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The Garden of Invention: Luther Burbank and the Business of Breeding Plants
     

The Garden of Invention: Luther Burbank and the Business of Breeding Plants

by Jane S. Smith
 

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The wide-ranging and delightful history of celebrated plant breeder Luther Burbank and the business of farm and garden in early twentieth- century America

At no other time in history has there been more curiosity or concern about the food we eat-and genetically modified foods, in particular, have become both pervasive and suspect. A century ago, however,

Overview

The wide-ranging and delightful history of celebrated plant breeder Luther Burbank and the business of farm and garden in early twentieth- century America

At no other time in history has there been more curiosity or concern about the food we eat-and genetically modified foods, in particular, have become both pervasive and suspect. A century ago, however, Luther Burbank's blight-resistant potatoes, white blackberries, and plumcots-a plum-apricot hybrid-were celebrated as triumphs in the best tradition of American ingenuity and perseverance. In his experimental grounds in Santa Rosa, California, Burbank bred and cross-bred edible and ornamental plants-for both home gardens and commercial farms-until they were bigger, hardier, more beautiful, and more productive than ever before. A fascinating portrait of an American original, The Garden of Invention is also a colorful and engrossing tale of the intersection of gardening, science and business in the years between the Civil War and the Great Depression.

Editorial Reviews

"One hundred and thirteen plums and prunes; 35 fruiting cacti; 16 blackberries; 13 raspberries; 11 quinces; 11 plumcots; ten cherries; ten strawberries; ten apples; eight peaches…." The list of Luther Burbank's botanical creations goes on and on. Famous in his own time, this long-lived (1849–1926) botanist and horticulturist is now remembered, if at all, a sort of primitive progenitor of genetic engineering. Jane S. Smith's The Garden of Invention reveals the "Wizard of Santa Rosa" as a man whose carefully concocted plant breeding miracles make him an innovator of Thomas Edison–like magnitude. This fascinating narrative places Burbank's fruit, nut, vegetable, and flower experiments in the context of his own time and later developments.
Janet Maslin
…[a] colorful, far-reaching book about the genetic, agricultural, economic and legal issues raised by Burbank's life and legend.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly

Though as famous in his day as Thomas Edison, agricultural pioneer Luther Burbank (1849-1926) is little remembered; in this straightforward, engaging biography, author and historian Smith (Patenting the Sun: Polio and the Salk Vaccine) recounts Burbank's life and its context, chronicling also agribusiness's turn-of-the-century growth and industrialization. Smith covers Burbank's rural New England childhood; the influence of Darwin on his horticultural ideas; his move to Santa Rosa, Calif.; and the establishment of his experimental gardens and nurseries. Amazingly, Burbank discovered independently the Mendelian principles that form the basis of genetics, and developed more than 800 varieties of fruits, nuts, vegetables and flowers. He made little money, largely owing to insufficient patent law (plants were not covered at the time) and his own paranoia, but he gained ample fame amid the 19th-century vogue for "progress." (Apr.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal

In this extensively researched work, Smith (Patenting the Sun: Polio and the Salk Vaccine) explores Luther Burbank and the world of plant breeding in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. From 1873 to 1925, Burbank created over 800 new varieties of fruits, vegetables, flowers, nuts, and grains, making him a celebrity of his time. Smith covers his early life and then his move to California, where he continued his plant-breeding experiments after early success with the potato. Later in life, Burbank found his intuitive approach to plant breeding at odds with the more scientific methods employed by others, who were beginning to incorporate Mendel's discoveries in their work. Smith frames Burbank's life and work with the history of plant breeding, the science involved, and the issues surrounding the lack of patent protection for newly created varieties of plants, which often didn't make their creator any money after years of work. Illustrated with memorabilia, this portrait of a self-made man and his times is recommended for all readers.
—Sue O'Brien

Kirkus Reviews
In-depth look at a pioneering horticulturalist and the impact of his work..Smith (History/Northwestern Univ.; Patenting the Sun: Polio and the Salk Vaccine, 1990, etc.) illuminates the history of the plant-breeding business through a profile of Luther Burbank (1849–1926). In his early 20s, the budding inventor became captivated by a book called Variations of Animals and Plants Under Domestication, in which Charles Darwin tentatively suggested that lasting variations in plants could occur by selection, hybridization and grafting. Burbank realized that he could deliberately force such changes and thus create new, potentially lucrative plants and crops. One of his earliest successes, a large, hardy, white-fleshed potato, has since become the most widely grown potato in the world. His breeding experiments later yielded hugely popular varieties of plums, peaches and other fruits that extended growing seasons and increased farm yields. California fruit producers and exporters, who massively benefited from his creations, lionized him as one of the greatest thinkers of the age. He became so respected and well known that he was mentioned in the same breath as contemporaries Thomas Edison and Henry Ford. He even wrote a book about childrearing, despite the fact that he was childless; The Training of the Human Plant (1907) became a nationwide bestseller. Smith delights in Burbank's celebrity, but she also keeps a keen eye on the science of his life's work. One section touches on the debate over whether manipulated plants can and should be patentable; Smith doesn't shy away from the implications of Burbank's commerce-friendly plant manipulation and the popularization of the idea that nature canbe mastered and altered for a profit..An accessible introduction to an agricultural innovator that gives equal weight to his life of experimentation and what it has meant for society..Author events in San Francisco. Agent: Rob McQuilkin/Lippincott Massie McQuilkin.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780143116899
Publisher:
Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
02/23/2010
Pages:
368
Sales rank:
1,335,034
Product dimensions:
5.30(w) x 7.90(h) x 1.00(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

Meet the Author

Jane S. Smith received her Ph.D. in English from Yale University and has taught at Northwestern University on topics ranging from twentieth-century fiction to the history of public health. Her history of the first polio vaccine, Patenting the Sun: Polio and the Salk Vaccine, received the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Science and Technology. She has served as a commentator, consultant, and writer for numerous documentary film projects. She works in a very small room with a very large window.

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