66 of 75 people found the following review helpful
on June 14, 2012
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.
32 of 35 people found the following review helpful
on July 12, 2012
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. You won't, after reading this book, find yourself crooning your favorite songs to your tomato plants (plants, Chamovitz convincingly demonstrates, really are deaf). But despite the fact that Chamovitz eschews sensationalism, what he says about the sensory life of plants, and what a plant can "know" and "remember" (the author very carefully defines what he means by those terms) is indeed both fascinating and sensational.
The book is just plain fun. Besides getting to learn terrific words like statoliths (essential for a plant to know which way is up, which is down), Chamovitz ups the relevancy factor multiple notches by linking the knowledge he presents to the reader with real life applications. He, for example, lets us know just how it is that flower growers get boat loads of chrysanthemums to bloom just in time for Mother's Day. Growers of Northern California's inhalable cash crop use this knowledge in what they call their "light dep" (light deprivation) season.
Plants, front and center, are the rock stars of this fascinating book. But also in starring roles are the folks that quietly, carefully, and with determination, track down the truth about the way our world works: scientists. They look good in this book. And so does science. Chamovitz's gentle, firm, funny, exploration of what tricks that plants have up their sheaves is full of integrity and passion. Treat yourself to it.
28 of 31 people found the following review helpful
on July 2, 2012
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.
26 of 30 people found the following review helpful
on July 8, 2012
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.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on September 19, 2012
This is a short book but very informative. You don't have to be schooled in botany to understand it. After reading this, you might think twice about what's growing in your garden or in the forest behind your home. Each chapter is dedicated on what a plant senses and provides research. That's right--a plant can sense. It can actually feel you touching it, and even' smell' aromas in the air. It even possesses a kind of memory. Whether you're just curious on the subject, or someone who loves to garden, or studying botany...this is a great book to have.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on April 14, 2014
Whether you're a scientist, or just curious about how plants do some of the amazing things they do, this book has more than enough to keep you entertained. The book is organized in chapters that represent the different senses: Smell, Taste, Hear, Feel, Memory... However, instead of just harping on about how plants are able to do some of the things we associate with sight, for example, Chamovitz instead breaks down how we perceive sight and then how some of the same proteins that allow us to perceive photons are also present in plants, and how this would allow the plant to interact (grow towards the light) with its environment. This book is NOT a quackery that tries to anthropomorphize plants. It instead breaks down plants, and animals as well, into key molecular functions that make it a living being. That's not to say that there isn't beauty within each chapter. The fact that we're surrounded by stationary organisms that can detect chemicals that tell them to ripen (smelling), that grow towards the light (sight), that fold up when touched (touch), and can remember previous stresses (sometimes even in the next generation), is not only remarkable, it is beautiful. Chamovitz uses science to communicate beauty, bringing life to a remarkable kingdom most of us barely take time to notice, and fascination to all the readers.
This is a short, simple read, filled with wonderful molecular biology, plant anatomy and physiology, and scientific history. The book is appropriate for all ages: inspiring scientific curiosity in younger readers, as well as awakening dormant fascination and query in some of the older readers.
I'm a graduate student in Genetics working with plants and I loved this book.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
The best two popular science books I've read this year are Tim Birkhead's Bird Sense: What It's Like to Be a Bird (Walker, 2012) and Daniel Chamovitz's What a Plant Knows: A Field Guide to the Senses (Scientific American, 2012). Both are models of good popular science. The authors are eminent in their fields: Birkhead teaches and does field study in and around New Zealand, Chamovitz directs the Manna Center for Plant Biosciences at Tel Aviv University. They provide solid and up to date information on cutting edge subjects; they write crisply and succinctly; they are generous in acknowledging the work of fellow scientists. (Darwin emerges -again--as a giant for his pioneering work in plant science.)
Chamovitz's summary of the work in plant biology should put to rest forever the notion that plants thrive on Mozart and wilt under a dose of Jimi Hendrix's Band of Gypsies, because, as he attests, the one sense plants do not have is hearing. But plants do bend toward light, Venus flytraps snap shut on bugs that land on their leaves and exceed a certain length (which means there is more meat in them), and leaves curl when touched, sense certain smells and react to them, and reorient themselves toward up and down when turned. Plants are not intelligent, Chamovitz cautions, but they are aware. Both books are a pleasure to read and the conclusions reached are intriguing.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on December 13, 2012
My father is elderly and lives at a California Veterans home and this book made him so happy. He couldn't stop talking about it. He said it's one of the most fascinating books he's ever read.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
"She turns away, towards the sun, though her roots hold her fast, and, altered, loves unaltered. She finished speaking: the wonderful tale had charmed their ears!" --Ovid, Metamorphoses
"What a plant knows," is an amazing intellectual pilgrimage with an informing guide. An uplift from the applied sciences we react with every minute through our i-phones, intelligent cars, and 3 D games that enslave our youngsters, up to the conscious living universe that encloses us, silently but miraculously. We are so busy with daily shores that we cannot perceive our habitat sharing lives.
I studied cybernetics with a Noble Laureate, and realized how nature offers sophisticated cycles sensors, those which trigger plants flowering in spring, or shedding leaves during fall. Since we learned in high school, a plant continues orientating towards light, to satisfy 'its' need to grow by photosynthesis. Daniel Chamovitz is opening readers eyes, in an articulate, wonderful and logical way, to the conscious universe.
In the book's Prologue, the author expresses his 'interest' to reveal the parallels between plant sensory mechanisms and human senses. He starts by drawing our attention to plants sophisticated and complex sensory elements, to accommodate them to a fixed place places, and environment. Much of his inspiring surprise was when discovering that plant genes are part of the human DNA profile, replication and sequencing.
Chamovitz selective headings of book essays, make us realize how aware plants are, provoking our curiosity, and their informing contents keep readers interested and engaged. Whatever a plant sees, smells!, feels, and hears may be novel knowledge, for a technologist, but concludes in what she (no it anymore) remembers, since we accept that for a computer. It is challenging to our intelligence, that plants know or can identify colors or otherwise. Amazing book, and informing author!
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on September 6, 2012
This book deepens our understanding of the plant kingdom and its relationship to the environment and to us. Indeed, it can change the way you define "life." It is informative and a pleasure to read - filled with surprises for the lay reader. Highly recommended.