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.
"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.
fascinating, inspiring, and entertaining book.... Hanson takes one of the least-impressive-looking natural objects and reveals a life of elegance and wonder."Mark Kurlansky, New York Times Book Review
"[An] engaging book....
What makes The Triumph of Seeds more than a routine pop botany book is the way Mr. Hanson teases out the resonances between the ways that plants and humans use seeds.... [A] lively and intelligent book."Richard Mabey, Wall Street Journal
"[A] rip-roaring read."Robert Krulwich, National Geographic's Curiously Krulwich blog
"With light, engaging prose
Hanson shows how the little spheroids we tip out of a packet are in fact supremely elegant genetic time capsules.... You will never be able to look at an orange pip or a sunflower seed in the same way again."New Scientist
"Thor Hanson has taken the history and science of these little marvels and drawn out a fascinating account of seed culture."Home Wet Bar blog
"This is a charming book,
inspired by Hanson's forays into seed identification and dispersal with his young, seed-obsessed son.... Hanson's twist of looking at human interactions with plants in their embryonic stage is new.... The Triumph of Seeds
will engender thoughtful consideration of our joint future."
"[A] delight. Composed in charming and lively prose, the book introduces readers to a variety of quirky figures - biologists, farmers, archaeologists and everyday gardeners - who have something profound to say about a seemingly mundane topic: those little kernels that, against tremendous odds, have managed to take root all around us.... The
Triumph of Seeds is a remarkable, gentle and refreshing piece of work that draws readers further into the wide arms of the world and makes them grateful for it."
"[F]ast and fascinating prose.... Hanson, who has also chronicled feathers and gorillas, is a conservation biologist and Guggenheim fellow, and an ace dot-connector: He can draw a line between all the grain panics and crises and the tiny, miraculous structure of the seeds themselves, because he dives deeply into botany, economy and history. Also, he's just plain fun."Denver Post
"[Hanson is] jocular and entertaining in his dispensing of remarkable facts about these little vessels of life-to-be.... 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 at its finest."Booklist, starred review
"Who knew that seeds could be so thrilling and dangerous? Thor Hanson is a lively storyteller, a lyrical writer, and a quick wit. The Triumph of Seeds is more than an engrossing work of natural history. It's a compelling and highly entertaining journey,
populated by scientists and historians, criminals and explorers, aviators and futurists. Following Hanson's global voyage is the best sort of armchair travel, because it is filled with wonder, poetry, and discovery."Amy Stewart, author of The Drunken Botanist: The Plants That Create the World's Great Drinks, a New York Times Bestseller
"This beautifully written book is a magnificent read. Every page is full of surprises and illuminating insights, illustrating the fascinating evolution of seeds, and their extraordinary impact on humans, past and present. A master storyteller, Hanson has created a first-rate natural history. When you reach the end of this page-turner, you will wish there were more...and you will never look at seeds in the same way."Eric Jay Dolin, author of Leviathan: The History of Whaling in America and When America Met China: An Exotic History of Tea, Drugs, and Money in the Age of Sail
"As he did in his phenomenal Feathers, Thor Hanson brings us the incredible world of seeds in a package as graceful and elegant as they are themselves, gift-wrapped in utterly seductive stories. I cannot recall a book I was so eager to finish,
that I might begin it again."Robert Michael Pyle, author of Wintergreen and Mariposa Road
"If you eat seeds of any kind, you must read this book! Ecologist Hanson gives us a rich Darwinian view of how seeds came to be the most important nutritional resource for human as well as older than human species. He is at his best when we are in the field with him, learning like detectives the 'whodunnits' of seed dispersal. You will never look a seed in the eye again without thanking Thor."Gary Paul Nabhan, Franciscan brother and author of Enduring Seeds and Food, Genes, and Culture
"Thor has done it again. In a page-turner, he tells the stories of seeds, their ecology, evolution and histories and why each of us every day depends on, relies on, delights in or suffers from seeds. This book will change the way you think about your coffee,
your chocolate or even just the weed growing stubbornly (from a seed) out of the crack in the sidewalk. Seeds are everywherea reality that you will never forget again after reading this book."Rob Dunn, author of The Wild Life of Our Bodies