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A Rum Affair: A True Story of Botanical Fraud
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A Rum Affair: A True Story of Botanical Fraud

3.47  ·  Rating details ·  101 ratings  ·  16 reviews
A Rum Affair is an absorbing tale of scientific chicanery and academic intrigue —critically acclaimed and a finalist for the Los Angeles TimesBook Prize. In the 1940s, the eminent British botanist John Heslop Harrison proposed a controversial theory: Species of plants on the islands off the west coast of Scotland, he said, had survived the last Ice Age. His premise flew in ...more
Paperback, 304 pages
Published August 8th 2001 by Da Capo Press (first published 1999)
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Sep 11, 2018 rated it liked it
Have just finished the most recent Maggie Hope WW II mystery series title which was set on the Isle of Rum in the Hebrides off the coast of Scotland. When I serendipitously found this title on my shelves at home (another book rescued from the recycling bin at the library I worked at but never read), I figured it was time to read it. Botanical fraud situation from mid-20th century Britain based on a fairly well known botanist claiming to find plants on this remote island when most other research ...more
Dec 08, 2017 rated it really liked it
A very interesting investigation into scientific truth and what motivates well-known scientists to commit fraud. Told almost like a thriller (except with long Latin plant names) so it was a compelling and easy read. Definitely would recommend to a book club or a class on ethics.
Francis Darmanin
Jun 16, 2012 rated it really liked it
I am not remotely interested in botany yet I found this book (which I picked up for 50 cents at a bazaar)a great read. Very good author; well researched; thoroughly enjoyed. My verdict on the "crime" - a case of suspected scientific fraud around which the story revolves:- not proven.

Francis - Malta, Med.
Aug 04, 2011 rated it did not like it
Yawn! I've had this book stuffed back on a shelf for years and finally resolved to read it. Author goes into minute detail over an inconsequential deception. I couldn't get past page 30. While I like books on natural history, my eyes glazed over on this one. ...more
Jul 01, 2019 rated it liked it
The author tries to run down whether the botanist John Heslop Harrison relocated sedges on an island in Scotland to support his particular evolution views. He also seems to have made doubtful entomology claims. I wish Sabbagh had done a better job citing David Allen's research on botanical societies and provided more context in the beginning part of the book. I feel it would have read better with some editorial reorganizing. ...more
Steven McKay
May 05, 2017 rated it it was ok
Shelves: plants, gifts
The author takes a moderately interesting scientific controversy from the early 20th century, and explores it in excrutiating detail. Perhaps if I were a historian or journalist I might find this more interesting, but it felt like I was reading a dissertation. Far more detail than I needed, and I even like plant taxonomy.
Carol Aldred
Nov 02, 2017 rated it it was ok
An interesting book concerning scientific deceit. But over long and repetitive
Lee Torvi
Jul 14, 2020 rated it liked it
It's interesting to read about this case (and others) of data tampering by a scientist -a botanist in this case-who is trying to prove his theory and also to earn acclaim. ...more
Jun 16, 2019 marked it as to-read
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Mike Sutton
Feb 05, 2015 rated it really liked it
I love this book and thoroughly recommend it. It is very detailed and I can imagine some might feel that it is rather overladen with detail. But the detail is necessary to do justice to the complexity and seriousness of the question of whether or not the eminent British botanist John Heslop Harrington committed science fraud by importing and seeding the field of scientific discovery with species of plant, beetle and butterfly in order to claim the unique discovery of their unexpected capture on ...more
Jan 16, 2009 rated it really liked it
Fraud and deception in the staid world of academia, botany no less? Who would have believed it?

After all, a plant is a plant is a plant, where they choose to grow is their own business and after they dig their tiny little rootlets into terra firma, they have no way of moving around. Or do they?

Curious mystery that takes place principally on the Isle of Rùm—one of the Small Isles of the Inner Hebrides off the coast of Scotland—and the provenance of some of the plants and grasses that grow there.
Mya R
Written in 2005:
"I had hopes for this book, but sadly Mr. Sabbagh seems to spend a lot of pages padding out a limited amount of knowledge and even then it's a slim read that reaches few definite conclusions. One upside of the book is a desire to visit the Isle of Rum (also known as Rhum), as it sounds a lovely place. Another is the increased awareness that, in science, documenting your work so others can replicate your findings is of paramount importance."
Feb 11, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: natural-hx
A fascinating little book about a paranoid fraud named John Wilson Heslop Harrison, who was once the caretaker of the Isle of Rum off the coast of Scotland.
Katie Phillips
Aug 01, 2012 rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2012
Interesting, but not great. I feel like Erik Larson could've handled the material better. ...more
Feb 21, 2008 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Paul by: Marie
Las Cruces, New Mexico
May 11, 2009 rated it liked it
Some interesting ideas and facts. It helps to understand some of the pressures (real or not) that may drive a professional to "create" data. ...more
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Jan 28, 2010
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Feb 27, 2018
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Jan 27, 2013
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Dec 28, 2017
Carl-fredrik Olsson
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Mar 31, 2013
Ann Kerr
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​Karl Sabbagh, founder and managing director of Skyscraper Publications, has written nearly a dozen books, ranging across topics as diverse as architecture, psychology, history, mathematics, fraud, Victorian boys’ papers, and the Middle East.​​ Some of his books are derived from major television documentary series he produced and directed; others are pieces of original non-fiction for a general re ...more

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