Bill Laws

Books: Science | Botany | History

Fifty Plants that Changed the Course of History (2011)

Fifty Plants that changed the course of historyI like to read non-fiction books. First, I like learning stuff, and second, non-fiction is generally good to read before bed, since it tends to lack suspense and surprises.

Fifty Plants that Changed the Course of History cover a lot of plants, focusing on four areas: Edible, Medicinal, Commercial, and Practical. There is, of course, a lot of overlap between these categories, and unsurprisingly, commercial is the most common category.

Many of the plants he write about are ones you'd expect to find: wheat (Triticum aestivum), corn (Zea mays), soybean (Glycine max), papyrus (Cyporus papyrus), rice (Oryza sativa), cotton (Gossypium hirsutum), tobacco (Nicotiana tabacum), apple (Malus pumila). But there were other plants that have had a huge affect that you might not have considered as having influence upon the world: black pepper (Piper nigrum), white mulberry (Morus alba), eucalyptus (Eucalyptus spp.), tulip (Tulipa spp.), white willow (Salix alba).

For each plant, he discusses not just the botany of the plant, but also how that plant influenced the humans who consumed it. For example, tea (Camellia sinensis) is more than just a beverage, it is also tied deeply into history from trade between Europe and China, as well as the Boston Tea Party.

One of the only negatives is that I found sections (chapters?) occasionally jumped around a fair amount, which made things somewhat disjointed. It didn't happen in every section, but it did occasionally throw me off. But that's only a small negative in an otherwise excellent book.

The other thing this book did was remind me that if I'm going to survive the zombie apocalypse, I'm going to have to brush up on my botany, for you can only survive on canned goods for so long.

Published by Firefly Books

Rating: 8/10