Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “The Triumph of Seeds: How Grains, Nuts, Kernels, Pulses, and Pips Conquered the Plant Kingdom and Shaped Human History” as Want to Read:
The Triumph of Seeds: How Grains, Nuts, Kernels, Pulses, and Pips Conquered the Plant Kingdom and Shaped Human History
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

The Triumph of Seeds: How Grains, Nuts, Kernels, Pulses, and Pips Conquered the Plant Kingdom and Shaped Human History

4.09  ·  Rating details ·  1,806 ratings  ·  280 reviews
As seen on PBS's American Spring LIVE, the award-winning author of Buzz and Feathers presents a natural and human history of seeds, the marvels of the plant kingdom.

"The genius of Hanson's fascinating, inspiring, and entertaining book stems from the fact that it is not about how all kinds of things grow from seeds; it is about the seeds themselves." -- Mark Kurlansky, Ne
Hardcover, 277 pages
Published March 24th 2015 by Basic Books
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about The Triumph of Seeds, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about The Triumph of Seeds

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Average rating 4.09  · 
Rating details
 ·  1,806 ratings  ·  280 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Start your review of The Triumph of Seeds: How Grains, Nuts, Kernels, Pulses, and Pips Conquered the Plant Kingdom and Shaped Human History
Jun 05, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: science
My wife often makes fun of me when she sees the titles of books I read. Such was the case with this book. And, in her defense, a younger version of me would have rather stabbed himself in the neck rather than pick up a book with this title.

But, good gravy, this was one of the most fascinating books I've read in a long time. The author not only conveyed his admiration of seeds but told a story so compelling that I now share that admiration. I'm a fan of both the author and the subject.
Feb 06, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, arc, ebooks
This is a nice overview of the importance of seeds throughout history and around the world. The best part about this book is that it never gets too bogged down in scientific lingo- thus someone (like me) with very little knowledge on seeds can not only understand everything the author is saying, but also really enjoy it. The book is also set up in a way that if you wanted, you could read the book out of order or just read the sections that appeal to you- the chapter on coffee for instance, if yo ...more
Feb 13, 2015 rated it really liked it
I love micro-histories – books that delve into the history and specifics of one small specific thing. One of my favourites is The Big Necessity by Rose George, about human waste (and the toilet). Just for balance, my least favourite is Stiff by Mary Roach.

The Triumph of Seeds: How Grains, Nuts, Kernels, Pulses, and Pips Conquered the Plant Kingdom and Shaped Human History by Thor Hanson is about, well: seeds. I requested the book because the cover looked pretty cool and because, as I already sai
Feb 28, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Excellent in tone and in open-mindedness. Superlative in scientific description!

This first half might be more depth into plant and seed evolution than the common reader for fauna might respond to/with- but oh yes, stick with it. There is much more beyond the coal fields' evidence in this wonderful mix of reality and uses for that "a baby in a box with a lunch" that is a seed.

The chapters on seed shell thickness, their parallels to seed eaters and the flesh eaters who eat the seed eaters- all of
A really enjoyable and educational microhistory about seeds that I picked up at the library based on the cover. I'm glad I did! The author did an excellent job of presenting scientific information in ways that are enriching and educational. The science is there, but a PhD is not necessary to parse through it. Nor is it dumbed down! I didn't feel patronized at all. Instead, the author taught in the best way there is - conversationally, using real-life examples, including stories about his family ...more
Feb 14, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Bria by: Marianne
The only two things I could possibly complain about are not even complaints about this book, but just about pop sci in general:
1. Not in depth enough. I need to stop expecting pop science books to substitute for university courses. I appreciate why authors move details to notes and list references, but really I just want to understand all of biology, ecology, and evolutionary history just after reading this one book - it would be easier than having to go hunt out more books.
2. A bit more focus o
Feb 03, 2016 rated it really liked it
spanning globe, and time (pre-pre-history to gmo) hansen tells readers about seeds and how their evolution uniquely exploited life on earth to fill most every niche, and too, humans' and all other critters' reliance and uses of seed (tobacco, cotton, mango, chili....) with fast, super (over?) informative, entertaining science writing. has useful and fun illustrations, fun endnotes, glossary, exciting bibliography, and index.
Feb 06, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction-read
4.5* Very well written story of seeds, easy to read even for the non-horticulturist and full of interesting facts and anecdotes
Sep 11, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was certainly better than I thought it would be. Based on the subject matter I thought this book would be a tad dry; but, on the contrary, it was really interesting and quite entertaining. The writing is very accessible and heavy scientific terms are left by the wayside for the most part. Hanson takes a common item that we take for granted and weaves interesting tales around them to make his point of how seeds shaped the world and influenced its history.

