Seeds of Hope: Wisdom and Wonder from the World of Plantsby Jane Goodall, Gail Hudson, Michael Pollan
In this wise and elegant New York Times bestseller, Jane Goodall examines the critical role that trees and plants play in our world. SEEDS OF HOPE takes us from Goodall's home in England to her home-away-from-home in Africa, deep inside the Gombe forest, where she and the chimpanzees are enchanted by the fig and plum trees they encounter. She/em>… See more details below
In this wise and elegant New York Times bestseller, Jane Goodall examines the critical role that trees and plants play in our world. SEEDS OF HOPE takes us from Goodall's home in England to her home-away-from-home in Africa, deep inside the Gombe forest, where she and the chimpanzees are enchanted by the fig and plum trees they encounter. She introduces us to botanists around the world, as well as places where hope for plants can be found, such as The Millennium Seed Bank. She shows us the secret world of plants with all their mysteries and potential for healing our bodies as well as Planet Earth. Looking at the world as an adventurer, scientist, and devotee of sustainable foods and gardening--and setting forth simple goals we can all take to protect the plants around us--Goodall delivers an enlightening story of the wonders we can find in our own backyards.
"These accounts of conservation success are inspirational." --Publishers Weekly
"Goodall's intimate writing style and sense of wonder pull the reader into each account... The mix of personal and scientific makes for a compelling read." --Booklist
Top chimpanzee expert Goodall circles 'round to a childhood spent in her backyard in England, where she developed a lifelong love of plants. Among the hopeful topics here: the Millennium Seed Bank, which preserves one billion seeds.
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Read an Excerpt
Seeds of Hope Foreword
By Michael Pollan
[Draft: Nov. 15, 2013]
My first reaction upon learning that Jane Goodall was taking a break from animals to write a book about plants was that this was very good news indeed for the plants. Plants don't get nearly as much ink or respect as the animals do, something I've always felt was deeply unfair, if entirely understandable. Animals are much easier for humans to identify with, sharing with us as they do such traits as consciousness, emotion, locomotion and communication skills. You can tell stories about animals that have the same dramatic shape as stories about people, with heroes and villains, journeys and conflicts. That's not so easily done with plants, which seem simple by comparison and rather opaque.
Though it is worth remembering that, before Jane Goodall came along and introduced us to a society of chimpanzees at Gombe, in Tanzania, even the primates seemed much simpler and more opaque to usmuch more difficult for us to identify with. It was her meticulous observation and chronicling of the lives of Mike and Humphrey, of Flo and Gigi and Frodo -all of them chimpanzeesthat demonstrated once and for all that animals were far more like us than we had imagined or cared to admit. They too made and used tools, learned and passed on cultural information, and formed communities of individuals with distinct "personalities"a word that in light of her work needs some rethinking. More than any other scientist or writer I can think of, Jane Goodall expanded the circle of human empathy to take in the emotional lives of other creatures.
I'm not sure whether plants have emotional lives, exactly, but anyone who reads Seeds of Hope cannot fail to come away thinking that they are far more complicated and interesting creatures than we give them credit for. I suspect the habit of underestimating them has its roots in our self-centered definition of what constitutes complexity or sophistication. We prize things like self-consciousness or abstract reasoning or language simply because these have been the destinations of our own evolutionary journey the particular tools we evolved to help us cope with living on this earth. Yet the plants have been evolving even longer than we have, evolving their own tools for living, and these are easily as sophisticated as ours, just different. So while we were working hard on locomotion and consciousness, they were getting really, really good at biochemistry, up to and including their mastery of the astonishing trick of eating sunlight and turning it into food. Photosynthesis might be a skill hard for us to identify with, but, you've got to admit, it puts something like the opposable thumb, or even trigonometry, right in its place. The world could get by just fine without those little tricks, but without photosynthesis it would be a much, much duller place, lacking, among a great many other things, us.
In the pages of Seeds of Hope, Goodall introduces us to plants capable of the most extraordinary biochemical feats. There are the trees that alert one another to the arrival of an insect pest, causing the entire forest to produce compounds that render the flavor of its leaves unappetizing to the bug. (Who said plants don't have communications skills?) And though plants may not themselves possess consciousness, at least as we understand it, they do know how to manipulate the consciousness of other supposedly "higher" creatures, manufacturing chemical compounds that can change animal minds in the most striking waysand thereby get the animals to do the bidding of the plants. We meet plants in this book that are masters of metaphor and simulation: "carrion plants" that mimic the stench of rotten meat to lure insects, and orchids that adorn themselves so as to resemble the hindquarters of female bees. Why? To trick credulous male bees into performing acts of "pseudocopulation" that, unbeknownst to them, are actually acts of pollination. In fact there are so many stories in this book of plants getting the better of animals that you really have to wonder which kingdom of creatures is really calling the shots, even in an enterprise as seemingly humanocentric as "agriculture." To read Seeds of Hope as a member of the animal kingdom is, among other things, a humbling experience.
In writing about plants, Goodall combines the cozy traditions of English garden writing -the epistolary ease and familiarity with horticulturewith the authority of an intrepid scientist who has spent not just days or weeks but years living in the forest among the trees. She has cultivated that way of being in (and with) nature E.O. Wilson had in mind when he coined the word "biophilia." Though the book is steeped in science, Goodall's feelings for the plants are spiritualand her concern for their fate in the modern world is forthrightly political.
Seeds of Hope is not just a love letter to the plant world, though it is certainly that. It's also a call to arms, sounding the alarm about habitat destruction, the violence of industrial agriculture, and the risks of genetic engineering. In our time, the long, beautiful and mutually beneficial co-evolutionary journey of plants and animals has arrived at a critical new juncture, Goodall suggests, and this gives Seeds of Hope its sense of urgency. Jane Goodall wants nothing less than to expand the circle of human affection once again, make it wide enough to take in the sunlight eaters. For both their sake and our own, let us hope she succeeds.
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