T, Hanson. (2015). The Triumph of Seeds: How Grains, Nuts, Kernels, Pulses, & Pips Conquered the Plant Kingdom and Shaped Human History. p. xix-18, 55-80.
In the thought-provoking book, The Triumph of Seeds, Thor Hanson tells the life story of seeds – from discovering ancient types of seed in Carboniferous forests, to Mendel’s studies on peas, which led to the birth of genetics – seeds have truly changed our world in ways that many of us have never imagined. Triumph of Seeds is separated into five units, where each unit describes a characteristic of seeds; seeds nourish, unite, endure, defend, and travel. For this blog post, I will be discussing one chapter in ‘Seeds Nourish‘ called Seed for a Day, and also ‘Seeds Unite’, which contains two chapters, What the Spike Moss Knows and Mendel’s Spores.
One thing about this book that I really enjoy is how Hanson conveys scientific information to the reader; he cleverly incorporates either personal stories or visuals in with his explanations, making it much easier to read compared to a textbook covering the same material. In What the Spike Moss Knows, for example, Hanson describes plant sex of all things, “a fern,”, he goes on to say, “casts off thousands or even millions of spores every year, microscopic blips that float like earthy smoke from the edges and undersides of its leaves,” (p.63). That sentence gave me such a clear image in my head, which I love while reading!
What also makes this book interesting to read is that I can sense the authors passion through his words. You know you’re passionate about plants when you enjoy watching your “botany students [ignore] a passing group of orcas to focus on tiny plants,” (p.65). “This was their first spike moss!” (p.65), Hanson exclaimed – so very awesome. His willingness to understand the processes of science also shines through; I loved how he would physically ‘test’ scientific theories or his own thoughts. One example is when Cathy Baskin reminds Hanson that “[his] avocado pits were living things,” (p.11), the next thing I knew he had “two rows of mute brown lumps lined up on [his] bookshelf below the window,” where they “became [his] silent, unchanging companions,” (p.12).
My favourite part of this book so far is when Thor is talking with Bill DiMichele, a Smithsonian palaeontologist, who is “full of fresh ideas designed to wash away layers of old thinking,” (p.57). I felt as though this comment sparked a much greater and important conversation. Bill explains how he used to enter the field “expecting certain things,” and how he now goes “into the field looking,” (p.57). I definitely agree to the notion of expanding ones thoughts and begin to think outside the boxes that are textbooks and ways of “old thinking,” (p.57). This idea of developing new ways of thinking about science ties together Hanson’s discussion about Mendel and his discoveries in genetics. Decades after Mendel discoveries, “no one else glimpsed the secrets of inheritance the way he had,” (p. 79). If Mendel hadn’t questioned the science that is agriculture, genetic theories may not have been discovered until years later!
Overall, I think that The Triumph of Seeds provides an excellent insight into the life history and current life of seeds. I’ve begun to realize how many products (not only food!) that seeds create, such as cotton and different fabrics, building materials, and fuel sources to name a few, that we as humans greatly depend on to survive. I’m definitely looking forward to reading more of this book – I’ve really enjoyed reading from Hanson’s perspective – plus, his stories are great!
Until next time,