The Triumph of Seeds is Thor Hanson’s quest to find out all about seeds. Inspired by his young son’s enthusiasm for seeds and sharing his boundless curiosity, Hanson sets out to find out what makes a seed, asking questions about why they come in so many forms, how they spread, and how humans have shaped—and been shaped—by them.
His quest to understand takes him to experts on seed development and raises yet more questions, questions like “What happens inside a germinating seed and why?” “Why do coffee beans have caffeine anyway?” “Why are hot peppers hot?” Hanson (sometimes helped by his son) also experiments in his own shed, duplicating Mendel’s experiment on peas, sprouting avocado pits and dissecting them, trying to untangle a cotton boll, or comparing the flight range of various seed-types.
Hanson also describes various ways seeds and seed types have influenced history (a lot). Seeds have inspired airplane design; they vastly improved our diets. They have multiple uses in industry and show up in unexpected ways and places in our food and in our products. They have been used in espionage and assassination. And, we are extremely useful to plants because we carry favored varieties all around the world, planting and tending them with care.
Hanson’s writing is lively, inquisitive, and knowledgeable. He draws on his own knowledge and that of a wide field of experts, writing a clear, comprehensible book that covers a wide range of topics. There is even more information in the index as well as a good-sized bibliography for those who want to explore the subject further.
The Triumph of Seeds is recommended for those who are curious about plants, who garden, or who wonder why some plants put their offspring inside of coconuts while others package them in burrs.
The Triumph of Seeds: How Grains, Nuts, Kernels, Pulses, and Pips Conquered the Plant Kingdom and Shaped Human History by Thor Hanson comes out today, March 24.