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The Triumph of Seeds

Cover of The Triumph of Seeds

The Triumph of Seeds

How Grains, Nuts, Kernels, Pulses, and Pips Conquered the Plant Kingdom and Shaped Human History
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Winner of the 2016 PNBA Book Award
A finalist for the 2016 AAAS/Subaru SB&F Prize for Excellence in Science Books, Young Adult Science Book category
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 the humble peppercorn drove the Age of Discovery, so did coffee beans help fuel the Enlightenment, and cottonseed help spark the Industrial Revolution. And from the Fall of Rome to the Arab Spring, the fate of nations continues to hinge on the seeds of a Middle Eastern grass known as wheat.
In nature and in culture, seeds are fundamental—objects of beauty, evolutionary wonder, and simple fascination. How many times has a child dropped the winged pip of a maple, marveling as it spirals its way down to the ground, or relished the way a gust of wind(or a stout breath) can send a dandelion's feathery flotilla skyward? Yet despite their importance, seeds are often seen as a commonplace, their extraordinary natural and human histories overlooked. Thanks to Thor Hanson and this stunning new book, they can be overlooked no more.
What makes The Triumph of Seeds remarkable is not just that it is informative, humane, hilarious, and even moving, just as what makes seeds remarkable is not simply their fundamental importance to life. In both cases, it is their sheer vitality and the delight that we can take in their existence—the opportunity to experience, as Hanson puts it, “the simple joy of seeing something beautiful, doing what it is meant to do." Spanning the globe from the Raccoon Shack—Hanson's backyard writing hideout-cum-laboratory—to the coffee shops of Seattle, from gardens and flower patches to the spice routes of Kerala, 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 worthy heir to the grand tradition of Aldo Leopold and Bernd Heinrich, The Triumph of Seeds takes us on a fascinating scientific adventure through the wild and beautiful world of seeds. It is essential reading for anyone who loves to see a plant grow.

Winner of the 2016 PNBA Book Award
A finalist for the 2016 AAAS/Subaru SB&F Prize for Excellence in Science Books, Young Adult Science Book category
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 the humble peppercorn drove the Age of Discovery, so did coffee beans help fuel the Enlightenment, and cottonseed help spark the Industrial Revolution. And from the Fall of Rome to the Arab Spring, the fate of nations continues to hinge on the seeds of a Middle Eastern grass known as wheat.
In nature and in culture, seeds are fundamental—objects of beauty, evolutionary wonder, and simple fascination. How many times has a child dropped the winged pip of a maple, marveling as it spirals its way down to the ground, or relished the way a gust of wind(or a stout breath) can send a dandelion's feathery flotilla skyward? Yet despite their importance, seeds are often seen as a commonplace, their extraordinary natural and human histories overlooked. Thanks to Thor Hanson and this stunning new book, they can be overlooked no more.
What makes The Triumph of Seeds remarkable is not just that it is informative, humane, hilarious, and even moving, just as what makes seeds remarkable is not simply their fundamental importance to life. In both cases, it is their sheer vitality and the delight that we can take in their existence—the opportunity to experience, as Hanson puts it, “the simple joy of seeing something beautiful, doing what it is meant to do." Spanning the globe from the Raccoon Shack—Hanson's backyard writing hideout-cum-laboratory—to the coffee shops of Seattle, from gardens and flower patches to the spice routes of Kerala, 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 worthy heir to the grand tradition of Aldo Leopold and Bernd Heinrich, The Triumph of Seeds takes us on a fascinating scientific adventure through the wild and beautiful world of seeds. It is essential reading for anyone who loves to see a plant grow.

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About the Author-
  • Thor Hanson is a conservation biologist, Guggenheim Fellow, Switzer Environmental Fellow, and winner of the John Burrough Medal for excellence in nature writing and natural history. The author of Feathers and The Impenetrable Forest, Hanson lives with his wife and son on an island in Washington State.

Reviews-
  • Kirkus

    February 1, 2015
    "From tropical rain forests to alpine meadows and arctic tundra, seed plants dominate landscapes and define ecosystems." In fact, they make up more than 90 percent of land flora.Having caught our attention, conservation biologist Hanson (Feathers: The Evolution of a Natural Miracle, 2011) proceeds to tell how this happened. Traveling the world to interview experts without ignoring his own research, the author writes a delightful account of the origins, physiologies and human uses of a vast variety of objects that plants employ to make more plants. Long ago, ferns and mosses covered the Earth and reproduced by releasing clouds of tiny spores. These days, we encounter them as coal plus a scattering of survivors. Far more robust than spores, seeds are a dazzling evolutionary triumph with, Hanson stresses, five distinct qualities. They nourish a plant's early life with either starch (grasses, grains) or fat and protein (nuts, legumes, beans). Humans have co-opted these nutrients as the foundation of our diet; modern civilization requires them. They unite. Seeds are the product of sexual reproduction, an enormous, creative evolutionary advance. They endure from months to decades, waiting for the right combination of elements to trigger germination. Centuries ago, human manipulation of dormant seeds made agriculture possible. They defend the embryonic plant with shells, husks, rinds and chemicals. Humans convert these to pharmaceuticals, enjoy them in a variety of applications (caffeine, peppers, chocolate) and sometimes get sick from them (hemlock, strychnine). Finally, seeds travel. Whether by wind or water or the guts of animals that eat them, this allows plants and the humans that follow them to occupy every habitat on Earth. "[F]or all the fascinating tales of seeds in nature," writes Hanson, "one of their hallmarks is that we don't have to look far to find them." A fine addition to the single-issue science genre.

    COPYRIGHT(2015) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Library Journal

    March 1, 2015

    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.

    Copyright 2015 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

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The Triumph of Seeds
The Triumph of Seeds
How Grains, Nuts, Kernels, Pulses, and Pips Conquered the Plant Kingdom and Shaped Human History
Thor Hanson
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