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Seeds of Change: Six Plants That Transformed Mankind
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Seeds of Change: Six Plants That Transformed Mankind

3.85  ·  Rating details ·  477 Ratings  ·  39 Reviews
A personal and highly original take on the history of six commercial plants, Seeds of Change illuminates how sugar, tea, cotton, the potato, quinine, and the cocoa plant have shaped our past. In this fascinating account, the impassioned Henry Hobhouse explains the consequences of these plants with attention-grabbing historical moments. While most records of history focus o ...more
Paperback, 400 pages
Published November 22nd 2005 by Counterpoint (first published January 1st 1986)
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Feb 13, 2009 rated it liked it
some decent history here, which i usually dont have a taste for. the author's british boarding school attitude looking down at the rest of the world (and occasionally critically at his own) can be distastefull at times (i guarantee you'll be surprised by the bold generalizations of some of his pronouncements. for instance, one sentence begins "Though the Arabs had and still have a very low opinion of actual physical work..."
those kinds of things crop up throughout the book, but in general you ju
Since I'm carrying on with my summer reading project, even though it's no longer summer anymore, here's the latest installment. I was really looking forward to reading Seeds of Change (Henry Hobhouse, 1986). I'd heard from someone else, years ago, who used it in writing a research paper, that it was a really great book. I also happen to love books about food, plants, science, and history. Win-win, right?

Let me start by saying that I certainly learned a lot from this book. I probably could have l
Aug 06, 2011 rated it it was amazing
This is a fascinating evaluation of how the important plants (crops) have influenced history. You will be surprised (as was I) with what a large role they play. Highly recommended!
I really liked the premise and approach he used: important plants, their products and influence on history. As a biologist, I imagine this concept could be taken further; Animals of ...; Snakes of ... (politicians included); Lakes that Changed the World. But I digress.

The author draws interesting conclusions about human history from the roles that he infers these plants played. Since most of the history he illuminates, I have long since forgotten, it was informative although perhaps not as provo
Jul 21, 2015 rated it really liked it
Hobhouse explores how six plants affected the course of human history: Quinine, which cures malaria but requires exploiting rain forests; sugar, which lead to slavery and ultimately human disease; tea, tied to opium, and the breakdown of Chinese innovation; cotton, requiring a slave class in America and transportation brought by an Industrial Revolution; the potato, whose failure to thrive caused starvation in one country and a flood of immigration in another; and cocoa, spawning a complex drug ...more
Lawrence Patterson
I was at the start impressed by the knowledge and the reasoning which the writer developed to substantiate his theories but his almost goading of people with other opinions by the end of the last section turned me off. Maybe I am one of the "politically correct" or maybe I found no rational in his view of the death penalty or maybe I need to visit Singapore and find this crime free society. Where on earth does he think huge amounts of laundered monies end up? However, there are some excellent pa ...more
Aug 04, 2018 rated it really liked it
This went into great detail about the economic impact on countries and spent a great deal of time giving historical context for the impact. It made for dense and slow reading for me but it was fascinating. It covered far different ground from Pollan's Botany of Desire even though they both chose the potato. If you like one, you will probably like the other, especially if Pollan's book left you wanting more history or if you read this one first and find it a little too stuffy.
May 08, 2017 rated it liked it
I finished this along time ago, but didn't write a review because I was unsure how I felt about it. I think the author has a good premise, but he didn't quite bring his research and analysis up to the present. And, that seemed like a failing.
Jun 22, 2018 rated it liked it
3.5 stars, really. Skipped the chapter on Coca because it was too much Hobhouse and not enough history at the start. Otherwise, enlightening and amazing to read.
Nital Jethalal
Jun 22, 2018 rated it really liked it
Johnny Appleseed sounded like quite the character
Dec 28, 2011 rated it really liked it

A revealing and fascinating book
A catalogue of the crimes of the white man.

Essentially 6 documentaries reminiscent of James Burke's 1970's 'Connections' TV series.
Mr Hobhouse begins each chapter from several starting points, and weaves from such disparate beginnings a complex and informative narrative/biography exploring the formative nature of one of six economically important "..largely tropical plants, which, after being transferred to countries other than their native habitats, became
Quinine, sugar, tea, cotton, and the cocoa plant are his plants of choice to represent the changes in power structure between the dominating Europeans and their colonial conquests. Quinine for opening up the tropics to a level of domination not previously possible. This was directly responsible for the sugar, rum, slave triangle that grew from the development of the new colonies. Cotton was added to the slave trade with American growth. Finally comes the drug trade based on the cocoa plant.

