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Reaching for the Sun: How Plants Work Paperback – 10 Apr 1997

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'This is a book to be heaped with laurels, to be awarded the palm. This is a book to go bananas about.' Tim Radford, The Guardian

'Reaching for the Sun will answer all sorts of pressing questions … is fun as well as informative. It is ideal for the general reader and for A-level students.' Barrie Goldsmith, New Scientist

'John King is an enthusiast and his breathless enthusiasm is liberally scattered throughout this book, which covers a very wide spectrum of plant physiology … an excellent text for a general reading list for those about to start university courses in biology.' Deri Tomos, Trends in Plant Science

'An accessible account for lay people.' Nature

'Dr King brings excitement and wonder to what is arguably the most active area in botany today.' The American Society of Plant Physiologists '… a very readable slim book about plant physiology. It exemplifies the ideas that the popular can also be educational …'. The Times Higher Education Supplement

Book Description

Have you ever wondered how plants work? How do plants make food from sunlight? How does a bulb 'know' to sprout in spring? Why are flowers different colours and why do they smell? All these questions, and many more, are answered in this book, which is written in a charming and non-technical way.

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No doubt most of us have experienced the feeling of relief on a hot, sunny day of walking barefoot from, say, a concrete driveway or a dry, sandy beach onto a lawn. Read the first page
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4 reviews
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
Secrets of plant life 21 May 2000
By Johannes Enroth - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I am a professional botanist in Finland and have started to translate King's book into Finnish. I decided to do that because King finally teaches me so many things I should have learned & understood in the basic botany and ecology courses I took ca. 20 years ago.
All in all, this is a wonderful book and I would have credited it full five stars if it wasn't for this one weakness. There is not a single picture in the book. Some pictures would indeed have been most desirable, especially from laymens' point of view, for example in connection with the descriptions of anatomical details of leaves. Therefore the readers of the Finnish translation will be privileged in enjoying King's fine and clear text supported with pictures - provided the original publisher agrees to this.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
How plants work. 2 Dec. 2002
By Wesley L. Janssen - Published on
Format: Paperback
Where does a giant sequoia's 1500 cubic meters of volume come from if not soil? How is it that most grasses are not killed by flooding when even a brief period of waterlogged soil will kill many other plants? Why does snow melt near flowering crocuses? What is the 'carbon cycle'? The 'nitrogen cycle'? Is the incredibly complex system known as photosynthesis really fundamental to virtually all life on this planet? Professor King offers and then answers (to the best of our present knowledge) these rather obvious questions as well as others that we may not have thought to ask.
For this reader, the first six chapters were the most fascinating. Of photosynthesis, King says; "There are lots of carbon dioxide and water molecules in the air, oceans, lakes, the soil, and inside living organisms, but the chances of any of them simply coming together in the right way to produce even a single molecule of glucose are extremely remote.... is not likely to have happened in the billions of years carbon dioxide and water have existed ... Yet, green plants form glucose from carbon dioxide and water every daylight hour during their growing seasons. Having accomplished that impressive feat, plants then go on to produce a seemingly endless supply of sucrose, starch, and cellulose from the glucose." And of plant's partnerships with nitrogen fixing microbes: "It is, arguably, not to strong to call this process miraculous. The nitrogen fixation carried out by certain microbes at normal temperatures and pressures in and around plant roots we can match only through the use of enormous amounts of energy in the industrial Haber process; temperatures of 300-400°C and pressures greater than 350 atmospheres." Indeed, the botanical world is one of incredibly complex biochemical machinery! Machinery on which we all directly depend.
The chapters that follow examine the chemical strategies by which plants survive and reproduce. Where the text speculates about evolutionary pathways, we see, as is typical of such texts (and as Behe, Lovtrup, Yockey, Spetner and others have pointed out), that what is basically assumed to explain 'development' on large scales, "is not so clear" at the biochemical level, and as King concedes, "is not known," and "remains a mystery." What might be the origin of such complex biochemical machinery, if, as King says, "organisms do not put energy and materials into processes that have no function."? It's difficult to see how Darwinian gradualism could design such complexity (unless we are simply predisposed to believe that it did). While King occasionally visits Darwin and these biochemical problems, this volume generally pursues other considerations. The human histories of plants -- in terms of perfumes, the spice trade, agriculture, poisons, intoxicants, and medicines -- are extensively considered in the later chapters.
The books greater strength, however, is its revelation of "how plants work." If plants interest you (and they should), then you are the reader that Professor King wishes to educate with this volume. It's an interesting book, although I would have liked further consideration of photosynthesis and less of perfume.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Engrossing blend of science, history, and ecology 17 Jun. 1998
By A Customer - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
King offers a fascinating tutorial on plant workings in an uncommonly effective format. He describes chemical and biological facts that are common in text books but rare in more digestible books (carbon dioxide + water + sunlight = glucose + oxygen, leaf stomata and guard cells, etc.). He uses this scientific foundation to explain plant characteristics that everyone observes. For example, where does most of the huge mass of a large tree come from? (It isn't the soil!) And how do plants detect the changing of seasons so reliably? King also offers fascinating examples of interdependencies between plants and animals. Plants that have developed highly specialized flowers to attract specific insect pollinators. Seeds that do not end dormancy until their case is weakened by passing through the digestive tract of an animal that ate the fruit that contained the seed. Such concrete evidence of interdependency in nature is a more compelling argument for the importance of preservation and ecology than many of the published naturalist journals which paint picturesque images but lack the substance of King's contentions. Wonderful reading!
3 of 6 people found the following review helpful
The book is OK. 26 July 1998
By A Customer - Published on
Format: Paperback
The book is OK, very typical book that is written by a professor. First 5 chapters are quite informative, read able, and give reader a feeling how plant work (he did a good job here). The next 12 chapters is putting the reader to sleep. I recommend the author need to rewrite the material so commom person can understand. The book failed to mention reproductive system of the plant. There are some part that I like is the little side story about how people did an experiment to prove a concept (good here.) All in all, I give it a 2 1/2 rating. This is the only author who attemp to explain how plant work. I am unable to find any other book on this subject.
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