The Triumph of Seeds by Thor Hanson

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I love to explore new ideas through non-fiction in the hands of an excellent writer – “Guns, Germs, and Steel” or “The Beak of the Finch” come to mind. So I expected to enjoy Thor Hanson’s award-winning natural history: “The Triumph of Seeds: How Grains, Nuts, Kernels, Pulses, & Pips Conquered the Plant Kingdom and Shaped Human History.” I wasn’t disappointed!

Hanson’s style is that of a well-honed raconteur. He shares stories from his own personal experience – as a dad to a seed-obsessed toddler living in the San Juans or as botanist mapping almendros seeds in the forests of Costa Rica – peppered with the research of other experts. For every point he makes, there’s a tale (or two) that illustrates, and connects, and invites us to explore the idea further. We begin to realize the amazing impact seeds have had on development of civilizations.

Hanson begins by defining a seed as a box containing a baby plant and its lunch. He talks about the mystery of germination, the way we really don’t know if a seed is still viable until we plant it and it grows.  He is constantly pointing out seed based foods, ranging from the staff of life to an Almond Joy.

The stories range from Olduvai Gorge to the bottom of a coal mine to Charles Darwin on the Beagle. In the chapter on coffee, we not only learn the biology of the bean, but also of coffee’s impact as the “Great Soberer” as the Middle Ages transitioned to the Age of Enlightenment. Its role in our “Wired” society today becomes an excuse to visit the best coffeehouse in Seattle!

It’s like sitting in conversation with a well-traveled old friend, preferably over some seed based beverage such as a well-brewed coffee – or a local craft beer.  – Connie Bennett, Library Director


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