The Man Who Planted Trees, Jean Giono, Limited Editions Club (1995)

Jean Giono (1895 – 1970) was a prolific French writer whose best-known work outside of France is the short story The Man who Planted Trees (1953, fr. L’homme qui plantait des arbres), an edition of which is reviewed here.  His early work, including the “Pan Trilogy” made up of Hill of Destiny (1929, Fr. Colline)Lovers are Never Losers (1929, Fr. Un de Baumugnes) and Harvest (1930, Fr. Regain), showed a classical influence, especially from Virgil and Homer.  Later writings showed this classical influence being eclipsed by writers such as Stendhal. His most famous works in this period of his writing includes Un Roi sans divertissement (1947), Les Âmes fortes (1949) and The Horseman on the Roof (1951, fr. Le Hussard sur le toit). 

Taking place in the first half of the twentieth century, The Man who Planted Trees tells the tale of a shepherd living a lonely life in the sparsely populated foothills of the Alps in Provence who takes it upon himself to re-forest an area that has long been treeless and desolate. Seed by seed, this man spends decades cultivating trees and turning what was a barren landscape into a sort of Garden of Eden. Over time, families move back to the area and what was once a forgotten wasteland is now an optimistic valley, full of life. Though the story as written seems historical and similar to legends about the American tree planter Johnny Appleseed, as well as what both Abdul Karim and Jadav Payeng accomplished in India, it is 100% fiction.

The story is short coming it at nearly 4,000 words. Though written in French, it was first published in English in 1953. Giono loved the natural world, and though this work pre-dates the modern ecological movement, it certainly has influenced it. Giono granted free use of the text to anyone who wanted to distribute or translate it and received no royalties for it.  The Man who Planted Trees was adapted as an animated short by Frédéric Back and won an an Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film in 1987.

This edition of The Man who Planted Trees, from the Limited Editions Club (LEC) in 1995, defines what fine press means. The binding, one of the most beautiful and unique of the LEC library, was hand bound in mulberry tree back by Carol Joyce at her Academy Bindery. The tree-free paper used for the text pages is mould-made Magnani paper (from Pescia, Italy) made from all rag silk and cotton fibers. Similarly for the gravures, mould-made Arches paper (from Epinal, France), made from all rag silk and cotton fibers, is used. The typographic treatment from Michael Bixler is marvelous (just see the examples below, especially look at the bite in Macro #2 of Sample Text #1). For font, he used English Garamond No. 156, which was created in 1922 by Stanley Morison. Last but certainly not least, the photographs from photographer Martine Franck (1938-2012) are beautiful; in fact, mesmerizing. Jon Goodman shows once again that he is the master of photogravure.

About the Edition

  • Illustrated with photographs by Martine Franck
  • Transformed into gravures by Jon Goodman
  • Typographic format by Michael Bixler
  • Typeface is English Garamond No. 156 (created in 1922 by Stanley Morison); text is set in 18 point roman and interlined with the French original in 14 point italic, the English in black, the French in red
  • Larger sizes of Garamond, ranging up to 30 point, on the title page
  • Chapter initials done in 60 point Bembo (a face deriving from the first roman type, dating from 1495)
  • Mould-made Magnani paper (Pescia, Italy) made from all rag fibers, silk and cotton, is used for the text pages
  • Mould-made Arches paper (Epinal, France) made from all rag fibers, silk and cotton, is used for the gravures
  • Hand bound in mulberry tree back by Carol Joyce at her Academy Bindery in Stockton, New Jersey
  • Limited to 300 copies, signed by Martine Franck

Pictures of the Edition

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The Man Who Planted Trees, Limited Editions Club, Book in Slipcase
The Man Who Planted Trees, Limited Editions Club, Book in Slipcase
The Man Who Planted Trees, Limited Editions Club, Spine and Covers
The Man Who Planted Trees, Limited Editions Club, Spine and Covers
The Man Who Planted Trees, Limited Editions Club, Macro of Spine
The Man Who Planted Trees, Limited Editions Club, Macro of Spine
The Man Who Planted Trees, Limited Editions Club, Cover
The Man Who Planted Trees, Limited Editions Club, Cover
The Man Who Planted Trees, Limited Editions Club, Macro of Cover
The Man Who Planted Trees, Limited Editions Club, Macro of Cover
The Man Who Planted Trees, Limited Editions Club, Macro of Side View
The Man Who Planted Trees, Limited Editions Club, Macro of Side View
The Man Who Planted Trees, Limited Editions Club, Frontispiece and Title Page
The Man Who Planted Trees, Limited Editions Club, Frontispiece and Title Page
The Man Who Planted Trees, Limited Editions Club, Macro of Frontispiece
The Man Who Planted Trees, Limited Editions Club, Macro of Frontispiece
The Man Who Planted Trees, Limited Editions Club, Macro of Title Page
The Man Who Planted Trees, Limited Editions Club, Macro of Title Page
The Man Who Planted Trees, Limited Editions Club, Sample Text #1
The Man Who Planted Trees, Limited Editions Club, Sample Text #1
The Man Who Planted Trees, Limited Editions Club, Macro of Sample Text #1
The Man Who Planted Trees, Limited Editions Club, Macro #1 of Sample Text #1
The Man Who Planted Trees, Limited Editions Club, Macro #2 of Sample Text #1
The Man Who Planted Trees, Limited Editions Club, Macro #2 of Sample Text #1
The Man Who Planted Trees, Limited Editions Club, Sample Illustration #2
The Man Who Planted Trees, Limited Editions Club, Sample Illustration #1
The Man Who Planted Trees, Limited Editions Club, Sample Text #2
The Man Who Planted Trees, Limited Editions Club, Sample Text #2
The Man Who Planted Trees, Limited Editions Club, Sample Illustration #3
The Man Who Planted Trees, Limited Editions Club, Sample Illustration #2
The Man Who Planted Trees, Limited Editions Club, Colophon
The Man Who Planted Trees, Limited Editions Club, Colophon

2 thoughts on “The Man Who Planted Trees, Jean Giono, Limited Editions Club (1995)

  1. This is one of my favorite Sidney Shiff era LEC books and it highlights everything that made his LEC books special —- superb book design, flawless letterpress typography (in this regard, few are better than Winifred and Michael Bixler), use of exotic but appropriate materials and papers and, most of all, the perfect pairing of photographic illustrations with the book. Although a few of Shiff’s choices of illustrator/illustrations for his books were spectacular misses, e.g., Sean Scully’s strange and inappropriate illustrations for Conrad’s ‘Heart of Darkness, all of the books he published with photographic illustrations were winners and none more so than ‘The Man Who Planted Trees’. Martine Franck was a superb photographer in the French humanist tradition and her work (sadly) was overshadowed by that of her more famous husband Henri Cartier-Bresson. In this instance her photographs are luminous and instantly transport the reader to the open spaces and serenity of the French countryside. Best of all, Sidney Shiff took extreme care in the reproduction of the photographs for his LEC books and nearly always relied on photogravure technique from topnotch studios and artisans.

    My only complaint with this book?? I wish there were more than five of Martine Franck’s gorgeous photographs.

    1. A beautiful book! And I am glad to own a copy. My only complaint, the same with all of Shiff’s books, is that these elephant folios are just too large for an ordinary mortal to store and handle.
      I place it flat on a desk top and read it standing up.

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