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The Garden of Invention: Luther Burbank and the Business of Breeding Plants Hardcover – Bargain Price, April 16, 2009

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Though as famous in his day as Thomas Edison, agricultural pioneer Luther Burbank (1849–1926) is little remembered; in this straightforward, engaging biography, author and historian Smith (Patenting the Sun: Polio and the Salk Vaccine) recounts Burbank's life and its context, chronicling also agribusiness's turn-of-the-century growth and industrialization. Smith covers Burbank's rural New England childhood; the influence of Darwin on his horticultural ideas; his move to Santa Rosa, Calif.; and the establishment of his experimental gardens and nurseries. Amazingly, Burbank discovered independently the Mendelian principles that form the basis of genetics, and developed more than 800 varieties of fruits, nuts, vegetables and flowers. He made little money, largely owing to insufficient patent law (plants were not covered at the time) and his own paranoia, but he gained ample fame amid the 19th-century vogue for progress. (Apr.)
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About the Author

Jane S. Smith received her Ph.D. in English from Yale University and has taught at Northwestern University on topics ranging from twentieth-century fiction to the history of public health. Her history of the first polio vaccine, Patenting the Sun: Polio and the Salk Vaccine, received the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Science and Technology. She has served as a commentator, consultant, and writer for numerous documentary film projects. She works in a very small room with a very large window.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Press HC, The (April 16, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1594202095
  • ASIN: B002VPE9OK
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1.2 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,276,873 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Jane S. Smith writes about the intersection of nature, science, and social change, and also about the business of taste. IN PRAISE OF CHICKENS, her latest book, chronicles centuries of poultry wisdom from scientists, humanists, fanciers, and backyard farmers, with dozens of antique illustrations. THE GARDEN OF INVENTION:LUTHER BURBANK AND THE BUSINESS OF BREEDING PLANTS received the Caroline Bancroft Prize in Western American History. Her chronicle of the first polio vaccine, PATENTING THE SUN: POLIO AND THE SALK VACCINE, was awarded the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Science and Technology. Her novel FOOL'S GOLD won the Adult Fiction Award from the Society of Midland Authors. She lives in Chicago, where she works in a very small room with a very large window.

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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Melissa on July 19, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Who knew the history of plant breeding was so exciting?! I couldn't put this book down. I felt like I was sitting front and center in watching our history unfold. I found the book so interesting, presenting plant inventions in the context of the history of our country, our academic systems, our policy decisions, and business interests.

These were intertwined with the personal history of some fascinating characters. The inventors Burbank, Edison, Ford, Firestone alongside characters like Helen Keller and famous authors of the day made history come alive in technicolor.

It's amazing to see the connecting thread (over centuries in the making) to our current food systems, loss of heirloom varieties, scientific thinking about epigenetics, and even the medical marijuana debate centered around the inability of big pharma to patent plants, leading marijuana plant production to be relegated to dark corners. It shows how important history is to our modern day challenges and philosophical debates.

The only difficult thing was to keep track of the sequence of events as the chapters skipped around chronologically. Understandably, the book was oriented around conceptual themes to hold together the complexity and breadth of the many story lines. However, it was sometimes disjointing to find people had died in a previous chapter only to be alive and well and part of the next chapter.

I'm really glad I read this book. I found myself pondering on many events and issues discussed here.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Midwest Book Review on June 13, 2009
Format: Hardcover
GARDEN OF INVENTION: LUTHER BURBANK AND THE BUSINESS OF BREEDING PLANTS offers an excellent history of the plant breeder and farm and garden efforts in early 20th century America. A century ago Burbank was the most famous gardener on the planet. This survey of his contributions is not a biography nor an encyclopedia of his creations but a cultural and social survey of Burbank's influences on gardening trends and American culture, and deserves a spot in any general lending library.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
If you want to know about Luthar Burbank, I'm pretty sure it's all here. In fact, if there is a downside, it's probably that you might not want to know -this- much about him. I was very interested in his gardening techniques, and while this was in the book, it was a small part. This is a comprehensive biography. It's a thorough, historical account of his life, his personality, his path to success, and people's reaction to him at the time. The book is kind of dry, but let's be honest...this is a book about the premiere gardener of the early 1900's. You kind of know what you're in for.
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By cheryl roether on April 14, 2014
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Very interesting! Anyone Interested in gardening will love the history and information, which is bountiful, in this book. He was famous for his progress with the potatoe and I also learned he branched out to many other foods!
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A great read if you are interested in plants. Burbank was a great hybridizer and really ahead of his time with his drive to come up with new and better varieties . A slightly quirky character, he managed to accomplish so much with slightly unorthodox and not extremely scientific methods.
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Format: Hardcover
No one can argue that Luther Burbank did more for plants, farming and gardening than anyone else. His work has helped to feed thousands....

American ingenuity is an obvious standout in this selection where his genius shines and his ideas provide a portrait of the fastening of gardens, science and business of inventions....

Fascinating...
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Has a lot of good history in it and since I like plant history as well as American history this book is right up my alley.
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By Mike McNamara on July 21, 2014
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Read this book before you eat another pluot or buy another Shasta daisy
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