Hanson takes the story back to how s
Feb 08, 2020 rated it really liked it
I loved this book for its lyricism and its (pardon the pun) digestibility. As a long time gardener I appreciated the reminder of why I'm invested in seeds and plants.

I didn't love this book for its blatant side stepping of important topics related to seeds, especially with whole chapters on coffee and cotton. While he did recognize the horrific impact of the cotton boom on enslaved people in North America, and especially Southern USA states, I thought the topics of slavery and colonialism were
Todd Martin
Mar 13, 2015 rated it really liked it
A seed has been described as a baby plant in a box with its lunch. The box (or testa) protects the plant from harm, while the lunch (or endosperm) provides food for the baby plant in the form of starches, oils or proteins. The transition of early plants from spores as the method of propagation to seeds represents an important evolutionary step for plants. Spores must fall on soil suited for their growth in order to survive. However seeds, with their internal source of nutrition, protective shell
Sara Van Dyck
Mar 23, 2016 rated it really liked it
Charming , instructive, blending science and story – Hanson has the reader accompany him on a meandering mental (and sometimes physical) road trip, exploring the many worlds of seeds. He joins a dig in New Mexico, where researchers think the Carboniferous era may have had drier periods than was previously thought, enabling seed plants to evolve. Later he tastes coffees in a Seattle coffee house as he discusses the social and neurological aspects of drinking that beverage. Along the way he also c ...more
Aug 06, 2015 rated it it was amazing
A really well done pop-sci nature book. Each chapter done well, and had lots of interesting information each page. It had the perfect amount (for me at least) of personal interjections and experiences within the science writing. He didn't make the book about himself, but he put himself into it just enough to get me vested in both the science and his journey to discover, understand, and then communicate what he learned.

One of the best pop-sci books I've read in the last few years.
Kaine Korzekwa
Jul 10, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A great conversational discussion of the biology of seeds and how they have impacted our society through culture and commerce.
Tom Rowe wasn't a bad book. It mostly talked about things I already knew or would probably conclude on my own if had thought about it. For example, the fact that an Almond Joy consists if 5 kinds of nuts was the most interesting thing I found here. Good book, but not ground shaking for me. Maybe for someone else.
Amanda Sie
Jan 05, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: environment-etc
dopey scientist academic writes about his dopey science, does a pretty good job considering how insanely boring my plant biology professor was when talking about the same things
Apr 29, 2020 rated it it was ok
After reading the book, I get the impression that the author is more into telling stories and talking to researchers, than gathering and conveying scientific knowledge. The facts presented seemed very superficial and not like the work of someone who has researched the subject exhaustively before writing about it.

Plus, a reviewer on Amazon rightly pointed out that in the book the genus of wheat was said to be Tricetum, while it's actually Triticum. That's an unpardonable mistake for a book that i
Kathryn Mears
Jun 26, 2020 rated it it was amazing
A topic that may appear dull on the surface, yet reads wonderfully. You will not think about coffee beans, chili seeds or the fall of the Roman Empire in the same way after reading. Thor has a humorous, endearing and well structured style to his writing that keeps you hooked from chapter to chapter. He weaves his own experience as a biologist with historical and scientific information but the book is always easy to read and accessible for anyone. I found his humorous and slightly self-deprecatin ...more
Jan 01, 2020 rated it it was amazing
A very satisfying book. It's remarkable just how amazing the seed is. Hanson has written a tight, well-edited, easy-to-read history that showcases its magic. He weaves personal narrative alongside the science and covers all of the pertinent topics ranging from the why and how, as well as the incredible impact seeds have on humanity. I particularly enjoyed the socio-economic role seeds have played throughout history, having never really thought about just how powerful they've been in global polit ...more
Nov 14, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
(4.5 stars)
+ the author is very enthusiastic about seeds, and his accessible style means you will be too
+ great breadth, and covers different types of seeds though more on edible varieties
+ genuinely funny. “Mama cook food, Papa cook poop” cracks me up days after I read that bit
- occasionally a little longwinded
- despite the subtitle, it’s more about seeds themselves rather than their impact on human history
Vicki Gibson
Nov 12, 2017 rated it really liked it
Well written and engaging for non-botanists like me. I listened to the Audible version and the narration was very good.
Feb 03, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Excellent book. Well researched and well written. Full of interesting information. Love when I can learn and be entertained at the same time. Appreciated extensive resources at the end.
May 04, 2020 rated it really liked it
This book is nothing special but it’s a charming quick read.
Mackie Welch
Aug 13, 2017 rated it really liked it
This one surprisingly grabbed me. Who knew seeds played so many roles in history! PS everyone in my book club thought it was boring for what it's worth. I did not!
Informative and entertaining to a degree, but very superficial. Plus a little too twee for my taste with all the cutesy-cute interjections from the author's personal life, a little too much time dwelling on how his conversations with other experts went on (and on and on...), and a few other things that didn't sit well with me (for example, no, Columbus was not the first to cross the Atlantic nor the first to report on the vegetation of the Americas; maybe the whole cotton-business-driven slavery ...more
Oct 14, 2018 rated it did not like it
Shelves: non-fiction
I would describe this book as a combo of random Wikipedia entries about plants combined w remotely endearing anecdotes about this author and his three year old. Pass.
Mar 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Read this for the Longwood Gardens Community Reads program. Thoroughly enjoyed it. Now I want to plant all the seeds!
Rachel Simone
Jul 01, 2017 rated it really liked it
Delightful and informative.
Nov 16, 2016 rated it really liked it
This is an artfully written, fascinating, and highly informative book all about seeds. The writing is personal at times, but not to the point of coming off self-centered. The author talks about his own experiences studying plants. But he also goes down many informative avenues.

