Hanson, T. 2015. The Triumph of Seeds: How Grains, Nuts, Kernels, Pulses & Pips Conquered the Plant Kingdom and Shaped Human History. Basic Books, New York, NY.
In The Triumph of Seeds, Thor Hanson takes readers on a journey of the history of seeds, as he stresses their importance in the past, present, and future. He combines passages of historical references as well as personal experiences in order to relay the central message of his novel; seeds are life.
Thor is definitely a skilled writer and story teller. This is clear from the get go, as he begins the introduction of the novel with memories of his son and smoothly makes a connection to his story of seeds. I found it pleasing how he could spend the span of a chapter(roughly 15 pages) narrating the germination process of a seed so eloquently. He also used beautiful imagery that forced me to look at seeds in a new light. A great example of Thor’s imaginative words are; “a dark stem arched downward into the soil, and above it two seed leaves had begun to unfurl. They looked impossibly green and tender, a rich meal for the pale shoot just visible between them.”pg 38. Another example that i thoroughly enjoyed was, “There the spores practically glowed, tucked into speckled golden pouches at the base of each leaf.”pg 136. Just wow.
Throughout the novel, Thor does a fantastic job of explaining concepts through comparisons. This is important to me, because as a fairly new botanist dabbler, I sometimes struggle with grasping simple concepts. He explains the basics of a seed by writing, “a seed contains three basic elements: the embryo of a plant (the baby), a seed coat (the box), and some kind of nutritive tissue (the lunch). ”pg 46. He later continues to expand on this idea when he says, “a seed may be a baby in a box with its lunch, but plants have come up with countless ways to play out those roles. It’s like a symphony orchestra.”pg 57.
I really appreciated the inclusion of images and diagrams throughout the novel. It gave my eyes and mind a quick rest, and allowed me to really visualize some of the key concepts that Thor attempts to explain. Even if it was as simple as a drawing of a split avocado seed, it made me push my thought process to another level.
This novel got me thinking of how crucial seeds are to life, and how silently abundant they are. I came to the abrupt realization that seeds are everywhere. They are in every meal we eat, the clothes we wear, the medicine we use, even most products we buy are somehow linked to seeds. Thor makes a good point when he mentions how humans are the most accomplished animal in seed use. He puts it quite perfectly when he says that “they transcend that imaginary boundary we erect between the natural world and the human world, appearing so regularly in our daily lives, in so many forms, that we hardly recognize how utterly dependent we are upon them.” pg 17.
Although the majority of the human population tends to ignore seeds, somebody clearly acknowledged their importance, as Thor made an excellent point that “A forest, after all, is named for its trees and not for the monkeys or birds that leap and flutter within it. And everyone knows to call the famed Serengeti a grassland—not a zebra-land with grass.”pg 26. So, humanity does have some hope.
This novel is a phenomenal introduction to the vast world of seeds. If you weren’t interested in them before, Thor will definitely beckon you closer with one simple sentence; “what lies inside those neat packages just waiting for the spark to build a new plant?”pg 41.
“Think of the fierce energy concentrated in an acorn! You bury it in the ground, and it explodes into a giant oak! Bury a sheep, and nothing happens but decay.
—George Bernard Shaw,
The Vegetarian Diet According to Shaw (1918)”pg22