“Just a seed”… Yeah right!

Plants and People Blog

Entry #7- The Botany of Desire (chapter 11)

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. 161- 175pg.

As I start Chapter 11 of the Triumph of Seeds by Thor Hanson, I am suddenly consumed with this overwhelming feeling of nostalgia from treasured childhood memories. I think every child dreams of being a spy at one point or another, living a mysterious life and going on strange and exciting adventures. My friends and I were definitely those children, we use to strip all the cushions of the couch and place them strategically around the living room. In an instant, the room was transformed into the depths of a volcano where the cushions were the only source of safety from the molten lava flowing below. We would go on missions to save the damsel in distress or take down mischievous villain. We would do this for hours and hours on end until our parents would come and interrupt our fun and pull us back to reality. This flash back was brought on by Hanson, as he explains how many seeds can contain compounds that can be used as poison, such as ricin; which was used to assassinate Georgi Markov. Ricin, a substance extracted from castor beans, was loaded into a 1.5mm pellet and put into the tip of an umbrella gun which was used transfer the pellet into the skin by jabbing the victim. This was so interesting to me because as Hanson said “… Markovs murder made the fantasy world of James Bond a sudden reality…” (pg.123)To me I always thought that the fantasy world of spy was just that; a fantasy, I never thought that any of the tools you see in James Bond or more recently Kingsman: the Secret Service could actually be real. Hanson then went onto explain that poisonous seed could also be used to treat many diseases.  Hanson delivers an action packed chapter that had you feel a multitude of emotions.

This chapter is like a roller coaster. It has you feeling intrigued by the spy aspect of the chapter, sad due to his friend/dissertation advisor passing of cancer and nostalgic at the mention of Alice in Wonderland. By Hanson taking us through all of these different emotions, it adds such depth and complexity to the chapter. Hanson creates this amazing flow pattern throughout this chapter that moves the reader through each emotion and idea very seamlessly. Even though this was a fairly short chapter he was able achieve great character development with Steve Brunsfeld, where in only a one sentence he perfectly captured his personality: “These things taste like furniture polish” (pg.171). In this short chapter he made me feel connected to Brunsfeld and truly sad for the character himself but also for Hanson when he passed away. Being able to establish a connection between the reader and a character in such a small amount of time is a great literary skill that Hanson achieves flawlessly.

My mom always told me “don’t judge a book by its cover”, while I agree to that statement when it regards people, I don’t know if I fully agree when it comes to books. I agree that there is no way of knowing the literature quality of the book by its cover. However, when I’m searching for what book to read next, a book that grabs my attention by having an interesting title or captivating front cover is more likely to be the one I will choose to read. In the case of this book, I decided which chapter to read and ultimately write my blog post about based on the chapter titles. Hanson’s title for this chapter: Death by Umbrella, was so intriguing and captivating that I couldn’t help but turn the page because I needed to know what that meant. Hanson does a great job with all of his titles he keeps then short and simple, yet achieves a high level of intrigue.

There was not a single thing that I disliked about this chapter; it was mysterious, emotional and most important it was very interesting. It took what knowledge I already had, like seeds containing poisonous compounds, and expanded upon it. I never knew that those same compounds could be treatment for many medical issues when taken in small quantities. I find that so fascinating that the very substances that can kill you, can also heal you. Not only did I like the information, I loved the way Hanson interwove it with a great a narrative. He did this when he explains the cause of Markov’s death by ricin, he gives you tons of information while also delivering an intriguing story. This is so important because it takes the book from essentially being a list of facts to creative and immersive story that is fun to read. Hanson continually does this with ease delivering a book that is informative yet fun and creative that keeps readers immersed every step of the way.

The whole purpose of this book is to illuminate readers on aspects of seeds that many people don’t know about. In this chapter, he shows how seeds can be used as a poison and a medical treatment. Hanson does this with excellence, he delivers a lot of information in a creative and fun way. While I have only read a fraction of his book, I have learned more about seeds that I ever thought possible and I will no longer think of them as “just a seed.”


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