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What a Plant Knows: A Field Guide to the Senses F First Edition Edition

157 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0374288730
ISBN-10: 0374288739
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Editorial Reviews


One of Amazon's Ten Best Science & Math Books of 2012

One of Chicago Tribune's Favorite Books of 2012

A Los Angeles Times 2012 Summer Reading Selection

"Of the dozens of books I read in 2012, several stand out. But there's one I keep coming back to, thumbing through it, letting people know about it. It's Daniel Chamovitz's What A Plant Knows: A Field Guide to the Senses . . . It's incredibly interesting material, presented in an entertaining and fun way — in about only 140 pages. What A Plant Knows is a nice fit on my shelf of gardening books — and that's where it will stay. Although I've recommended the book to several people, I've ungraciously not let them borrow my copy. I fear I won't get it back." —Chicago Tribune

"The reader...will find enough absorbing science to concede that plants continue to inspire and amaze us. It's time, as Joni Mitchell sang at Woodstock, 'to get ourselves back to the garden' and take a closer look at plants."—The Wall Street Journal

"This elegantly written account of plant biology will change the way you see your garden...Chamovitz lets us see plants in a new light, one which reveals their true wonder."—The Guardian

"Thick with eccentric plant experiments and astonishing plant science."—Sunday Times (UK) 

"Plants may be brainless, eyeless and devoid of senses as we know them, but they have a rudimentary 'awareness', says biologist Daniel Chamovitz. In this beautiful reframing of the botanical, he reveals the extent and kind of that awareness through a bumper crop of research."—Nature

“Like us, a plant that aspires to win the rat race must exploit its environment. Even a daffodil can detect when you’re standing in its light, and a rhododendron knows when you’re savaging its neighbor with the pruning shears. With deftness and clarity, Daniel Chamovitz introduces plants’ equivalent of our senses, plus floral forms of memory and orientation. When you realize how much plants know, you may think twice before you bite them.” —Hannah Holmes, author of Quirk and Suburban Safari

“Just as his groundbreaking research uncovered connections between the plant- and animal kingdoms, Daniel Chamovitz’s insights in What a Plant Knows transcend the world of plants. This entertaining and educational book is filled with wondrous examples that underscore how the legacy of shared genomes enables plants and animals to respond to their environments. You’ll see plants in a new light after reading What a Plant Knows.” —Gloria M. Coruzzi, Carroll and Milton Petrie Professor, Center for Genomics and Systems Biology, New York University

“If you’ve ever marveled at how and why plants make the choices they do, What a Plant Knows holds your answer. Chamovitz is a master at translating the science of botany into the language of the layman.” —Michael Malice, author, subject of Ego & Hubris, and succulent enthusiast

“Chamovitz walks the Homo sapiens reader right into the shoes—or I should say roots—of the plant world. After reading this book you will never again walk innocently past a plant or reach insensitively for a leaf. You will marvel and be haunted by a plant’s sensory attributes and the shared genes between the plant and animals kingdoms.” —Elisabeth Tova Bailey, author of The Sound of the Wild Snail Eatin

What a Plant Knows is lively, eloquent, scientifically accurate, and easy to read. I commend this engaging text to all who wonder about life on earth and seek a compelling introduction to the lives of plants as revealed through centuries of careful scientific experimentation.” —Professor Stephen D. Hopper, Director, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew

“By comparing human senses to the abilities of plants to adapt to their surroundings, the author provides a fascinating and logical explanation of how plants survive despite the inability to move from one site to another. Backed by new research on plant biology, this is an intriguing look at a plant's consciousness.” —Kirkus

About the Author

Daniel Chamovitz, Ph.D., is the director of the Manna Center for Plant Biosciences at Tel Aviv University. He has served as a visiting scientist at Yale University and at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, and has lectured at universities around the world. His research has appeared in leading scientific journals. Chamovitz lives with his wife and three children in Hod HaSharon, Israel.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Scientific American / Farrar, Straus and Giroux; F First Edition edition (May 22, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374288739
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374288730
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 0.8 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (157 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #309,948 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

71 of 80 people found the following review helpful By J. M. Lawniczak on June 14, 2012
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Nonscientists with an interest in plants, such as gardening enthusiasts, should read this book. It appears to be very scientifically based, indeed the noted popular science magazine, Scientific American, is the publisher. The theme is how plants sense and respond to their environment. The book thus explores how plants "feel" light and respond to it. Also discussed is plants' reaction to touch, as well as other stimuli. The book can be understood by the nonscientist, though there are parts that became a little too technical for me. In addition, the organization is a bit off and sometimes chapters seem to end in what I thought should have been the middle of a discussion, leaving me waiting, in vain, for more.

