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Weeds: The Story of Outlaw Plants [Paperback]

Richard Mabey
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
RRP: £8.99
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Book Description

8 Mar 2012

Ever since the first human settlements 10,000 years ago, weeds have dogged our footsteps. They are there as the punishment of 'thorns and thistles' in Genesis and , two millennia later, as a symbol of Flanders Field. They are civilisations' familiars, invading farmland and building-sites, war-zones and flower-beds across the globe. Yet living so intimately with us, they have been a blessing too. Weeds were the first crops, the first medicines. Burdock was the inspiration for Velcro. Cow parsley has become the fashionable adornment of Spring weddings.

Weaving together the insights of botanists, gardeners, artists and poets with his own life-long fascination, Richard Mabey examines how we have tried to define them, explain their persistence, and draw moral lessons from them.

One persons weed is another's wild beauty.

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Weeds: The Story of Outlaw Plants + Beechcombings: The narratives of trees + Turned Out Nice Again: On Living With the Weather
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Product details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Profile Books; Revised Edition edition (8 Mar 2012)
  • Language: Unknown
  • ISBN-10: 1846680816
  • ISBN-13: 978-1846680816
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 45,547 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Richard Mabey is a naturalist and award-winning author and journalist. He won wide acclaim on the publication of the original Food for Free in 1972 - which has never been out of print since - and again with the publication of the colour edition in 1989. Among his many other acclaimed publications are Gilbert White (Whitbread Biography of the Year) and the ground-breaking bestseller Flora Britannica, which won the British Book Awards' Illustrated Book of the Year and the Botanical Society of the British Isles' President's Award and was runner-up for the BP Natural World Book Prize. He collaborated with Mark Cocker on Birds Britannica, and his book Nature Cure, described as 'a brilliant, candid and heartfelt memoir', was shortlisted for four prestigious prizes: the Whitbread Biography, the J.R. Ackerley for autobiography, Mind (for its investigation into depression) and the Ondaatje for the evocation of the spirit of place. He is an active member of national and local conservation groups and lives in Norfolk.

Product Description


"'The nation's favourite nature writer.' (Sunday Telegraph) 'Mr Mabey is the kind of person you wish you had with you on every country walk, identifying, explaining, deducing, drawing on deep knowledge lightly worn.' (Country Life) 'This book will open your eyes to the significance, wonder and exasperation felt about weeds. I couldn't put the book down once I started reading. Mabey offers a diversity and richness of fact, fiction, philosophy and fun' (Professor Stephen Hopper, Director, Kew Gardens)"

Book Description

A lively and lyrical cultural history of plants in the wrong place by one of Britain's best and most admired nature writers

Inside This Book (Learn More)
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
21 of 21 people found the following review helpful
By Stewart M TOP 500 REVIEWER
"Weeds" is a study of our relationship and understanding of plants which are growing in the wrong place.

A number of themes and ideas reoccur throughout the book - and a number of these will be familiar if you have read some of Mabey's other books. So, we have the stories of plants which have been brought into the UK from the far corners of the world that have now become familiar, we have the softening of urban landscapes through the growth of plants and we have John Clare - poet and appreciator of the small and the beautiful.

The chapters in the book are organized (loosely) around a single plant - and through that plant our relationship with weeds is explored. These relationships are explored in the USA, Australia and the UK - but predominantly the UK. (In fact one book about the impact of feral species in Australia comes in for some pointed criticism at one point, largely because of the use of language Mabey considers imprecise).

But the key theme (and this is identified in the sub-title of the book) is that weeds force us to reconsider what we mean by wild, or what we mean by natural. Ecosystems are not static, and weeds have become an important part of the dynamic ecosystems that have been created by man.

In many ways this book is an extension of "The Unofficial Countryside" which was published by Maybey in the 1970's. In fact a number of pages of this book are a summary of parts of this earlier publication and a number of the anecdotes about weeds occur in both books. While this is not really a problem it is rather frustrating if (like me) you have read the earlier book within the last few months.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
I didn't particularly expect to enjoy this book - my father-in-law, who's a keen gardener, absolutely hated it, which was the main reason I picked up his copy: to see if it was quite as bad as he said it was - and to my surprise found it completely fascinating. That may, however, be because though I have a garden, I wouldn't describe myself as a gardener, so the mistakes spotted by other reviewers went straight over my head. I do happen to know a bit about the Civil War, though, and though Mabey may perhaps be excused for thinking, perhaps due to his title, that the Earl of Essex was a Royalist commander, when in fact he was a Parliamentarian, which makes the anecdote in which he appears fairly meaningless, a decent editor or proofreader really ought to have picked it up. That was the most obvious non-horticultural solecism, so the comments elsewhere about accuracy are probably pretty close to the mark. I can well understand, therefore, that an expert would find this book infuriating, but as a layman it had me gripped. Whether saying that a book's appeal is to to the ignorant really counts as a recommendation, I'm not sure, but as a gardening dunce I'd give it a hearty 9 out of 10.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Great idea... 25 Nov 2011
By Takahe
A fairly good read though somewhat UK-centric in terms of plant names: the Glossary helps but the length gives some idea of the variety of weeds covered in the text.

