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Weeds: In Defense of Nature's Most Unloved Plants Paperback – June 26, 2012

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Editorial Reviews


“Fascinating. . . . [A] loving tribute to the common weed.” (Associated Press)

“Entertaining. . . . [A] sprightly journey through horticultural history.” (Wall Street Journal)

“Wry and subtle. . . . Mabey argues without scolding, that at a time of great environmental change and uncertainty, weeds may soon be all we’ve got left.” (New York Times Book Review)

“Smart. . . . Mabey is at his best when he takes us along on his own weedy adventures.” (Washington Post)

“Like Michael Pollan in “The Botany of Desire,” Mabey shows that it is not at all clear here who is in charge, who has the moral high ground and who will survive long after the last weed has been pulled from the last over-tended suburban acre.” (Los Angeles Times)

“Excellent. . . . He tracks humanity’s ongoing tussle with weeds, all in prose that delights at every turn.” (Cleveland Plain Dealer)

“Elegant and thoughtful. . . . I may not turn the mower aside when I encounter the next thistly, pod-bearing stem. But I will stop, stoop and take a closer look.” (Dallas Morning News)

“A jaunty chronicle of botany and history that ventures from the first farm fields of Mesopotamia to the broken asphalt of our modern cities.” (Charleston Post & Courier)

“A lyrical, wise, witty, intimate musing about garden outcasts—and about us, too.” (Minneapolis Star Tribune)

“As witty and lively as it is comprehensive. . . . A stimulating sojourn with the world’s most fascinating and ingenious plants.” (Portsmouth Herald)

“Enchanting. . . . Weeds charms as much as it informs. . . . After reading this book, you will likely view the invaders in your own garden with a newfound respect; it’s quite possible you’ll find a bit of romance in them, too.” (Barnes & Noble Review)

“Weeds are often described as plants in the wrong place. In fact, explains Richard Mabey in this delightful and casually learned book, they are in precisely the right place for themselves: next to us.” (The Economist)

“Weeds may seem a soft subject for a book. Not so in the hands of Richard Mabey.... Mabey’s book... suggests that weeds may, in fact, have made civilization possible—and, with climate change, may keep the planet alive.” (Financial Times)

“Enlightening. . . . After reading this book, you’ll look down at the ground with more interest and appreciation—and think twice before pulling something out.” (New York Journal of Books)

“Captivating. . . . Mabey is a comprehensive guide who wears his learning as lightly as a dandelion seedhead. There’s no fluff here, though, only fascinating fodder for thought.” (BookPage, Lifestyle Column Top Pick)

“A charming paean to plants sometimes ignored and often detested.” (Science News)

“[W]onderful. . . . [P]resents a compelling case that weeds, the opportunists of the plant world, play a vital role in filling the empty spaces of the earth caused by natural disasters or human events.” (Washington Independent Review of Books)

“Outstanding. . . . An engrossing and captivating exploration of the tenacious, often beautiful, sometimes destructive, plants we designate as weeds.” (Shelf Awareness)

“A lively [and] fascinating tale of history and botany.... Mabey deftly argues that the world’s most unloved plants deserve our fascination and respect.” (Publishers Weekly (starred review))

“A loving and lyrical tribute... Mabey’s deft and spirited treatise on nature’s supervillains will have readers remembering A.A. Milne’s defense of weeds in Winnie the Pooh: ‘Weeds are flowers too, once you get to know them.’” (Kirkus Reviews)

“With a mixture of dry wit and serious science, Mabey’s provocative book . . . suggests an alliance with weeds—the plants that may save us in a time of global warming.” (Booklist)

“A readable, wide-ranging, carefully documented, and personal look at a group of plants not often written about in a sympathetic manner. Recommended.” (Library Journal)

“Witty and beguiling... You will never look at a weed, or flourish a garden fork, in the same way again.” (Richard Holmes, author of The Age of Wonder)

“Mabey’s personal, historical, and cultural viewpoint converts weeds into intellectually stunning wild flowers!” (Bill Streever, author of Cold)

“Fascinating [and] richly detailed... Weeds, Mabey makes clear, are a reflection of our own culture—perhaps, our own weediness.” (Carl Zimmer, author of Evolution)

From the Back Cover

Weeds are botanical thugs, but they have always been essential to our lives. They were the first crops and medicines and they inspired Velcro. They adorn weddings and foliate the most derelict urban sites. With the verve and historical breadth of Michael Pollan, acclaimed nature writer Richard Mabey delivers a provocative defense of the plants we love to hate.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Ecco; Reprint edition (June 26, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9780062065469
  • ISBN-13: 978-0062065469
  • ASIN: 0062065467
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #308,873 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Lynn Harnett VINE VOICE on July 17, 2011
Format: Hardcover
As witty and lively as it is comprehensive, British nature writer Mabey's history and celebration of weeds leads us through the botanical marvels, folklore, literary allusions, medicinal uses and human interaction with his country's (and the world's) most invasive and hated plants.

