much more.


Shanahan shares the wisdom of local tribes and cultures about how they linked the fig tree to the environment as well as delves into scientific research about how fig trees are at the heart of a prosperous ecology. He draws in the reader with a story in each chapter, tucking in anecdotes and facts deftly. For anyone who thinks that trees are well just trees, Ladders to Heaven will show you that trees, especially the fig trees, are the foundation to a solid ecology and the ladder to happiness and inspiration for human beings and creatures across time and cultures.

Infographic credit: Under the Banyan


Each of the 12 chapters needs to be savored, pondered and mulled over. When I was reading the book, I’d take short break after each chapter, letting the river of facts seep in slowly.


At the heart of the book is the very message that author Mike Shanahan and every ecologist, environmentalist and green-minded person is trying to get across to our materialistic civilization: “the more forests there are in the world, the more liberated humanity can be” and “that despite humanity’s perceived dominion over all creatures great and small, we remain part of nature, not apart from it”.


While Ladders to Heaven stretches over a canvas of millions of years, the seed, the root and the core message throughout the book is just as essential to our present and future.


You can find out more about Ladders to Heaven at Mike’s blog, Under the Banyan.


Thank you to the author and publisher of this book, for sending me a copy to review.


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