The triumph of seeds How grains, nuts, kernels, pulses, and pips, conquered the plant kingdom and shaped human history

Thor Hanson

Book - 2015

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Subjects
Published
New York : Basic Books, a member of the Perseus Books Group 2015.
Language
English
Physical Description
xxv, 277 pages : illustrations ; 22 cm
Bibliography
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN
9780465055999
0465055990
Main Author
Thor Hanson (author)
Review by Booklist Reviews

*Starred Review* Conservation biologist Hanson follows Feathers (2011) with a book inspired, in part, by his young son's preternatural fascination with seeds. Jocular and entertaining in his dispensing of remarkable facts about these little vessels of life-to-be, Hanson shares tales of his Central American field work (snakes and all) studying the stone-hard almendo seed, which grows into a long-lived, 150-foot, rain forest giant supporting an entire, seething ecosystem. This inspires Hanson to vividly describe the evolutionary "virtual arms race" between seeds and seed-eaters. As he visits with seed experts around the world, Hanson marvels over the amazing energetics of seeds, the evolutionary impact of our ancestors' consumption of seeds, especially cooked grains, and the civilization-shaping "political power of grain." He also chronicles the global impact of coffee and chili peppers and seeds' capacity for dormancy, including one excavated 2000-year-old date palm seed that grew into a 10-foot tree in Israel. From high-tech, high-security seed banks bracing for climate change to the story of the gum extracted from guar seeds that is used in everything from ice cream to fracking, this upbeat and mind-expanding celebration of the might of seeds is popular science writing as its finest. Copyright 2014 Booklist Reviews.

Review by Choice Reviews

Chapter by chapter, seed by seed, Hanson (a conservation biologist) tells the surprising stories of how seeds influenced the outcome of significant historical events, from the growth in the popularity of coffee and chocolate to the development of the Stealth Bomber.  Written in an engaging style, the book flows nicely; each chapter leads into the next, so the book is hard to put down.  Just as seeds have influenced life on Earth, evolution has influenced their development.  The author reveals a number of ongoing mysteries, both scientific and historical, in the quest to understand why seeds have been so successful.  For example, caffeine acts as both reward and poison in a delicate balance where bees, like morning commuters, line up for their appropriate dose of the drug.  According to one expert, caffeine has become the drug that makes the modern world possible.  It can also harm the seeds it serves to spread by inhibiting seed germination.  Hanson argues that evolutionary intelligence finds the right balance—evolution acts like a gardener, saving the most successful experiments.  From cotton to orchids, the future of seeds looks promising. Summing Up: Recommended. All readers. --T. Johnson, Prescott Valley Public Library Ted Johnson Prescott Valley Public Library http://dx.doi.org/10.5860/CHOICE.191429 Copyright 2014 American Library Association.

Review by Library Journal Reviews

Conservation biologist Hanson's new book showcases an even more approachable style than his 2011 Feathers. Using a personalized viewpoint derived from his backyard lab and dissertation research in Costa Rica with the almendro tree, as well as visits with specialists worldwide, he describes how seeds nourish, unite, endure, defend, and travel. What is a seed? A potential baby plant with a protective coat and food to start growing. With that in mind, and a little humor, the author includes paleontology, evolution, a 2,000-year-old seed that grew a tree called Methuselah, seed banks and botanical gardens, and seeds that are both useful to and harmful to humans. He discusses seeds' shapes and sizes; how they are distributed by water, air, animals, and birds; how they inspire us (think flight); and how they protect themselves. Jane Goodall's recent Seeds of Hope has a chapter on seeds and mentions some of the same items found here, but Hanson's work also includes a solid glossary and bibliography that are not offered in Goodall's title. VERDICT Recommended for gardeners and readers of natural history and history of science.—Jean E. Crampon, Univ. of Southern California, Los Angeles, Lib. [Page 108]. (c) Copyright 2014. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Review by Publisher Summary 1

From his own back yard to the coffee plantations of the Amazon to the spice routes of Kerala, an award-winning conservation biologist presents a book filled with knowledge, adventure and wonder that explores the seeds all around us as both a natural phenomenon and a human one.

Review by Publisher Summary 2

Presents a guide to seeds that explains their importance to nature and humanity, describing their role in such events as the Age of Discovery, the American Civil War, and the Industrial Revolution.

Review by Publisher Summary 3

Hanson offers an informative and light-hearted study of the seed, charting its journey from the depths of the rainforest to the home garden. The book is divided into five parts, each exploring a different aspect of the seed. Chapters discuss topics as varied as the spice trade, the allure of coffee, poisonous seeds, and candy bars. There are numerous illustrations, and a glossary of scientific nomenclature is included. Thor Hanson, is a biologist and author of several popular nonfiction texts. Annotation ©2015 Ringgold, Inc., Portland, OR (protoview.com)

Review by Publisher Summary 4

As seen on PBS's American Spring LIVE, the award-winning author of Buzz and Feathers presents a natural and human history of seeds, the marvels of the plant kingdom. "The genius of Hanson's fascinating, inspiring, and entertaining book stems from the fact that it is not about how all kinds of things grow from seeds; it is about the seeds themselves." -- Mark Kurlansky, New York Times Book Review We live in a world of seeds. From our morning toast to the cotton in our clothes, they are quite literally the stuff and staff of life: supporting diets, economies, and civilizations around the globe. Just as the search for nutmeg and pepper drove the Age of Discovery, coffee beans fueled the Enlightenment and cottonseed sparked the Industrial Revolution. Seeds are fundamental objects of beauty, evolutionary wonders, and simple fascinations. Yet, despite their importance, seeds are often seen as commonplace, their extraordinary natural and human histories overlooked. Thanks to this stunning new book, they can be overlooked no more. This is a book of knowledge, adventure, and wonder, spun by an award-winning writer with both the charm of a fireside story-teller and the hard-won expertise of a field biologist. A fascinating scientific adventure, it is essential reading for anyone who loves to see a plant grow.

Review by Publisher Summary 5

As seen on PBS's American Spring LIVE, the award-winning author of Buzz and Feathers presents a natural and human history of seeds, the marvels of the plant kingdom"The genius of Hanson's fascinating, inspiring, and entertaining book stems from the fact that it is not about how all kinds of things grow from seeds; it is about the seeds themselves." --Mark Kurlansky, New York Times Book ReviewWe live in a world of seeds. From our morning toast to the cotton in our clothes, they are quite literally the stuff and staff of life: supporting diets, economies, and civilizations around the globe. Just as the search for nutmeg and pepper drove the Age of Discovery, coffee beans fueled the Enlightenment and cottonseed sparked the Industrial Revolution. Seeds are fundamental objects of beauty, evolutionary wonders, and simple fascinations. Yet, despite their importance, seeds are often seen as commonplace, their extraordinary natural and human histories overlooked. Thanks to this stunning new book, they can be overlooked no more. This is a book of knowledge, adventure, and wonder, spun by an award-winning writer with both the charm of a fireside story-teller and the hard-won expertise of a field biologist. A fascinating scientific adventure, it is essential reading for anyone who loves to see a plant grow.