October 12th, 2009


October Books 3) An Empire of Plants, by Toby and Will Musgrove

I've been reading at a less voracious pace this month - combination of better health, less travel, more useful occupation at the weekends, and some rather good audios to listen to on the commute (which I will write up in due course). Anyway, this is a short (190 page) but glossy book on seven plants and their impact on human history, especially colonialism: tobacco, sugar cane, cotton, tea, the opium poppy, chinchona (the source of quinine) and rubber. I wasn't hugely satisfied: I can think of other significant plants (the spices, coffee and cacao, flax and sisal, the coconut/copra) whose trade has affected and continues to affect the world economy. I found numerous irritating trivial mistakes (one that I will treasure refers to the British occupation of "Cypress" rather than Cyprus). The major reference cited is J.M. Roberts' Penguin History of the World. There are too many sidebar blocks of text which could have been better incorporated into the main narrative. It could perhaps be a nice jumping-off point for further reading but didn't satisfy me.