What Did You Eat for Breakfast

Hanson, T. 2015. The Triumph of Seeds. New York: Basic Books. p xiii-18; p55-80.

Author, Thor Hanson, strives to convey the physical triumph of seeds in earth’s history, and furthermore, why this triumph is of such importance to our world.  He is inspired by his toddler, who displays an innate enthusiasm for seeds, to share both a scientific and a personal story of seeds.

What you can appreciate most about this book is Hanson’s style of writing.  He is strategically able to seep his botany knowledge in such a way that interests a general audience.  He writes a story.  He accomplishes this by making apparent the connection between humans and seeds. For example, he relies on the selfish nature of humans to capture the reader’s attention indicating on p.xxii, “Homo sapiens might never have evolved in a world that lacked seeds.”  Furthermore, Hanson often utilizes questions in his writing.  “What did you eat for breakfast” (p.18) is one of his most simple means to again establish the “intimate relationship” (p.73) between humans and seeds by forcing the reflection of the reader.  With this established interest, he then utilizes other questions to introduce curiosity towards the nature of seeds and their “dramatic triumph”(p.xxiii) in history.   “Why are they so successful?”(p.xxiii) is an example of how Hanson maintains the reader’s curiosity, through question, yet he has transitioned his intention to begin to seep in his botany knowledge.  Hanson’s style makes for an interesting way to learn the ecology and evolution of seeds far better than any textbook could intrigue.

Although Hanson shares the story of seeds intriguingly, there are other aspects of his writing I appreciated less.  Perhaps this is simply because this review remarks 2 separate passages of the novel; however, nonetheless, the novel seems to lack fluidity.  The story’s chapters vary between his home life, specific seed studies, Mendel’s experiments and his field experiences.  Although all chapters have the same general intentions, the chronological flow was lacking.  Furthermore, his story lacks appeal.  Although he establishes and connects the fundamental relationship with humans and seeds, there’s no impression of an intention to express a greater message for future generations, other than to appreciate seeds and their historical significance.  With this argument, it is important to note that appeal is not to be confused with interest.  Hanson’s seed saga is an educationally driven story that succeeds in reaching the interest of a general audience, which is an impressive botany feat. Again, perhaps reading the novel in its entirety may affect this argument.  In a lovely quotation he also enlightens “it’s not unusual for tiny things to look beautiful” (p.65).  Although contradictory to my desire for a greater, deeper meaning-his quotation is a simple, yet valuable reminder that there is importance in beauty. In seeds.  In appreciating things for how they are.

Overall, Hanson’s story is both endearing and educational.  Its large focus on the relationship between humans and seeds is imperative for recognizing, as Hanson portrays, “the gift of a seed” (p.6).  A gift not only fundamental to nature, but fundamental to our entire food industry.  A gift of creation, a gift of beauty and a gift that is often overlooked and taken for granted in our society.




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