Book Review: Fifty Plants that Changed the Course of History

Fifty Plants that Changed the Course of History
by Bill Laws

224 pages
Firefly Books, 2011
List price: $29.95

In the spirit of Wicked Plants (and this is a good thing), Bill Laws brings trivia buffs a treasure trove of quirky facts about fifty plants that made a difference in the world. It matters not whether you’re a gardener or that you simply enjoy learning obscure information – this is a book for the curious sort.

There are between 250,000 and 300,000 types of flowering plants in the world, and Laws highlights 50 of them, sharing essential facts such as a description of the plant, its native range and how it has been used throughout the years and how it has affected human life.

The book itself has a retro feel to it, with beautiful illustrations, vintage photographs, and fonts that enhance that character. An attached ribbon bookmark is a nice touch. But the best part is finding out intriguing and thought-provoking things like this:

“Adding the female flower clusters of the Common hop (Humulus lupulus) to the brewing process turned ale into beer, and in doing so increased its shelf life.”

“Cotton is a natural fabric, yet more chemicals are sprayed on cotton than on any other crop. Today, cotton accounts for less than 3% of the world’s farmed land, but it consumes about a quarter of the world’s pesticides.”

Bill Laws, born in 1948 and brought up in Llansteffan, west Wales, became a journalist/writer after being thrown out of two secondary schools and failing his English exams. Currently editor of Britain’s national magazine for Gypsies and Travellers, Travellers’ Times, he’s the author of 15 titles and working on a social history of street music (involving busking through Britain with his soprano saxophone).

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