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Weeds: In Defense of Nature's Most Unloved Plants

3.76 of 5 stars 3.76  ·  rating details  ·  329 ratings  ·  64 reviews
The true story—and true glories—of the plants we love to hate

From dandelions to crabgrass, stinging nettles to poison ivy, weeds are familiar, pervasive, widely despised, and seemingly invincible. How did they come to be the villains of the natural world? And why can the same plant be considered beautiful in some places but be deemed a menace in others?

In Weeds, renowned n
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ebook, 336 pages
Published June 28th 2011 by HarperCollins e-books (first published 2010)
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(showing 1-30 of 1,570)
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Sarah
Didn't quite make 4 stars, but nearly. But awarded 4 stars in the end because I shall keep this book around and dip into it again. Lots of interesting information but a lot of it has to be taken on trust... or with a small pinch of salt. I love the way it has made me actually look up the actual weeds in my garden. Most of them I do know but some of them I just know by my own names and had no idea what the rest of the world calls them.Some of the other reviews made me laugh with complaints that e ...more
Chris Blocker
Richard Mabey knows his weeds. Seriously. You know those nutty birdwatchers with their field guides and binoculars—that's Mabey with weeds. Yes, you say, but those birdwatchers go out on field hunts searching for rare birds—so does Mabey with a group of botanical nerds, searching for alien weeds in the refuse of British dumps. When a potential alien weed is found, a whistle is blown, everyone gathers around, photographs are taken, and debate ensues. The weed is then carefully removed, bagged, an ...more
Laurie
‘Weeds’ is not a gardening book, not a book to tell you how to eradicate the wretched things from your lawn nor one to tell you how to identify them. ‘Weeds’ is a history of weeds, of how plants come to be thought of as weeds, of how society reacts to them, of how they move, spread and adapt. It’s history, ecology and sociology added to the botany.

Mabey discusses how the concept of ‘weed’ started (probably at the same time as agriculture did), how weeds evolve and seem to outwit humans, why a p
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Emma
If you like Mabey you will like this book but apparently I am not a fan.
I fail to see how knowing that there is a dock plant in a painting of a lion killing a horse and other such tediousness enriches one's life. Thin on biology, lots of fluff with poorly structured arguments and has put me right off reading his other books. I may just give this book away to someone who would actually like it.
Douglas Dalrymple
Richard Mabey takes us from weeds' medieval double-employment in sympathetic magic and the theological Doctrine of Signatures, to the cutthroat world of 17th-century soldier-herbalists like Nicholas Culpeper, to John Ruskin’s strange disgust at the idea of photosynthesis (reducing flowers to mere “gasometers”), to the unexpected botanical marvels of London’s WWII bomb craters, and finally to dystopian science-fiction futures when human beings and all their works are remorselessly consumed by a t ...more
Jennifer
I read this one for Book Club, and I can honestly say that I might not have finished it except for that reason. It's not that it's a terrible book - it's that it's very dry. I enjoyed the sections on weeds in Shakespeare's writing and the poppies of Europe after WWI. I also liked the discussion of the medicinal and cultural value of the weeds. But, without illustrations or maps, it was difficult to imagine the diversity (and to see why some people's weeds are others' enjoyment).

Overall, the auth
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Michelle
I had assumed the reviewers who complained about the difficulty of understanding the British names for weeds were either lazy or unacquainted with google, but having read this whole dreary volume I now sympathize with them. It's not so much that Mabey uses the British names, however; it's that he composes whole sentences that are just lists of weed names. Even if he had used the American names, I doubt I would have found these lists more interesting. It's too bad, since his knowledge is tremendo ...more
Juliet Wilson
This is a brilliant, fascinating examination of the relationships between humans and plants, specifically those plants that we consider to be weeds.

Richard Mabey is one of the UK's greatest nature writers and in this book examines all aspects of the cultural history of weeds:

* how plants move from one place to another and why often a mild mannered plant becomes a menace when transported to a different location with a different ecology.

