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Fifty Plants That Changed the Course of History Hardcover – 26 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: 16,355 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

Product Description

Review

I've never been more pleasantly surprised with a "plant book" than this one.--Karen Gallagher"Dayton Beach News-Journal" (04/16/2011)

[For] the historically curious, foodies, reference libraries, schools of hospitality and cooking... Well-priced, and it comes with a ribbon bookmark.--Dean Tudor"gothicepicures.blogspot.com" (03/17/2011)

How wonderful are plants! Attractively illustrated ... This marvelous collection of tales deserves to be read and enjoyed.--Marilyn K. Alaimo"Chicago Botanic Garden" (06/30/2011)

Provides insight into the way plants used as fuel, food, weapons and medicines have had an impact on civilizations.--David Hobson"Kitchener Record" (04/01/2011)

This is a book for the curious sort.--Kylee Baumle"Horticulture" (04/20/2011)

Presents interesting information and impressions about plants.--Joel Lerner"Washington Post" (03/04/2011)

A delight to look at and a pleasure to hold. It is also a pleasure to read... a fine job.--Ann Skea"Midwest Book Review" (04/01/2011)

You might want to pick up two copies of this beautifully illustrated, fun read--one for the gardener...one for you.--Kathy Huber"Houston Chronicle" (12/16/2011)

A perfect book for residents as well as visitors... the short historical articles are beautifully illustrated with well-chosen color artwork.--Clear Englebert"West Hawaii Today" (12/20/2011)

Laws manages to throw in some interesting and little-known history.--George M. Eberhart"C and RL News (Association of College and Research" (10/01/2011)

This attractive and fun natural history of plants showcases fifty species that have influenced human history in significant ways. Each entry features color illustrations and photographs, interesting fact sidebars and information about distribution and growing conditions. Narratives detail the importance of each plant and range from ancient remedies and poisons to crop plants that formed trade and economic networks around the globe to bases for modern technological advances. The volume is designed for easy reference and includes information on further readings and Internet resources.

This book will mesmerize plant-lovers and non-gardeners alike.

This is a surprisingly easy, and good, read. The subject changes faster than a kaleidoscope image within each chapter, and there are insights into most of the large cultures of the globe.... It is a useful read for adults, and it practically begs to be given to one's acquaintances of the early or mid-teen years who could use a look at the wider world. They will like it. With any luck, they will go out looking for more information on the subject presented in the brief, glittering flashes here. And, if you play your cards right, they will let you read it, too, when they are done with it.

How wonderful are plants! That is the theme of this compilation of stories of the usefulness of 50 remarkable plants. Attractively illustrated, the text contains short essays on plants that provide sustenance, medicine, fragrance, spice, color, clothing, and much more. Lest we forget, the common sweet pea provided the means for establishing the scientific field of genetics. This marvelous collection of tales deserves to be read and enjoyed.--Marilyn K. Alaimo"Chicago Botanic Garden" (06/30/2011)

Much more than a "plant book," this is a beauty packed with historical detail and art that will feed your eyes, your mind and your spirit as you learn about plants in a way you've never experienced. Fifty Plants that Changed the Course of History is by Bill Laws, who intends the book to be an encyclopedia of "plants that have had the greatest impact on human civilization," according to the book jacket. But he has made his encyclopedia so much more. It's chock-full of life, art, typography, history and botany, and I've never been more pleasantly surprised with a "plant book" than this one.... Beautiful art reproductions, classy typography and eye-catching design work together to present a gathering of the history behind these 50 plants that will keep you coming back for a good look (and read) over and over.--Karen Gallagher"Dayton Beach News-Journal" (04/16/2011)

Beautifully illustrated with botanical drawings, paintings, and photos, this fascinating reference offers insights into both botany and social history.--Liz Grogan"Good Times" (06/30/2011)

It is a very useful guide to the basic fifty plants that humans had cultivated from the beginning of agriculture. For each, there is a description of the plant, the botanical name, its native range, and its primary function... There is also a lot of cultural and social history for each plant: Laws explains why it is in the Top Fifty (many plants get two pages here; corn gets six pages). This text is complemented by botanical drawings, paintings and photographs, and quotes from deep thinkers... There's a bibliography for further reading... Audience and level of use: the historically curious, foodies, reference libraries, schools of hospitality and cooking... Well-priced, and it comes with a ribbon bookmark.--Dean Tudor"gothicepicures.blogspot.com" (03/17/2011)

Bill Laws brings trivia buffs a treasure trove of quirky facts about fifty plants that made a difference in the world. It matters not whether you're a gardener or that you simply enjoy learning obscure information -- this is a book for the curious sort.--Kylee Baumle"Horticulture" (04/20/2011)

If the origin of plants interests you, and learning more about the history behind their uses, a new book by Bill Laws is well worth a read. Fifty Plants that Changed the Course of History provides insight into the way plants used as fuel, food, weapons and medicines have had an impact on civilizations.--David Hobson"Kitchener Record" (04/01/2011)

