Book: Seeds of Change: Six plants that transformed mankind

Seeds of Change: Six plants that transformed mankind
This is not a biology book.

Like stimulating conversation based only very loosely on six plants.
381 pages, ★★★★★

Seeds of Change is not a biology book. This book belongs alongside The Importance of Living, A Natural History of the Senses, and Home. This book is really a primer for fascinating conversation.

The book starts with exceeding confidence:

“It is gratifying for an author if a book remains in print; it is even more gratifying if no amendment has to be made because of new evidence” — page xi.

Thus, these two outdated statements, left uncorrected by new evidence humoured me:

“The term, “Negro” is used in this book to refer specifically to a West African black with sickle-cell anemia” — page 4.

“The actual population [of India] today is nearly 700 million” — page 11.

But the contradictions stop there. The book suddenly becomes gripping, describing historical events with interdisciplinary knowledge and an excellent arts/humanities/scientific balance. Here are just a few fascinating snippets:

  • Quinine (without quinine, there’d be no WW2, no Panama Canal, and only 100 million people in India)
  • Sugar (cultivating sugar was brutal work; about one slave would die per ton of sugar produced)
  • Cotton (Liverpool was built to cater to the slave-trade)
  • Tea (an interesting history written from a purely colonial perspective)
  • Potatoes (the Irish harvested corn very differently due to the unique climate)
  • Coca (Popeye’s spinach binges were actually shots of cocaine; but Middle America knew no better and per-capita consumption of spinach soared sixfold in a few decades)

Sweet thoughts in this book include:

“Potatoes floating ashore from the wrecked Armada in 1588 were alleged to have colonised western Ireland” — page 238.

Another thought-provoking snippet is this:

“The illegal drug scene is an oddity that if the opiates and the coca derivatives were legalized, the drugs themselves would be cheap and there would be no criminality, no drug scene and much less money-laundering and thousands of addicts would foreshorten their lives and the genes which give rise to addiction (which may or may not exist) would not not multiply as they do now” — page 295.

I think there’s room for a sequel that features another five plants: hemp, cocoa, corn, rice and bananas. Each of them changed the world profoundly, and each come with an abundance of interesting stories to tell.

The topics in this book are so broad, so important, yet so little-known, that they make for excellent conversation. I wish for a sequel. ★★★★★

2 thoughts on “Book: Seeds of Change: Six plants that transformed mankind

    1. I most certainly recommend this book. If you like history, or just enjoy interesting conversational topics in general, then go for it.

      The opinionated sections are intelligent and balanced, and cover aspects that many people haven’t thought of.

      Except for the two blatant mistakes at the start (and the author’s over-confidence in the book not needing any revisions), the book hasn’t aged at all in the decades since it was written.

      Like

Talk to me

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s