* how agricultural weeds have co-evolved with crop species

* h
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Sandy D.
Very British look at a topic I already knew a lot about, from years studying the origins of agriculture, foraging, ethnobotany, etc. Mabey combines ecological, historical, and literary perspectives in a way that I really enjoyed - and he is very accurate and perceptive! - but sometimes it is difficult to match the English common names with the American ones. There is a plant index in the back, but is alphabetical by English common names, so I had to scan down to see the accompanying Latin names ...more
Goose
A charming little read in which the author does little to restrain his love of the scrappiest of plants. However, this book is almost exclusively about the United Kingdom's weed population and maybe harder for those more familiar with the invasives of North America or Australia to get into.
Greg
The reviews by people who are complaining that the book is about "British weeds" are ridiculous. Though Mabey knows British weeds most intimately, the story is about weeds in general, and examines such invasions as the cogon covering bombed-out Vietnamese rainforests, kudzu (which is overtaking the American south), and the interesting and unknown-to-me fact that Australia is being assailed by a set of weeds including olive trees, fig trees, carrots, and grapes (in addition to the usual weed susp ...more
Marty
I think it's an interesting topic, but the book is about British weeds, so I didn't know very many of the plants he was talking about. But I do appreciate the power of weeds to survive anything. Bombed out areas of London, the walls of the Coliseum in Rome. Kudzu covering everything in its path in the southern US. Ragwort - is that the same as ragweed? I think I would have liked the book if it had been about plants that I am familiar with.
Lynn Spann Bowditch
Love it; plan to buy it for permanent re-read shelf (and for my B&B guests). Unlike the Flora Britannica, ed. by Mabey, Weeds addresses those in the US, not just the UK. (Loved Flora Britannica, too).
Kristin
I wanted to like this book much better than I did. The sections talking about the history of various weeds and how they were viewed through time was fascinating, although sometimes a bit harder to relate to as I'm on the other side of the ocean from most of the plants being described.

That disconnect between countries was what really led to my disappointment in the book. The author is clearly not someone who is greatly bothered by most weeds and does his best to point out that they are really not
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Emma Cooper
In 'Weeds', Richard Mabey has shown himself to be a true Renaissance Man. As he explores weeds and their history with man (for without man, there are no weeds), he effortlessly combines history and myth with science, art, literature and architecture. And he does it using language that makes no attempt to dumb itself down to the lowest common denominator, and yet to the literate reader is as enthralling and readable as mass-market paperbacks are to the masses.

The book itself is divided into twel
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Windy2go
I loved this book -- Mabey has all kinds of interesting information about various weeds -- things we now consider weeds, plants that used to be considered weeds, how weed traits and behaviors make them so successful in disturbed ground. I know, it sounds terribly boring, but Mabey makes it all interesting! In one chapeter, he gives us the longest popular weed name he has come accross (for a weed that tends to grow in the crevices of a roof or in rain gutters): "Welcome Home My Husband Though Nev ...more
Anna
I started this book thinking it'd be science and ecologically focused, but it is more about the human perception of weeds through history and literature. It was a hard book for me to get through because I am unfamiliar with most of the plants the author wrote about, especially since the setting is in England. However, it might be more enjoyable to people who know their plant name, unlike me.
Jennifer
All I can say is, the weeds in England must be different from the ones over here. Maybey, a nature writer, makes them seem somehow more benign than some of ours. Of course, if you can track some of your invasives to seeds stuck in Roman legionaires' sandals, the British have had more time to get used to them. This book is full of plenty of literary allusions and interesting tidbits; for example, rosebay willowherb--ubiquitous in waste areas of disturbed soil--apparently hitched a ride from the c ...more
Margaret Sankey
British nature writer Richard Mabey examines the importance of weeds--how civilization decides something inconvenient is a weed, the scandals of 1970s Royal Flower shows when "weeds" were presented as flowers, the intertwined presence of poppies and wheat in ancient fields, Shakespeare's weed jokes in A Midsummer Night's Dream, John Clare's poetry lamenting the loss of wild fields to enclosure, bracken as a prized fuel source for gathering, burrs and Velcro, neighborhood covenants about lawns an ...more
Kim
Richard Marbley does a good job of describing weeds within Great Britian. Interestingly, none of the weeds that he talks about are prevalent in the area that I live on the east coast. But he makes interesting insights about how a lecture about the weeds in bombshelters was a heavily attended lecture right after V-E day. He also talked about how dock would impact the wheat crop.

