Most helpful positive review
46 of 52 people found the following review helpful
A pleasant surprise
on August 30, 2008
I was given this book by a friend who is an organic "true believer" and when he handed me a book I sort of expect a re-hashing of the usual pro-organics arguments I've heard many times over the years. Instead I was pleasantly surprised.
The book is straight forward, well-reasoned, and accessible. I have a background in agriculture and molecular biology, and so at times I found the science a tad too simplistic to strongly hold my interest, but I suspect that for the average reader, it strikes a nice balance between addressing the subject fully and excessive complexity and jargon. The case they build is in my view quite compelling, and I hope this book serves to open many minds.
When I was starting out in plant science, I remember a professor telling me that when the first transgenics were being developed, he really thought the organics crowd would be the biggest supporters. "We'd just come up with a solution to their biggest problems, but instead they decided we were the enemy". Although I think that organics are, ultimately, a positive development in agriculture, they are like most "movements" a mixture of real reasons and irrational, emotional impulses. Although organic agriculture has been an important step towards a sustainable future, it has brought with it a fair amount of baggage, based on not on science or reason, but on a nostalgic idealization of traditional agriculture--even though such agriculture was often neither natural nor sustainable nor especially desirable, even then. The fear of genetic engineering seems to me to come from that deeply conservative undercurrent in an otherwise progressive movement. By making the facts behind genetic engineering and its impacts on agriculture and environment accessible to a general audience, this book can hopefully be a step towards calming that reactionary impulse.
It helps too that it is also an easy and enjoyable read. By the end I felt as though I'd kind of gotten to know the authors (in fact since we don't live all that far apart and work in vaguely the same field, it crossed my mind that I might someday bump into them). The style is casual without being superfluous, making it easy to lose yourself in the book. I started this book as I tended the grill before dinner, and finished it as I went to bed the same night.
Putting aside the genetic engineering part, even, this book is also simply one of the best scientific presentations of organic agriculture I have read, in that it is soundly grounded in the literature and does not over-reach, while remaining staunchly and reasonably pro-organic. There are few other books on the topic I can say the same for.
All in all a good read about an important topic.