Many, of course, if not most, were introduced by humans, cultivated in gardens like the infamous kudzu vine or sowed for commercial purposes like the melaleuca tree from Australia which was introduced to the Everglades to "dry out the marshes sufficiently to grow crops and condominiums," and sucks up five times more water than native species.

One botanist managed to grow 300 species from the detritus gathered from his trouser cuffs. The Romans introduced medicinal species to Britain, which persist long after the Romans have gone. Weeds arrive in goods shipped by truck, ship plane or on the fur of your dog, and prove their ingenuity and opportunism wherever a niche arises, be it a concrete walkway or a roadside ditch. Weed seeds have been known to bide their time for years, centuries, even millennia, if need be.

They have developed abilities to mimic crops and even adapt to rotation, mowing, grazing animals and, of course, herbicides. They take advantage of war to colonize bombsites and other ruins. The retiring plant rosebay willow herb thrived on London rubble during World War II and "was christened `bombweed' by Londoners, most of whom had never seen the plant before." "A bindweed root or stem chopped into a hundred pieces by a frustrated gardener is simply the starting point for a hundred new plants." Which produce 600 seeds a year, germinating in summer and autumn, or maybe lying dormant for 40 years.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
How could one possibly fill nearly three hundred pages of prose about weeds...those ubiquitous throw-aways of nature? Richard Mabey can (and did) and his new book is terrific.

Set on a chronological course, "Weeds" is first and foremost a book of color. We tend to think of weeds as greenish, but Mabey points out the reds, blues, whites, yellows and purples that make up this collection of "aliens"...a word he uses frequently throughout. His book is largely central to the weeds of Britain (naturally, as he is British himself) but it is not confined to those sceptered isles. He speaks often of the weed invasion of the United States, which includes purple loosestrife in my native Connecticut...clogging ponds near my house...and that rampant kudzu in the American south. Coming across a large mass of kudzu one day in Georgia was, for me, like entering an old home turned inside out with cobwebs covering everything.

Each chapter is a prize. His comments on the relationship of weeds as parables from the book of Genesis is a wonderful way to get into the book and he continues through the highly superstitious Middle Ages where weeds were often named "devil" this and that. He also introduces the "Doctrine of Signatures", which was a forerunner to today's "intelligent design". Clearly, Mabey has no use for this other than its importance in an allegorical way.

There is so much here that it would be impossible to describe all the wonders of "Weeds". The author spends a good amount of time on Shakespeare and his use of plants in his plays. He mentions other writers who had differing views on weeds, delves into paintings across the centuries and admires poets who spoke roundly and often about this subject. (I was wondering if "In Flanders fields" would make an appearance here...
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Format: Hardcover
"Weeds, as a type, are mobile, prolific, genetically diverse. They are unfussy about where they live, adapt quickly to environmental stress, use multiple strategies for getting their own way. It's curious that it took so long for us to realize that the species they most resemble is us." -- Richard Mabey

It is in order to bring to mind the old days, with the downside of kids love of beaches, bursting with tiny sand crabs; while starfish, and sea weeds pause in the background. As a kid, I grew on the rocky shores of Alexandria, where weeds furnish a main part of the natural habitat. Early in the mornings I observed beach combers removing them away, to keep the sandy shore clean. Brought up faraway from the produce fields, this was my sole introduction into the botanic world, that oriented my attitude towards those unlucky species, usually defamed by farmers as weeds. It never occurred to me that we had anything in common. It was inexplicable to hear from British nature writer Richard Mabey, that we share with weeds close kinship, arousing my interest, attention, and speculation.

Weeds: In Defense of Nature's Most Unloved Plants, Richard Mabey's new book, advocates an enthusiastic defense of weeds. Plants eventually become weeds when they delay our projects, or obstruct our plans. But they can otherwise appear innocent, without blot or blemish. And while many of us may regard them as pests, he prefers to think of them as "vegetable guerrillas" and "forest outlaws." He says. "In earlier agricultural periods, people understood the relationship between what they did and the growth of the weeds that resulted," adding, "I think we've lost that because we're so distanced from plants generally. ... Why is this weed here? What is it doing?
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