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Fifty Plants That Changed the Course of History Hardcover – 2 Nov 2010

4.6 out of 5 stars 16 customer reviews

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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: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 47,584 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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.


Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
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Top Customer Reviews

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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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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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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Format: Hardcover
This is absolutely fascinating. So much information. Doesn't flinch at describing the link between sugar and the slave trade...and the cotton industry too relied on the slave trade. Also interesting is the information about the Silk Road...with information about how the production of silk developed in China. The illustrations are very good and equal in importance to the written information, and the author also gives a list of further reading, RECOMMENDED!
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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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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Absolutely delightful book, beautifully written and ilustrated, and covering an astonishing range of topics. Lots of arcane and fascinating information. Worth reading from cover to cover, as well as a source of intewrest and reference for the future.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Highly recommended to anyone with an interested in plants, history, quirky facts or reading! Lovely book to buy as a gift.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Fascinating information. Good book to read in odd moments. Good reference book.
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