Triumph of Seeds

Hanson, T. 2015. The Triumph of Seed. Basic Books, New York, New York.

Thor Hanson discuses in his book, “The Triumph of Seeds,” both scientifically and historically how seeds have shaped the world. In his preface on page xxiii, he points out five reasons seeds have been so successful. These five reasons are the nourishment seeds provide the baby plant, the way seeds are able to unite in sexual reproduction, the seed’s ability to endure harsh environments, the ability for seeds to defend themselves and the seed’s capabiltiy to travel. This book is split accordingly to these five factors that have contributed to the success of seeds. I have so far read part of the preface as well as the section on “Seeds Unite.”

I found the short description on the front cover of this book, “how grains, nuts, kernals, pulses, and pips conquered the plant kindgom and shaped human history,” quite an enthusiastic and bold statement. However, as I began to read Hanson’s book, I began to realize that this was not an understatement. Hanson has a way of blending the right amount of science and storytelling to describe the impressive success of seeds and the intimate co-evolutionary relationship between humans and seeds. Although I anticipated this to be a boring topic, Hanson has a way of conveying his own enthusiam and passion about seeds onto the reader.

I enjoyed that the author was able to simplify certain concepts. For example, on page 68 when Thor describes how important the development of protection of the seed is, he says, “…there’s no doubt that wrapping those naked seeds refined the system and opened a range of new opportunities.. a towel is just the beginning… people can cover their nakedness with whatever they want: shorts and a Hawaiian shirt, a cocktail dress, or even a suit of armour.” In this paragraph he compares a naked human to the gymnosperm seed. However, the evolutionary transition to angiosperms which have a protected seed allowed for great innovations. A cocktail dress here could mean a delicous fruit that is designed to attract animals to the seed in the way a cocktail dress attracts the human eye. A suit of armour could be a very protective covering that allows the seed to withstand unfavourable conditions the way armour protects a vulnerbable human. As a biologist I can appreciate this simple comparison and I think even for someone without an education in botany, this concept can be understood with ease. For this reason, I admire that Hanson is able to write in a way that appeals to such a broad audience of readers.

I also like how Hanson was able to convince his audience of the importance of seeds to humans as well as the influence humans have had on seeds. For example, on page 75, he discusses how through selective breeding humans were able to generate many new species of plants such as cabbage, kale and broccoli. Humans also played a role in the pollination and transfer of seed. Through co-evolution, humans have become dependent on seeds for many aspects of everyday life and seeds have benefitted from humans planting seeds and creating new species of seed. As humans, we often like to think we dictate the rules of nature; however, Hanson points out the great dependence humans have on seeds and reminds us that we are a part of nature. Also, as he discusses the influence humans have had on seeds, I couldn’t help but think about the future of human’s influence on seeds. Already, companies have begun to patent seeds. I have even heard about companies trying to genetically modify seeds to only reproduce for one generation so that farmers are not able to reuse seeds. Humans and seeds have always had a postive, mutual relationship but is this relationship starting to become parasitic?

I believe the author was able to convey both the importance of seeds to us as well as the amazing innovations of seeds that have lead to their great success. Seeds may not seem like the most riviting topic to read about, but Hanson has a way of engaging the reader, a challenge that many biologists face when trying to spread their knowledge to the general population.

Triumph of Seeds

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