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Weeds: How Vagabond Plants Gatecrashed Civilisation and Changed the Way We Think About Nature

3.84  ·  Rating details ·  761 ratings  ·  118 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
Kindle Edition
Published 2010 by Profile Books
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Average rating 3.84  · 
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 ·  761 ratings  ·  118 reviews

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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
Sophy H
A fabulous book by Mr Mabey.

Who knew that weeds could be so fascinating with a veritable backstory for each variety.

Our garden is admittedly "wild" in many places, purely because we can't be bothered to mow too much of it!! Watching the number of wildflowers and weeds which proliferate between the wild grasses is quite something, especially when said weeds harbour moth larvae, dragonflies, housing for mice, butterflies, and many other creatures.

Funnily enough, of Buddleia, which Mabey states
Sep 22, 2011 rated it it was amazing
‘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
Sep 12, 2017 rated it really liked it
Fascinating investigation of the cultural significance of weeds. Very much a humanities text rather than sciences. Lost a star for some historical generalisations and medieval bashing, but still highly recommended.
May 27, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Really really needs illustrations. I spent far too much time googling for images. There are chapter art pieces, but they don't actually always have to do with the the species that is the 'hook' of focus for the chapter. If I'd known there was a glossary of Latin names in the back, I could have found images more effectively (given the ridiculous diversity of common names many wildflowers, grasses, and other small weeds have). Or if I'd been able to read the book just for the history, themes, and ...more
Aug 23, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Oct 17, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I like that Mabey knows that I'm going to "Google Image" Albrecht Durer's painting Large Piece of Turf, 1503. I like the black and white drawings at the beginning of each chapter. I love the strange chapter titles: Thoroughwort, Adonis, Knotgrass, Waybread, Self-heal, Love-in-idleness, Gallant-soldier, Burdock, Grelda, French Willow, Triffid, The Shoreditch Orchid. I like that he included a "glossary of plant names" because British common names for plants are different than ours, for e.g. fat-he ...more
Bookishnymph *needs hea*
I thought this book would go into more depth about the weeds themselves, but it was kinda just a book that questioned why we call weeds weeds.
Jan 21, 2019 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
You know those old white men (OWMs) that are convinced they're experts on everything, regardless of whether or not they actually know shit? Yeah, that's pretty much Richard Mabey.

It's pretty clear from even the first chapter of this book that a) Mabey doesn't actually know the definition of a weed, b) doesn't know shit about ecosystems, c) cannot comprehend the damage invasive species incur, d) is in love with himself.

This entire book could be summed up thusly: "I'm Richard Mabey, I'm in love wi
Juliet Wilson
Mar 05, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
May 05, 2015 rated it really liked it
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
Jun 13, 2011 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: botany
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.
G. Lawrence
Mar 13, 2020 rated it really liked it
Good read, well written and entertaining.
This is mostly a history of plants that may be considered weeds – basically, plants that are somewhere where a human doesn’t want it to be. It looks at how they travel, plants that were used medicinally, how they (re)populate decimated areas. He looks at how they’ve been viewed in history, including in literature, and more.

It was ok. Some parts were interesting, and others were dry. I probably tuned out a lot when he was looking at literature (except “In Flanders Fields”, which has more meaning)
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
Lynn Spann Bowditch
Jul 13, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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).
Oct 24, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: book-club
I can't wait to see how many, if any, other book club peeps finished this one. Which is to say I enjoyed it quite a bit but that I'm a bit skeptical that it is to the taste of most people in book club. I enjoyed the calm, inquisitive tone of the book - the author definitely is not a hater of the weeds! Not every chapter was a thriller, but there were definitely enough weedy nuggets of fun to get me through (chapter 5 on weeds used in heath care and chapter 11 on triffids, er apocalyptic weeds, i ...more
Infamous Sphere
Nov 11, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Ooh this book was just great. Makes you want to get out into the garden, stroll in woodlands the world over, sketch, kneel down and take a photo of the toadflax in Hungary, in Canada, in Finland, cook nettles, forage, paint. I love the useful weed, and the weird one, and the interesting one. Realised that the weeds growing in my Australian vegetable patch were scarlet pimpernel (and was thoroughly unimpressed at how tiny and meek the scarlet pimpernel turned out to look.) It's for a niche audien ...more
Apr 28, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nature-themed
I really enjoyed this book, though it really needed pictures of weeds - particularly for us outside of the UK and/or unfamiliar with the weeds he was discussing.