This book works very well in the Kindle version. There are footnotes, but tapping takes the reader back and forth. A real plus on a tablet connected to the Internet is that several of the footnotes have direct links to You Tube videos that actually show a short video picture of the described event. What book can do that? For example, there is a picture of the American dodder weed plant growing into a tomato plant to feed on it. The video of the Venus fly trap closing in on a fly and then on a frog is also very worthwhile. On the other hand, some of the links have hyphens in them, probably as they were in the book form, and this means that the links don't work and you have to go to a website and type in the link directly.

All in all a very interesting book, with some minor flaws that led me to give it four instead of five stars.
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35 of 39 people found the following review helpful By Smith's Rock on July 12, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
What a Plant Knows is a rare and beautiful piece of science journalism. Author Daniel Chamovitz's writing threads a needle with an aperture so fine that it is only rarely successfully accomplished: in elegantly simple language that is accompanied by a gentle sense of humor and deep integrity, he guides the reader to a new door of knowledge in a fashion that guarantees one will step through it. And once he/she steps through it, the reader's appreciation of what a plant can sense and remember (yes, remember, in a very specific sense) will be irrevocably altered.

This is not a dry and dusty tome. Though the phrase "I read it in a single sitting" more commonly applies to fictional thrillers (e.g. The DaVinci Code), it's applicable occasionally in science writing, and it's applicable to What a Plant Knows. Chamovitz, is a natural born teacher. When the reader wants to know "How the heck does a plant know which way is up, and which way is down?", Chamovitz refuses to plop the final answer out in one paragraph, instead, teasing the reader along the actual historical pathway that elucidates what we now know. And in so doing, he brings the full beauty of any given aspect of plant biology into focus, but ALSO brings to light the beauty and power of science that is well done; science done by people with a careful but insatiable need to know; science done by people whose need to be accurate exceeds their desire to prove their own theory right.

Chamovitz has the startling belief that the unvarnished truth is more fascinating than hyperbole, and hence What a Plant Knows is completely absent the hype and goofiness of The Secret Lives of Plants.
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29 of 32 people found the following review helpful By David Lee Heyman on July 2, 2012
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
As I was reading this book I couldn't help thinking back to my days in high school reading Lives of a Cell: Notes of a Biology Watcher. Both books are written with real science explained in a way that anyone can relate to and understand. In What a Plant Knows: A Field Guide to the Senses, Daniel. Chamovitz goes over the basic senses we relate to as humans (sight, touch, taste, smell, etc) and shows us how plants use similar functions in different ways. He explains why plants grow towards the light. We learn how plants understand they have been turned upside down and ensure that their roots continue to grow downward while their stalk grows upward. Daniel Chamovitz explains these phenomenon using examples and language that anyone from a high school student to a grandparent can easily understand. This book will become a classic for high school biology classes. It could be the handbook for many biology teachers that want to teach their students through reenactments of early botanical experiments. I highly recommend this book and anxiously await future books from the author.
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28 of 32 people found the following review helpful By ClaireK on July 8, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I first heard about this book from Robert Krulwich's blog (...) and immediately came to amazon and bought it. I have long been a proponent of the idea that plants with 475 million years of evolution behind them might be way more advanced than we humans expect. Chamovitz goes through what we humans recognize as our five senses and relates how plants have (or don't have) similar experiences. He also includes memory and proprioception (knowing where you are in space). I found the writing clear, engaging and understandable. He also includes links to on-line videos where you can see this stuff in action. I personally continue to wonder what senses plants have that we humans don't recognize. I bet they are formidable. If you are interested in plants, this is a book well worth reading! It opens up a whole new perspective.
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