* Chemical pesticides e.g. caffeine and capsaicin found in seeds.
* Germination and how seeds can stay dormant until the conditions are right.
* Seed dispersal techniques e.g. being carried by the wind or in the stomach of a
Apr 19, 2015 rated it really liked it
A seed, as botanists put it, is a baby plant with its lunch packed in a box. That's the best way to think of seeds. The necessary nutrients are inside a shell, ready to be used by the seed when the time is right for germination.

There's a lot of really interesting information in this book: history (how seeds gave us agriculture and therefore civilization), biology (how plants evolved reproduction using seeds and how seeds operate), genetics (Mendel's experiments with beans), commerce (cotton and
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »

Readers also enjoyed

  • Gathering Moss: A Natural and Cultural History of Mosses
  • The Earth Moved: On the Remarkable Achievements of Earthworms
  • Never Home Alone: From Microbes to Millipedes, Camel Crickets, and Honeybees, the Natural History of Where We Live
  • Mycophilia: Revelations from the Weird World of Mushrooms
  • Winter World: The Ingenuity of Animal Survival
  • The Food Explorer: The True Adventures of the Globe-Trotting Botanist Who Transformed What America Eats
  • The Botany of Desire: A Plant's-Eye View of the World
  • Slime: How Algae Created Us, Plague Us, and Just Might Save Us
  • Eager: The Surprising, Secret Life of Beavers and Why They Matter
  • Rancher, Farmer, Fisherman: Conservation Heroes of the American Heartland
  • Entangled Life: How Fungi Make Our Worlds, Change Our Minds & Shape Our Futures
  • The Revolutionary Genius of Plants: A New Understanding of Plant Intelligence and Behavior
  • Flame of Sevenwaters (Sevenwaters, #6)
  • Rain: A Natural and Cultural History
  • Second Nature: A Gardener's Education
  • The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt's New World
  • How the Earth Works
  • Dinotopia: Journey to Chandara
See similar books…
Thor Hanson is a Guggenheim Fellow, a Switzer Environmental Fellow, and winner of the John Burroughs Medal. His books include The Impenetrable Forest, Feathers, Buzz, The Triumph of Seeds, and Bartholomew Quill. Hanson lives with his wife and son on an island in the Pacific Northwest. Learn more at his website:


Related Articles

In these strange days of quarantine and isolation, books can be a mode of transport. We may have to stay home and stay still, but through t...
55 likes · 40 comments
“Given time, evolution is much more likely to provide us with a multitude of solutions than it is to give us one ideal form.” 4 likes
“By Mendel’s time, plant breeding had progressed to a point where every region boasted dozens of local varieties of peas, not to mention beans, lettuce, strawberries, carrots, wheat, tomatoes, and scores of other crops. People may not have known about genetics, but everyone understood that plants (and animals) could be changed dramatically through selective breeding. A single species of weedy coastal mustard, for example, eventually gave rise to more than half a dozen familiar European vegetables. Farmers interested in tasty leaves turned it into cabbages, collard greens, and kale. Selecting plants with edible side buds and flower shoots produced Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, and broccoli, while nurturing a fattened stem produced kohlrabi. In some cases, improving a crop was as simple as saving the largest seeds, but other situations required real sophistication. Assyrians began meticulously hand-pollinating date palms more than 4,000 years ago, and as early as the Shang Dynasty (1766–1122 BC), Chinese winemakers had perfected a strain of millet that required protection from cross-pollination. Perhaps no culture better expresses the instinctive link between growing plants and studying them than the Mende people of Sierra Leone, whose verb for “experiment” comes from the phrase “trying out new rice.” 2 likes
More quotes…