The Triumph of Seeds (Hardcover)

How Grains, Nuts, Kernels, Pulses, and Pips Conquered the Plant Kingdom and Shaped Human History

By Thor Hanson

Basic Books, 9780465055999, 304pp.

Publication Date: March 24, 2015

List Price: 26.99*
* Individual store prices may vary.


Winner of the 2016 PNBA Book Award
A finalist for the 2016 AAAS/Subaru SB&F Prize for Excellence in Science Books, Young Adult Science Book category

We live in a world of seeds. From our morning toast to the cotton in our clothes, they are quite literally the stuff and staff of life, supporting diets, economies, and civilizations around the globe. Just as the search for nutmeg and the humble peppercorn drove the Age of Discovery, so did coffee beans help fuel the Enlightenment, and cottonseed help spark the Industrial Revolution. And from the Fall of Rome to the Arab Spring, the fate of nations continues to hinge on the seeds of a Middle Eastern grass known as wheat.

In nature and in culture, seeds are fundamental—objects of beauty, evolutionary wonder, and simple fascination. How many times has a child dropped the winged pip of a maple, marveling as it spirals its way down to the ground, or relished the way a gust of wind(or a stout breath) can send a dandelion's feathery flotilla skyward? Yet despite their importance, seeds are often seen as a commonplace, their extraordinary natural and human histories overlooked. Thanks to Thor Hanson and this stunning new book, they can be overlooked no more.

What makes The Triumph of Seeds remarkable is not just that it is informative, humane, hilarious, and even moving, just as what makes seeds remarkable is not simply their fundamental importance to life. In both cases, it is their sheer vitality and the delight that we can take in their existence—the opportunity to experience, as Hanson puts it, “the simple joy of seeing something beautiful, doing what it is meant to do.” Spanning the globe from the Raccoon Shack—Hanson's backyard writing hideout-cum-laboratory—to the coffee shops of Seattle, from gardens and flower patches to the spice routes of Kerala, this is a book of knowledge, adventure, and wonder, spun by an award-winning writer with both the charm of a fireside story-teller and the hard-won expertise of a field biologist. A worthy heir to the grand tradition of Aldo Leopold and Bernd Heinrich, The Triumph of Seeds takes us on a fascinating scientific adventure through the wild and beautiful world of seeds. It is essential reading for anyone who loves to see a plant grow.

About the Author

Thor Hanson is a conservation biologist, Guggenheim Fellow, Switzer Environmental Fellow, and winner of the John Burrough Medal for excellence in nature writing and natural history. The author of Feathers and The Impenetrable Forest, Hanson lives with his wife and son on an island in Washington State.

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

fascinating, inspiring, and entertaining book.... Hanson takes one of the least-impressive-looking
natural objects and reveals a life of elegance and wonder."—Mark Kurlansky, New York Times Book Review

"[An] engaging book....
What makes The Triumph of Seeds more than a routine pop botany book is
the way Mr. Hanson teases out the resonances between the ways that plants and
humans use seeds.... [A] lively and intelligent book."—Richard Mabey, Wall Street Journal

"[A] rip-roaring read."—Robert Krulwich, National Geographic's Curiously Krulwich blog

"With light, engaging prose
Hanson shows how the little spheroids we tip out of a packet are in fact
supremely elegant genetic time capsules.... You will never be able to
look at an orange pip or a sunflower seed in the same way again."—New Scientist


"Thor Hanson has taken the
history and science of these little marvels and drawn out a fascinating account
of seed culture."—Home Wet Bar blog

"This is a charming book,
inspired by Hanson's forays into seed identification and dispersal with his
young, seed-obsessed son.... Hanson's twist of looking at human interactions
with plants in their embryonic stage is new.... The Triumph of Seeds
will engender thoughtful consideration of our joint future."


"[A] delight. Composed in
charming and lively prose, the book introduces readers to a variety of quirky
figures - biologists, farmers, archaeologists and everyday gardeners - who have
something profound to say about a seemingly mundane topic: those little kernels
that, against tremendous odds, have managed to take root all around us.... The
Triumph of Seeds
is a remarkable, gentle and refreshing piece of work that
draws readers further into the wide arms of the world and makes them grateful
for it."


"[F]ast and fascinating
prose.... Hanson, who has also chronicled feathers and gorillas, is a
conservation biologist and Guggenheim fellow, and an ace dot-connector: He can
draw a line between all the grain panics and crises and the tiny, miraculous
structure of the seeds themselves, because he dives deeply into botany, economy
and history. Also, he's just plain fun."—Denver Post

"[Hanson is] jocular and
entertaining in his dispensing of remarkable facts about these little vessels
of life-to-be.... From high-tech, high-security seed banks bracing for climate
change to the story of the gum extracted from guar seeds that is used in
everything from ice cream to fracking, this upbeat and mind-expanding celebration
of the might of seeds is popular science writing at its finest."—Booklist, starred review

"Who knew that seeds could
be so thrilling and dangerous? Thor Hanson is a lively storyteller, a lyrical
writer, and a quick wit. The Triumph of Seeds is more than an engrossing
work of natural history. It's a compelling and highly entertaining journey,
populated by scientists and historians, criminals and explorers, aviators and
futurists. Following Hanson's global voyage is the best sort of armchair
travel, because it is filled with wonder, poetry, and discovery."—Amy Stewart, author of The Drunken Botanist: The Plants That Create the World's Great Drinks, a New York Times Bestseller

"This beautifully written
book is a magnificent read. Every page is full of surprises and illuminating
insights, illustrating the fascinating evolution of seeds, and their
extraordinary impact on humans, past and present. A master storyteller, Hanson
has created a first-rate natural history. When you reach the end of this
page-turner, you will wish there were more...and you will never look at seeds
in the same way."—Eric Jay Dolin, author of Leviathan: The History of Whaling in America and When America Met China: An Exotic History of Tea, Drugs, and Money in the Age of Sail

"As he did in his
phenomenal Feathers, Thor Hanson brings us the incredible world of seeds
in a package as graceful and elegant as they are themselves, gift-wrapped in
utterly seductive stories. I cannot recall a book I was so eager to finish,
that I might begin it again."—Robert Michael Pyle, author of Wintergreen and Mariposa Road

"If you eat seeds of any
kind, you must read this book! Ecologist Hanson gives us a rich Darwinian view
of how seeds came to be the most important nutritional resource for human as
well as older than human species. He is at his best when we are in the field
with him, learning like detectives the 'whodunnits' of seed
dispersal. You will never look a seed in the eye again without thanking Thor."—Gary Paul Nabhan, Franciscan brother and author of Enduring Seeds and Food, Genes, and Culture

"Thor has done it again. In
a page-turner, he tells the stories of seeds, their ecology, evolution and
histories and why each of us every day depends on, relies on, delights in or
suffers from seeds. This book will change the way you think about your coffee,
your chocolate or even just the weed growing stubbornly (from a seed) out of
the crack in the sidewalk. Seeds are everywhere--a reality that you will never
forget again after reading this book."—Rob Dunn, author of The Wild Life of Our Bodies