I totally agree with several reviewers that suggest the text was rushed, e.g. "Nor it is it easy for Europeans..." (p.245) should not have escaped a sharp-eyed proofreader, nor should the repetition, e.g. the phoenix of the Great Fire of London - 'London rocket' rose twice inside of 70 pages or the constant naming of authors - Culpepper, Clare etc.

Parts of the book were hard going with swags of quoted text and I found the referencing of works thorough but annoying - sometimes in the text other times in the Notes and References: for me it did not help the flow of the text. As one reviewer (Snail "the-snail2") suggested - "A 4-page synopsis of the Day of the Triffids..." - a filler? And another "Pen" who wondered whether their dad managed to get past the half-way point... I wondered whether I would too but found it was worth the effort!

The topic is very interesting and large parts of the book I found terrific: the writer clearly passionate and knowledgeable. However, my feeling is that the book could be improved considerably with a little... pruning (yes, I was tempted to use the 'w' word!)
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
In 'Weeds', Richard Mabey has shown himself to be a true Renaissance Man. As he explores weeds and their history with man (for without man, there are no weeds), he effortlessly combines history and myth with science, art, literature and architecture. And he does it using language that makes no attempt to dumb itself down to the lowest common denominator, and yet to the literate reader is as enthralling and readable as mass-market paperbacks are to the masses.

The book itself is divided into twelve chapters, each given the common name of a plant that is considered to be a weed. But the chapters aren't mere discussions of the virtues (or not) of that plant, they have wide-ranging themes and touch on many plants and their stories. They are all tied together by the main story arc of how our perceptions of weeds have changed through the ages, and scattered with entertaining anecdotes. In 'Adonis', for example, we discover that Edward Salisbury raised more than 20 species of plant from the debris he found in his trouser turn-ups!

'Knotgrass' looks at the way weeds and theology have become entwined through the ages and how that has coloured our view of them. It's all caught up with the development of agriculture (before which 'weeds' as a concept did not exist) and the simultaneous advent of a life of toil and strife, before which we lived free and easy lives as hunter gatherers and weren't cursed by pestilent weeds.

'Self-heal' discusses the different ways that medicinal plants have been selected since history began, including the Doctrine of Signatures that professes that a plant's medicinal qualities (and the ailments they cure) can be seen in their form by an experienced practitioner.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Good read
Expensive but interesting
Published 1 month ago by Ab
5.0 out of 5 stars Very interesting. All Richard Mabey books are full of ...
Very interesting. All Richard Mabey books are full of information and I always keep them to dip in and out of over the years.
Published 1 month ago by effinfrance
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
Very good book, very informative.
Published 1 month ago by Sally D.
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
A fascinating book - full of information. Well written too.
Published 2 months ago by pixelotte
5.0 out of 5 stars A Shrubbery of Unexpected Delights and Also Triffids
Weeds: How Vagabond Plants Gatecrashed Civilisation and Changed the Way We Think About Nature is a book stuffed to the gunwales with endlessly re-tellable stories and factlets. Read more
Published 4 months ago by Amy James
4.0 out of 5 stars helpful
best book i've bought in ages. A must for all nature lovers. Will buy all his work!!! Amazing write. Krisr
Published 5 months ago by Kristine Taylor
5.0 out of 5 stars A good read for wildlife gardeners
I am very interested in nature and I garden for wildlife. Wildflowers that some people regard as 'weeds' (and that is their right to do so) are the mainstay of the flora in my... Read more
Published 6 months ago by D. J. Wilcox
5.0 out of 5 stars Weeds... Richard Mabey
Richard Mabey is a well known writer and naturalist and his experience and enthusiasm shows through. In this book. Read more
Published 14 months ago by Jane Lingham
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent for someone who has read widely
Bought for my brother-in-law who found it fascinating and he would not bother reading it if it had not appealed! A real winner. Read more
Published 14 months ago by Ann Taylor
5.0 out of 5 stars Weeds: The story of Outlaw Plants
I found this an entertaining read. Richard Mabey has a comprehensive knowledge of plants and uses this to follow the story of those despised plants whose specialisation he... Read more
Published 19 months ago by Margaret Gallop
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