Favorite Bonsai Books for Beginner and Experienced Artists Alike

In the not-too-distant past, finding bonsai books written in English was challenging. Bonsai books outside of Japan were rare for many years.

Today, it’s a whole new bonsai world! There are more legitimate bonsai artists, more techniques, permanent exhibits in many countries, and better exposure worldwide. Many aficionados of this art form, began with a book.

Some Personal Favorites

The Bonsai Beginners Guide

This beginner bonsai book includes over 200 stunning images and over 100 pages of explanations of the basic techniques. In addition, care guides on the ten most popular tree species. It also includes background on the history, definition and styles of bonsai.


Sunset Bonsai Illustrated Guide

One of my first bonsai books was the Sunset publication Bonsai, An Illustrated Guide to an Ancient Art.’ It’s an inexpensive, thorough introduction. And it’s still a beginner’s favorite today.


Bonsai Techniques #1 (The Bonsai Bible)

The late John Naka was a bonsai master, an accomplished teacher, and writer. He was also a fine artist (painting and drawing.) I knew him as a friend with a devilish smile, who visited Florida frequently. If you are a serious student of bonsai, there is no better guide than John Naka.

This, his first book, is considered by many, to be the “bible of bonsai,” with his own drawings to diagram his techniques.
In 1995, the Spanish edition ‘Tecnicas del Bonsai’ was published. Check for availability.

If you have the first book, you may ask yourself: “How much more could there be in Bonsai Techniques II?” The answer is … plenty!

In John’s second book, he covers more advanced subjects, such as how to improve faulty rootage, inarch grafting to improve trunks, optical illusions, and the different types of apex. All of that and more is in the first 200 of over 400 pages! Photos and/or illustrations are on every page.

The Naka books may seem expensive, but you will refer to them again and again … way beyond your beginner years!


Bonsai – The Art, Science, History and Philosophy

I once heard author Deborah Koreshoff referred to as the “Australian John Naka.” Her book is full of very precise information, photographs and sketches by the author.

However, it is in no way a replica of Naka’s. Their styles are very different. Koreshoff begins her book with a very through and lengthy “Historical Background of Bonsai,” 13 pages long with information rarely seen.
After many chapters on types of trees, styling, care and maintenance … she ends with “Exhibiting, Display and the Judging of Quality in Bonsai.” Because the print is much smaller than usual, the 243 pages may easily compare to a 350-page book!

Other Than “Bonsai ” Books

The complete title says it all.

Penjing: The Chinese Art of Bonsai: A Pictorial Exploration of Its History, Aesthetics, Styles, and Preservation

Is there a big difference between bonsai and penjing? Yes!

As penjing expert Karin Albert explains:

“Bonsai, literally translates as a tree in a container, and penjing denotes scenery in a container.” Therefore, you will see more rocks than in bonsai. In addition, figurines are frequently used in the compositions.

World of Bonsai – One for the Coffee Table

Giving a bonsai tree as a gift (even to a bonsai person) may or may not be a good idea. However, a good book, that’s a great idea!
The ‘World of Bonsai’ by Paul Liesnewicz is not a how-to do bonsai book. Actually, it is not a bonsai book at all. The mostly full page photographs feature bonsai, people and places, for the most part in Japan. They are unbelievably powerful and the wording is beautifully done.
I highly recommended it as a gift for bonsai people and anyone who enjoys beautiful photography as art.

Thoughts on Used Books

When you see a book that seems too pricey, there may be a used copy available!
Used books can be terrific bargains … if you don’t mind a spot on a page, possibly a couple of turned down pages or just a “little worn” look. The grading system seems to work. When I’ve ordered a book in “good” or “excellent” condition, that’s what I got.
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