I appreciated how he looked at the various aspects of weeds throughout the years; weeds as invaders, as muses, as our new neighbors that are not going anywhere.
May 30, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
After reading this, I've come to the inevitable realization that I'm not profoundly interested in the history of the weeds of England. That being said, it has its moments. ...more
Sep 22, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: science-nature
Loved this book. Sort of a biography of weeds, in a way, or at least of the way some weeds have intersected with humans. I wish there had been photos, as so many of the weeds were truly beautiful. I kept my iPad handy, for reference. The uses of plants by man, and the abuses, and the likely future were all explored. Really enjoyed it. Highly recommended
Jul 31, 2014 rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction, plants
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
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
Jo Coleman
Mar 03, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Of all the popular scientists called Richard, I think Richard 'Call Me' Mabey is my favourite, with his big smiley face and admission that he loves waste grounds full of weeds and once accidentally grew a giant hogweed outside his front door. He lost me a bit in the chapter about historical botanists, but he was really good on how weeds travel around stuck to people's shoes or hidden in fabric, and whether we hate them because they take over our gardens, or because they are migrants that we don' ...more
Kerri Anne
This book is beautiful and formidable. Dense. Curious. A bit long-winded in places, but perpetually riddled with so much insight and storytelling and factual history of so many beloved and long-known "weeds" (alongside plenty of new-to-me varieties).

Definitely one I want to add to our always growing home library-of-wildness so I can go back and reference and re-learn and remember all the best weed-inspired stories. These plants, shrubs, flowers, stalks, trees, and seeds really are quite remarka
I'm going to have to read this over a period of time, because, not having studied Botany as a subject, I don't really know about many of the weeds he talks about, and have to look them up, and maybe print out small photographs for my reference.

That said - it's a very interesting read, provided you're able to identify and know something about the plants he mentions.

Will surely come back and re-review this once I'm done.
Sep 19, 2012 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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. ...more
Paul Moss
Jul 05, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A book to make you re-assess your world view. A tale of tangled stories of outsiders, pre-history and creation stories from the nature of weeds any how we classify them.
Mark McTague
Jun 07, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Richard Mabey, one of Britain's leading nature writers, has given a multi-faceted, insightful, and well-researched defense of weeds, those plants that you don't want (whoever you are and wherever it is that you don't want them). While not denying the trouble they can cause, he makes the case for a more careful, informed, and broader look at what weeds are and where we find them. Rooting his discussion in the rather Faustian bargain that was humanity's turn from hunting-gathering to agriculture, ...more
Karen GoatKeeper
Oct 12, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, read2016
What is a weed? I heard it was a plant growing where it wasn't wanted. This definition leaves much to be desired.
Are the poppies of Flanders Fields weeds? They were considered that for a long time but are now planted worldwide.
Dandelions are considered weeds in the lawn culture. Pioneers found them lifesaving plants providing food and used as medicine. I used them to remove a wart. Are they really weeds?
And why are so many weeds international travelers? Surely they were not moved deliberately. Y
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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.

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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'.” 3 likes
“The wild gatecrashes our civilised domains, and the domesticated escapes and runs riot. Weeds vividly demonstrate that natural life - and the course of evolution itself - refuse to be constrained by our cultural concepts. In doing so they make us look closely at the very idea of a divided creation.” 1 likes
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