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Seeds, Sex and Civilization

by Peter Thompson

Anyone picking up this book in the hope of titillation will be sorely disappointed unless a bit of plant pollination gets you going. (What were the marketing department thinking of? Did they really think that sex in the title would sell a single extra copy?) But for anyone who is interested in plants, gardening, the environment, or indeed, the world in which we live, SEEDS, SEX AND CIVILIZATION is a rare treat. It is a chronicle, illustrated with gorgeous colour plates, of how the hidden life of plants has shaped our world.

Seeds have a massive place in our consciousness and that finds its reflection in our language, art and literature, from Jack and the Beanstalk to Wei Wei’s million sunflower seeds in the Tate’s Turbine Hall. The history of our relationship with seeds is a complex and fascinating one and this wonderful book tells that story, from the beginnings of cultivation over 7,000 years ago to the latest advances in gene manipulation and the risks of modern agribusiness. Along the way we are introduced to a host of extraordinary characters – scientists, amateur naturalists and explorers – who played a part, sometimes at the cost of their lives, to further our understanding and knowledge of seeds.

Peter Thompson was a pioneer in seed conservation and the work he undertook at Kew laid the foundation for the Millennium Seed Bank. He was a world authority on his subject but he is also a great story-teller and the book is unfailingly readable. Sadly, he died in 2008, as the book was being prepared for publication.

Published by Thames & Hudson, £19.95 (for the Amazon price, click on the book cover, left)

Clare Chandler

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