Seeds: The Powerhouse of the Plant Kingdom

Plants and People Blog

Entry #2- The Triumph of Seeds

Hanson T. 2015. The Triumph of Seeds: How Grains, Nuts, Kernels, Pulses, & Pips Conquered the Plant Kingdom and Shaped Human History. New York (NY): Basic books. Xix-18, 55-87p.

On this chilly Sunday morning, I found myself nestled into the corner of my couch in my pajamas with a cup of tea in one hand and the Triumph of Seeds by Thor Hanson in the other. My mother picked up her usual breakfast of peanut butter on toast and a large cup of black coffee and came and sat beside me on the couch. At that same time I read these words from Hanson: “We live in a world of seeds. From our morning coffee and bagel to the cotton in our clothes and the cup of cocoa we might drink before bed, seeds surround us all day long.”(pg. xxii) I set my book on my lap and analyzed the world of seeds that surrounded me, from the steeped tea leaves in my mug to the emulsified peanuts on top of my mother’s toast and even the cotton in my pajamas.  It was at this moment, I not only realized how vital seeds are in our everyday lives but how the average person underestimates their importance. Before my university years, I used to think of seeds as being tiny plants you bought in paper envelops at the store, when you wanted fresh produce at home. Even today, I never stopped to think about the thousands of other ways that seeds influence my life from what I eat to what I wear. I was even more shocked when Hanson stated “… some experts believe that Homo sapiens might have never evolved at all in a world that lacked seeds.” (pg. xxii) This book has shown me that seeds are more extraordinary than I ever could have imagined because without them I would not be where I am today.

The Triumph of Seeds is a creative non-fiction book written by conservation biologist Thor Hanson, who gives readers an inside look into the world of seeds. He takes us on a journey as he explores the evolution of seeds and the impact they have on science, history and humans. He really wants his readers to understand the mechanisms of seeds but also how much of an integral part of our lives they have become.

Before reading these few chapters, I thought this book was going to be like reading a scientific paper, very factual and boring. However, it was such an amazing combination of the science of seeds and his incredible story telling abilities. I really loved how easily he is able to explain the intricate science of seeds in a way that all his readers can understand and follow no matter what their educational background.  So you do not feel like you need a Master degree in order to follow the science behind everything. My favorite example of this, is when Hanson explained how roots grow so quickly without forming new cells by using balloons.(pg. 13-14) He blew up balloons with air and lined them up end to end to show the increase in length but also the increase in volume. This provided an amazing visual aid, because not everyone knows what root cells look like but everyone should know what an inflated and deflated balloon looks like. Furthermore, it is easier to visualize the scale of growth and how substantial it is when you can see the change effortlessly with the naked eye. He does this again when he compares the color of the almendro’s tree blossoms to a Marge Simpson wig. (pg. 6) He explains the evolutionary development of a carpel by comparing it to wrapping his three year old son Noah in a towel, after a bath, to relieve his vulnerability. (pg. 67) This also helps with the readability and flow of the book, not having to stop and Google terminology keeps you more immersed in the story.

I loved the amount of character development in this book, even if characters only make a small appearance he is able to make them feel relatable and really bring them alive. He achieves this by giving the characters a back story and adding key bits of dialogue. He does this in the beginning of the book with Carol Baskin, he explains how she met her husband many ago and how they spent their years researching together. She uses a great analogy to describe a seed, “I tell my students that a seed is a baby plant, in a box, with its lunch.” (pg. 9) After reading the background information and dialogue, I was able to picture this character in my head and relate to her in a deeper way. When I think about the character of Carol, I think of a very kind, sweet, soft spoken older women who has an immense passion for her work. Another example of great character development was with Bill DiMichele, through the key pieces of dialogue Hanson added I was able to form an amazing character image. I loved when he said “we simple look up and map the plants” (pg.56), it is so witty and modest and spoke a lot about his demeanor. Every time I read about DiMichele, I picture this intelligent and funny biologist who is also modest and complaisant. If Hanson did not include dialogue or background information I would not be able to visualize or connect to these characters and his book would not have been as amazing as it is. I wish that there was more interaction with his wife Eliza, in the few chapters I read you did not really learn anything about her. I hope that when I read the rest of the book, I will get to learn more about her and her influence to the story

I really enjoyed his writing style, it is clean and lyrical at the same time.  Just like in this sentence: “calm water stretched away below in glints and ripples of tide as I walked down the short path.” (pg.65) it is so descriptive yet rolls of the tongue so smoothly. I find that some authors over describe the scene and their sentences can get very busy and hard to read.  Hanson definitely avoids this, he has just the right amount of description necessary to paint an amazing picture without going overboard.

I would not say that there is any argument to this book, I think it is more about him taking something as common as a seed and explaining its importance in the world.  Even though I only read a few chapters, I still think he does this brilliantly. I was able to have a realization about the importance of seeds by just reading the preface of this book. I was hooked before the first page and it only got more interesting when he explained how seeds have shaped history and other scientific discovers like Gregory Mendel experiments on heredity.  I am definitely looking forward to reading more of this book and other works by Thor Hanson.








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