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Photo gallery for Roots of Civilisation: plants that changed the world – John Newton
The Roots of Civilisation
This is a ripper of a book!
Written by John Newton, a Sydney-based journalist and author, this is a pot-pourri of (as the subtitle of the book suggests) plants that changed the world.
The Roots of Civilisation runs the gamut of food plants, fibres, plants used in dyes, medicinal, poisonous, ‘psychoactive’ plants and even aphrodisiacs. It provides a deliciously entertaining guide of how these plants, along with the influence of mankind, have changed the world forever. It is a story of discovery, ingenuity, survival and greed.
The book is full of fascinating facts, and perhaps because of Newton’s profession, they are presented in a well written, thoughtful yet entertaining way.
To give just a taste:
- Many pesticides carry known carcinogens – one Aldicarb was recently approved for use in Australia by the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority, is classified by the World Health Organization as ‘extremely hazardous’.
- The United States uses only 5% of its land area for cotton, but that one crop accounts for 55% of the total US$355 million spent annually on pesticides. In Uzbekistan, it is estimated that 20-90 kg of pesticide is used per hectare of cotton. The neighbouring Aral Sea has been drained of water for cotton production for many years, devastating ecosystems and traditional livelihoods. Médecins Sans Frontières estimates that this results in 43 million tonnes of pesticide-laden dust blown through Central Asia every year, and the region suffers the highest incidence of throat cancers in the world.
- Cocaine was sold by Harrods as recently as 1916 (along with morphine, syringes and spare needles)
- The tomato was once widely regarded as poisonous and didn’t arrive in England until circa 1750.
The book concludes with an intriguing chapter entitled “Where Next?” Here Newton touches on subjects such as the mysterious disappearance of bees in the US and the massive land clearances due to agriculture and deforestation. Pleasingly, Newton also mentions possible ‘solutions’ including GM (where both sides of the argument are offered), deep root planting, using smaller farms, organic farming, reforestation and preserving the diversity of species.
There is perhaps no finer endorsement of a book than when the reviewer purchases a copy, which I have done as sadly my review book was a loan.
I will conclude with a quotation from Pythagoras who is reputed to have said “Avoid the broad bean” and I would hasten to add “But NOT this book”.
Reviewed by Lawrie Hanson
Publisher: Murdoch Books Australia
First published: 2009
ISBN: 9781741962420 (hbk)
Format: Hardback, 272 pages