At times, Mr. Marbley's prose is cloying and I would have preferred him talking about more universal weeds. But it was
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Wren Fair
This book was very informative and certainly made me reconsider what plants I regard as "weeds" and why. The only reason I didn't give it five stars is because it does focus on primarily British flora and was a little hard to follow as an American reader. He does an excellent job incorporating artistic, scientific, and laymen interpretations of weeds. This history of weeds in relation to humanity and civilization will make any reader think twice about "invasive" versus "native". Mabey challenges ...more
Jean
This book offers all kinds of fascinating facts about plants, but more than that, it suggests interesting ways of looking at the ideas of wildness and civilization, usefulness and nuisance, waste and productivity. Weeds, in their essence, are plants that are in the "wrong" place--as defined by humans, and this changes. What makes a weed a weed? Many characteristics that give plants weedy tendencies also make them the first plants to colonize damaged areas, from volcanic eruptions to urban brownf ...more
Anne
An enjoyable read (although color plates would be a lovely addition, alas lacking on a Nook) even for someone who doesn't know much about plants. Mr. Mabey brings up some interesting questions regarding what constitutes a "noxious" weed along the way as well, which may vary considerably from continent to continent. The concept of "weed" isn't nearly as cut and dried as even the forgiving phrase "a weed is a plant in the wrong place" makes it seem, and he covers, in prose that takes you on lovely ...more
Elizabeth
Pretty British-focused, but still a great book about plants and their history with people.
Sarah
"Weeds" is the kind of nonfiction reading that I love best. I'm a fiend for all things historical, especially when it comes to the history of daily life. How did average people feel about very average things? I know that could be dead dull to some, but I lap it up.

Mabey's book is a delightful meandering path examining some of the most common weeds and how they've contributed to culture over hundreds of years. It is profoundly educational, but also plainly fun to read. Mabey's love of his subject
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Sheila
Loved this book. Makes me look at all plants in a completely different light. I have always felt bad about pulling weeds out of my garden, and now I have justification for just letting them grow and live. Weeds are beautiful, my neighbors be damned.

But seriously, this is a historical narrative of "weeds" and how they got where they are, where they came from, how we've used them over the millennia. If you like history and plants, you'll like this story. Richard does a great job of really bringing
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Gretchen Bedell
Delightful. He writes about weeds in the UK, which is not what I would encounter on my jaunts in the woods, but still a fun read and many of the plants do overlap.
Michael
Mabey steers a well-thought middle course between the excesses of the invasion biology and permaculture doctrinal positions on weeds. In this fascinating meditation on the relationship between humans and weeds, he ranges widely through the fields of botany, herbalism, folklore, literature, and cultural history gathering delightful bouquets of interesting and useful knowledge about those "other" plants inhabiting our lawns and gardens. Highly recommended, even for non-gardeners.
Emma
Very interesting read, it definitely made me think more about weeds than I ever had before. I like the message of the book as well, appropriate for finishing on Earth Day!
Kathy
The subtitle of this book is "In Defense of Nature's Most Unloved Plants." This British author's perspective is interesting in many ways: his distinctly British use of language; a European perspective on weeds that is very different from North American; excellent literary and historical references. The book is great casual reading, with just the right amount of humor to make it fun and just the right amount of academic slant to make it interesting.
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Richard Mabey is one of England's greatest nature writers. He is author of some thirty books including Nature Cure which was shortlisted for the Whitbread, Ondaatje and Ackerley Awards.
A regular commentator on the radio and in the national press, he is also a Director of the arts and conservation charity Common Ground and Vice-President of the Open Spaces Society. He lives in Norfolk.
More about Richard Mabey...
Food for Free (Collins Gem) The New Age Herbalist: How to Use Herbs for Healing, Nutrition, Body Care, and Relaxation Nature Cure Turned Out Nice Again: Living with the Weather Flora Britannica

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“In 1546 a band of weevils were tried for damaging church vineyards in St Julien. Such trials were rife in the sixteenth century, and the distinguished French lawyer Bartholomew Chassenée rose to fame as an advocate for animals. His work is commemorated in Julian Barnes's mischievous short story 'The Wars of Religion', in which excommunication is sought for a colony of woodworm which had gnawed away the supporting legs of the Bishop of Besançon's throne, causing him to be 'hurled against his will into a state of imbecility'.” 1 likes
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