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Fifty Plants That Changed the Course of History [Hardcover]

Bill Laws
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
RRP: £12.99
Price: £10.49 & FREE Delivery in the UK. Details
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Book Description

2 Nov 2010

Of course, we are entirely dependent on plants for our food and the air we breathe, but did you know that 5,000 mature English oak trees were used in the construction of Admiral Nelson’s flagship HMS Victory, or that sweet peas were involved in the birth of the science of genetics? King Cotton was the driver of the slave trade, which was the first domino to fall in the American Revolution, and cotton was also the catalyst for the Industrial Revolution. These, and many other extraordinary facts in Fifty Plants that Changed the Course of History, highlight the dynamic ways in which plants have influenced human history.

This beautifully designed and illustrated volume provides an engaging guide to the fifty key plants that have had the most impact on human history. Packed full of information, the book includes details about the habitat and characteristics of each plant, fact boxes, full colour photographs and lovely botanical illustrations. Weaving together strands of economic, political and agricultural history, each entry is a fascinating look at the most influential plants known to mankind.


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Product details

  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: David & Charles (2 Nov 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0715338544
  • ISBN-13: 978-0715338544
  • Product Dimensions: 22.9 x 17.3 x 2.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 137,307 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

More About the Author

Bill Laws (www.billlaws.com)is the author of Fifty Railways that Changed the Course of History and Fifty Plants That Changed the Course of History. He has written for the Wall Street Journal, BBC, The Telegraph and The Guardian and is former editor of Britain's national magazine for Gypsies and Travellers, Travellers' Times. The author of more than 20 books, he is currently writing a compendium on garden tools.

Product Description

About the Author

Bill Laws is a writer, editor and journalist who specialises in homes, gardens and landscapes. He is the author of ten books including Common Losses: Essays and Interviews on Trees, Woods and the Green Man. Bill's work has featured in the Guardian and Telegraph newspapers as well as various BBC publications, Environment Now and Period House. He is based in Herefordshire, England.

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Customer Reviews

4.5 out of 5 stars
4.5 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
35 of 38 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Meh! 25 Oct 2011
Format:Hardcover
Not really terribly impressed with this book. Its a real stretch to see how some of the 50 are considered by the author to be so important - pretty and useful they may be, but I don't think lavender and coriander are actually "world changing". Better candidates such as the tomato or maize are not included. Papyrus is rightly included, but the author makes no mention whatsoever of two crops without which there would be neither buildings nor books (and consequently no human civilisation whatsoever) - wood and paper. This is a huge ommission in terms of what the book is trying to achieve

Some of the authors' trains of thought are a little suspect - the pineapple (again, not a plant that I would consider as being a world changer) is directly credited with being responsible for the development of the commercial greenhouse. And the opening section of the pineapple chapter makes a huge and plonking generalisation along the lines of "Look at the suburbs of any northern European city and you will see miles and miles of greenhouses and polytunnels". I think not. Personally, I would have thought it was the orange tree, beloved by the French monarchs who developed the orangerie to protect it in winter, that really started the trend for the modern greenhouse.

Sometimes the tangent is enormous - when discussing pepper, the author briefly mentions the spice (indeed a world changing plant) and then blithely sidetracks to the sweet pepper or capsicum (to which the spice is not related botanically and which has nothing to do with the plant under discussion) and then devotes the rest of that section to it. This is bizarre, to say the least.

Some plants and their histories are given several pages, some only two. The overall style is cursory and somewhat sketchy.
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38 of 42 people found the following review helpful
By Wiltshire Bookworm TOP 1000 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Just when you think there's nothing new to be said, Bill Laws has come up with a most entertaining guide stuffed full of the stories and trivia surrounding 50 of our most well-known (and used) plants.

Each of them is categorised into whether it has value as an edible, medicinal, commercial or practical use with most of them fitting into at least two of the categories. The entries are ordered by latin name, so Agave is the first and Ginger (Zingiber) is the last, with all kinds of treasures in between such as maize, ferns, English oak, tea, hemp and tulip. Don't worry, you don't need to be a latin scholar to enjoy this book as on the whole greater prominence is given to the more well-known common names.

There's a tiny thumbnail sketch outlining each plant's natural geographical distribution, the type of plant it is and the height it typically grows to. The bulk of each entry (usually a double page spread, but with longer entries for plants such as wheat which has thousands of years of history associated with it) is taken up with the stories and quirky facts which make up the role each has played in our history and culture over many centuries.

Each entry is accompanied by a botanical illustration or a photograph showing the key features of the plant or the component (such as cardamom seeds) generally used. There's also plenty of photographs, quotations, art and drawings to help fill out the story. As well as the main article, there's also separate box(es) featuring some quirky detail: who would have thought that the humble leek would be the vegetable featured in a 4,000 year-old recipe for instance?

Whilst I loved this book on the whole, there's a couple of gripes which stopped me giving it the full five star treatment.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great purchase 3 Oct 2011
Format:Hardcover
It's a very beautiful and well made book. It has interesting information about all the fifty plants and has great images to go along with the text.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Interesting 14 May 2014
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This is a book that you wish it was called "The 100 plants...." There are some plants that one thinks should be there, but are not, also some that are there that you wonder why they are there. But on the whole a very good and interesting read.
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