This is a handsome book. A delight to look at and a pleasure to hold. It is also a pleasure to read, not just because each page is beautifully illustrated but also because of the unusual, unexpected and fascinating histories it charts.... Each page is packed with facts. The Latin names and common names of each plant, a brief outline of its importance to us, the history of its uses and misuses, and countless small details...all give the reader a lot to absorb, but everything is presented in a humorous, easy-going way laced with plenty of curious anecdotes.... Bill Laws weaves together strands of ecological, political and agricultural history. His scope is worldwide and it ranges from the words of early herbalists to the discoveries of modern science. He draws inspiration from myth and legend, and, occasionally from the early philosophers. And the illustrations come from art, history, old magazines and modern botanical photography. Altogether, Laws has done a fine job.--Ann Skea"Midwest Book Review" (04/01/2011)

A fascinating compendium that covers edible medicinal commercial and practical species.--K. Reka Badger"Santa-Barbara News Press" (03/26/2011)

Bill Laws provides a concise profile of each of the plants included in his well-designed book. These informed entries are enhanced by botanical drawings and other illustrations. The entries make for entertaining reading. Even so, my favorite chapter feature was the sidebar box. Inside these brief newsy boxes the reader gets a peek outside the box of the normal. It's a peek at the wildcards that have emerged from the shuffled deck of human experience with plants.--William Scheick"Texas Gardener's Seeds" (03/02/2011)

Fifty Plants that Changed the Course of History, by Bill Laws, presents interesting information and impressions about plants.--Joel Lerner"Washington Post" (03/04/2011)

(reviewed with Fifty Animals that Changed the Course of History) These two volumes from Firefly uncover some of the most interesting stories of how animals and plants have impacted human civilization in economic, political, and industrial history. This is an original approach that links the biological sciences to the social sciences and students and general readers will find many interesting stories within these pages.--Shannon Graff Hysell"American Reference Books Annual 2012" (04/01/2012)

Fifty Plants That Changed the Course of History offers capsule summaries of the culinary, medicinal, commercial, or practical significance of 50 familiar plants. Some will be obvious (wheat, wine grapes), but Laws manages to throw in some interesting and little-known history about each. For example, the 17th-century French Benedictine monk Dom Perignon, who helped develop still wines in the region of Champagne, is sometimes credited with first sealing a wine bottle with a stopper made from cork oak; and pharmacist Wilbur Scoville devised a test for rating the heat of a chili pepper in 1912.--George M. Eberhart"C and RL News (Association of College and Research" (10/01/2011)

We can't live without plants. They provide oxygen, food, clothes, medicine and shelter. From great lists of all-important plants, social historian Bill Laws brings us the fascinating stories of 50 that have actually altered civilizations. Among them: black pepper, which led to a need for banking; sugar, which fueled the slave trade; and white willow, used to make aspirin, cricket bats, hot-air balloon baskets and coffins. You might want to pick up two copies of this beautifully illustrated, fun read--one for the gardener on your list and one for you.--Kathy Huber"Houston Chronicle" (12/16/2011)

Fifty Plants That Changed the Course of History by Bill Laws is a perfect book for residents as well as visitors. Almost all the plants grow in Hawaii, and the short historical articles are beautifully illustrated with well-chosen color artwork. Coconut, pineapple, sugarcane and coffee are among the plants pleasantly presented. The built-in ribbon bookmark is a perfect touch for this small hardback.--Clear Englebert"West Hawaii Today" (12/20/2011)

The illustrations are from other works, but, honestly, I hardly looked at them because the prose packed such a wallop.--Linda Yang"North American Rock Garden Society (www.nargs.org)" (01/31/2012)

[Review of hardcover edition: ] (reviewed with Fifty Animals that Changed the Course of History) These two volumes from Firefly uncover some of the most interesting stories of how animals and plants have impacted human civilization in economic, political, and industrial history. This is an original approach that links the biological sciences to the social sciences and students and general readers will find many interesting stories within these pages.--Shannon Graff Hysell"American Reference Books Annual 2012" (04/01/2012)

[Review of hardcover edition: ] How wonderful are plants! That is the theme of this compilation of stories of the usefulness of 50 remarkable plants. Attractively illustrated, the text contains short essays on plants that provide sustenance, medicine, fragrance, spice, color, clothing, and much more. Lest we forget, the common sweet pea provided the means for establishing the scientific field of genetics. This marvelous collection of tales deserves to be read and enjoyed.--Marilyn K. Alaimo"Chicago Botanic Garden" (06/30/2011)

[Review of hardcover edition: ] Much more than a "plant book," this is a beauty packed with historical detail and art that will feed your eyes, your mind and your spirit as you learn about plants in a way you've never experienced. Fifty Plants that Changed the Course of History is by Bill Laws, who intends the book to be an encyclopedia of "plants that have had the greatest impact on human civilization," according to the book jacket. But he has made his encyclopedia so much more. It's chock-full of life, art, typography, history and botany, and I've never been more pleasantly surprised with a "plant book" than this one.... Beautiful art reproductions, classy typography and eye-catching design work together to present a gathering of the history behind these 50 plants that will keep you coming back for a good look (and read) over and over.--Karen Gallagher"Dayton Beach News-Journal" (04/16/2011)