Feb 17, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
If you enjoyed Jared Dimond's "Guns, Germs and Steel"--particularly the early chapters which deal with the influence of plant and animal life on the rise of civilization--you will probably find much to recommend this book, which explores the causative role of six plants on history. The plants chosen are quinine, sugar, tea, cotton, potatoes, and coca although many other candidates come readily to mind, e.g., pepper, nutmeg, soy, tulips, orchids.
The author' style is engaging and informative, and
Feb 24, 2008 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: no one.
what I learned from this book: That once again, bad science trumps actual science, and that books filled with bad science also don't actually have characters. Oh wait, I already knew that.

Um, um, um ok. Right. So, there's this other earth right and it exists in the same space as our earth right but in a different time so um um and ok then there's an accident and the people learn to come through from earth to earth and like um its really exciting and um um um and then they have to come from earth
Ali Barrah
We all know about the slave trade and the opium wars, but this book goes into the great ideas that changed the world, for the better .....? Would make a great debate.

I had just read The Miraculous Fever Tree, and this book confired all that was written by the authoress on quinine. Sugar expanded my knowledge of the slave trade. Tea involved in the opium wars, now I ever knew that. Cotton, potaotes and the most destructive of our time coca, a very informative book that was first published in 1985
Jun 01, 2009 rated it it was ok
A similar vein as 'Botany of Desire,' but not quite as enjoyable of a read. Hobhouse has clearly done some deep digging for the historical info he provides, but unfortunately doesn't cite very much of it. That missing tidbit, coupled with his sweeping generalizations and unfounded claims from time to time, leave a bit to be desired. I'm not sure I buy his hypotheses about how these six particular plants changed the world (and all the 'this extremely historical event would have never happened wit ...more
Jan 15, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Hobhouse presents a fascinating perspective on the role of these plants in human history. The connections he makes between sugar, quinine, and slavery are especially compelling. He shows that plants to which addictions are formed, including opium and even sugar, are central in shaping our culture. Although this is a little dry as an end-of-the-day relaxation, I even found the footnotes to be of interest and read them as end-of-chapter blocks.

I'm interested to see what Hobhouse has to say about c
I find it strange that some people found this book dry.

An exerpt was featured in one of my English GCSE practice papers when I was a child. I was so interested that kept a note of the name of the book and went immediately to the school bookshop to order a copy. My 15 year old self really enjoyed the book. I am not so sure how it would stand up 20 years later to my now, more critical, adult review but in my memory it was excellent.
Jan 16, 2011 rated it liked it
Hobhouse argues that five plants (quinine, potato, sugar cane, cotton and tea) have influenced the course of history more than men. The scholarly book was thoroughly researched and includes pages of footnotes at the end of each chapter. But it is an exceedingly dry read because the author covers huge tracts of history with endless, forgettable facts - reminiscent of old textbooks.
Oct 14, 2014 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Interesting book with loads of information I had never seen before. However I found the author hard to follow at times. Also his general attitude is dated - the book was written in 1985. The plants seemed very incidental to the narrative sometimes and I felt that some of the history was inaccurate.
Pat Frank
Jan 16, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Again, of of the earlier books on a natural history subject meant for the general audience. I've read it twice. It fleshes out historical events and explains how the natural environment and specifically, certain plants have affected the course of history.
Sep 12, 2014 rated it really liked it
Really enjoyed this read. Not just six "important" plants. Coffee's not here. These are plants that caused major changes in societies or civilizations.
Each section uses a plant as a jumping point into a discussion about major historical events, slavery, trading, etc.
Nancy  W'f
Jul 08, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: readers of light mystery fiction.
Not a bad book, but definitely not in a class with The Uninvited, which was the author's most well known book. It was too obvious to the reader what was going to happen at the end of the book--I had it figured out by page 25. Still, interesting enough for those who enjoyed The Uninvited.
Aug 19, 2008 rated it really liked it
Great thought-provoker! Makes you really think about things differently.
Feb 23, 2013 rated it it was ok
Pseew! Too much detail and too much speculation. Wore me out, but I finished in time to return it to my friend.
Jan 27, 2013 rated it really liked it
An erudite, politically conservative review of the effects of trade (aka plants) through the last few hundred years. Well done.
Aug 28, 2012 rated it liked it
I read this awhile ago but reading 1493 reminded me of it.
Feb 11, 2010 rated it liked it
extremely information-packed, lots to learn from this one
Oct 03, 2008 rated it it was ok
This book could be's taking me a while to get through it
Jan 04, 2014 rated it really liked it
Although this book was dry, I found it fascinating. Great research and examples along with a little moral review.
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