Plants, Civilization, and Human Nature, a book review for
April 14, 2011
Allan in Book Reviews, Gardening, agriculture, plants and artistic creativity, plants and civilization, plants and commerce, plants and economics, plants and history, plants and human nature, plants and industry, plants and politics, plants and war

Fifty Plants that Changed the Course of History, Bill Laws, Firefly Books

I have just read a gripping saga. Ostensibly, it’s about plants, but actually, it’s about us.

This collection of anecdotes details how plants influenced human behavior, and affected the course of history. By chronicling the commercial activity surrounding the discovery and marketing of the food we eat, the beverages we drink, and the plants we process, the author describes how those activities impacted wars, political boundaries, habits, social behavior, and addictions.

I thought that I would be reading an encyclopedia of the history of important plants, but in fact, I was delving into an immensely fascinating epic about western civilization. No sooner had I completed an exciting chapter about one plant, when I could hardly wait to begin reading about the next.

The influence that plants had, and continues to have, on our lives becomes apparent when we think about the amount of fossil fuel we consume, the large number of botanical gardens we have built, and the considerable investments we make in our gardens. Yet, that is only a small part of the bigger story. In this publication, the author identifies fifty plants that have altered the history of life on earth. Here are just a few tid-bits:-

The author reports that in addition to influencing the course of history, some plants have also contributed to self-destructive behavior.. Many have placed their health at risk from weight gained by overeating sugar; some have ruined their lives by consuming plant - based narcotics, or have marinated their livers by drinking alcohol excessively. Others have shortened their life span by inhaling plant-sourced nicotine into their lungs. On balance though, we also experience safe pleasures from plants by drinking tea and moderates amount of wine, by inhaling the fragrance of flowers, and by stroking a silk garment.

Reading this book has been a better experience than watching a documentary. It runs at a fast-paced clip from one plant to another, constantly revealing fascinating details about civilization, economics, and above all, human nature.  


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