[Review of hardcover edition: ] Beautifully illustrated with botanical drawings, paintings, and photos, this fascinating reference offers insights into both botany and social history.--Liz Grogan"Good Times" (06/30/2011)

[Review of hardcover edition: ] It is a very useful guide to the basic fifty plants that humans had cultivated from the beginning of agriculture. For each, there is a description of the plant, the botanical name, its native range, and its primary function... There is also a lot of cultural and social history for each plant: Laws explains why it is in the Top Fifty (many plants get two pages here; corn gets six pages). This text is complemented by botanical drawings, paintings and photographs, and quotes from deep thinkers... There's a bibliography for further reading... Audience and level of use: the historically curious, foodies, reference libraries, schools of hospitality and cooking... Well-priced, and it comes with a ribbon bookmark.--Dean Tudor"gothicepicures.blogspot.com" (03/17/2011)

[Review of hardcover edition: ] Bill Laws brings trivia buffs a treasure trove of quirky facts about fifty plants that made a difference in the world. It matters not whether you're a gardener or that you simply enjoy learning obscure information -- this is a book for the curious sort.--Kylee Baumle"Horticulture" (04/20/2011)

[Review of hardcover edition: ] We can't live without plants. They provide oxygen, food, clothes, medicine and shelter. From great lists of all-important plants, social historian Bill Laws brings us the fascinating stories of 50 that have actually altered civilizations. Among them: black pepper, which led to a need for banking; sugar, which fueled the slave trade; and white willow, used to make aspirin, cricket bats, hot-air balloon baskets and coffins. You might want to pick up two copies of this beautifully illustrated, fun read--one for the gardener on your list and one for you.--Kathy Huber"Houston Chronicle" (12/16/2011)

[Review of hardcover edition: ] If the origin of plants interests you, and learning more about the history behind their uses, a new book by Bill Laws is well worth a read. Fifty Plants that Changed the Course of History provides insight into the way plants used as fuel, food, weapons and medicines have had an impact on civilizations.--David Hobson"Kitchener Record" (04/01/2011)

[Review of hardcover edition: ] This is a handsome book. A delight to look at and a pleasure to hold. It is also a pleasure to read, not just because each page is beautifully illustrated but also because of the unusual, unexpected and fascinating histories it charts.... Each page is packed with facts. The Latin names and common names of each plant, a brief outline of its importance to us, the history of its uses and misuses, and countless small details...all give the reader a lot to absorb, but everything is presented in a humorous, easy-going way laced with plenty of curious anecdotes.... Bill Laws weaves together strands of ecological, political and agricultural history. His scope is worldwide and it ranges from the words of early herbalists to the discoveries of modern science. He draws inspiration from myth and legend, and, occasionally from the early philosophers. And the illustrations come from art, history, old magazines and modern botanical photography. Altogether, Laws has done a fine job.--Ann Skea"Midwest Book Review" (04/01/2011)

[Review of hardcover edition: ] The illustrations are from other works, but, honestly, I hardly looked at them because the prose packed such a wallop.--Linda Yang"North American Rock Garden Society (www.nargs.org)" (01/31/2012)

[Review of hardcover edition: ] A fascinating compendium that covers edible medicinal commercial and practical species.--K. Reka Badger"Santa-Barbara News Press" (03/26/2011)

[Review of hardcover edition: ] Bill Laws provides a concise profile of each of the plants included in his well-designed book. These informed entries are enhanced by botanical drawings and other illustrations. The entries make for entertaining reading. Even so, my favorite chapter feature was the sidebar box. Inside these brief newsy boxes the reader gets a peek outside the box of the normal. It's a peek at the wildcards that have emerged from the shuffled deck of human experience with plants.--William Scheick"Texas Gardener's Seeds" (03/02/2011)

[Review of hardcover edition: ] Fifty Plants that Changed the Course of History, by Bill Laws, presents interesting information and impressions about plants.--Joel Lerner"Washington Post" (03/04/2011)

[Review of hardcover edition: ] Fifty Plants That Changed the Course of History by Bill Laws is a perfect book for residents as well as visitors. Almost all the plants grow in Hawaii, and the short historical articles are beautifully illustrated with well-chosen color artwork. Coconut, pineapple, sugarcane and coffee are among the plants pleasantly presented. The built-in ribbon bookmark is a perfect touch for this small hardback.--Clear Englebert"West Hawaii Today" (12/20/2011) --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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
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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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
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 Verified Purchase
This is a very easy to read, yet enjoyable book. I have only read a few pages thus far & yet I have found it fascinating to read that tequila comes from the Agave plant - not to mention so many other things. I had never even heard of agave. There are some lovely drawings and the book has an old world feel to it. A really lovely book to own.

It was packaged very cleverly in cardboard so that it arrived in pristine condition. Excellent work Amazon for recommending this book. Only one query: there is nil information in the book about the author. Who is Bill Laws?
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