Thor Hanson’s The Triumph of Seeds is an unexpected delight. Composed in charming and lively prose, the book introduces readers to a variety of quirky figures—biologists, farmers, archaeologists and everyday gardeners—who have something profound to say about a seemingly mundane topic: those little kernels that, against tremendous odds, have managed to take root all around us.
The impact seeds have had on human history can hardly be overstated, as Hanson enthusiastically makes quite clear in endless practical examples that range from the seeds needed for fracking to the variety of seeds in the average pantry. The author’s good cheer and curiosity lead to several memorable passages. In the first pages, for example, he aggressively attempts to split open a particularly well-guarded seed he gathered in the rain forest. Another chapter opens with the delicate dissection of an Almond Joy bar that quickly gives way to an extended discussion of the mysteries of the coconut seed.
Chapters are organized into themes about what seeds do best: nourish, unite, endure, defend, and travel. And within the chapters, Hanson wisely organizes material not so much by topic as by scene. He artfully draws readers into a particular moment, be it his attempt to teach a biology class about moss or the recounting of a spirited conversation with an archaeologist in New Mexico. There is something so approachable about this book, and something so confident and at home in the world about the writer.
For the reader the image of the natural world becomes, through this lens of seeds, at once finely detailed and gloriously panoramic. In all, The Triumph of Seeds is a remarkable, gentle and refreshing piece of work that draws readers further into the wide arms of the world and makes them grateful for it.