three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
55-Nov-Dec-2011
user_rating: 
0

In Defense of Nature's Most Unloved Plants

A-WeedsWidely regarded as one of Britain's foremost nature writers, Richard Mabey tackles the bane of gardeners everywhere: weeds.

The Topic: There's more to weeds than meets the eye, at least according to Richard Mabey, who explores the folklore, history, and biology of weeds. Mabey interviews weed experts and discusses the impact of weeds from almost every angle imaginable. In the span of a few pages, Mabey discusses Shakespeare's views on weeds and the role of weeds in art, and then how weeds can either establish an ecosystem--or completely destroy one. Mabey leaves no stone unturned in an effort to further his--and the reader's--understanding of this much-maligned class of plants, which has spread with the advent of technology, agriculture, war, and other human activities. Indeed, the story of this pesky plant, he concludes, mirrors our own history.
Ecco. 336 pages. $25.99. ISBN: 9780062065452

Cleveland Plain Dealer 4 of 5 Stars
"[T]his is an excellent volume for anyone interested in green lore. Mabey offers a potpourri of weed-related philosophy, literature, theology, magic, science and history. He tracks humanity's ongoing tussle with weeds, all in prose that delights at every turn." Kristin Ohlson

Florida Today 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Mabey can spin both frightening yarns about some species and laugh-out-loud stories about his adventures--and those of others--in the wonderful world of weeds. But his admiration for the ability of weeds to survive natural disasters, human destruction, climate change and almost every eradication effort ever launched against them is the main reason to read this fascinating book." Mary Foster

Washington Post 3.5 of 5 Stars
"[Mabey] makes a case for allowing invasive plants to remain in cities, which represent a relatively new kind of ecology anyway, one to which tougher, more aggressive plants might be well-suited. ... Mabey is at his best when he takes us along on his own weedy adventures." Amy Stewart

Wall Street Journal 3 of 5 Stars
"Readers may want to keep a comprehensive, illustrated wildflower guide by their side as they read Weeds. They must also be patient. Mr. Mabey waits until the final chapter to spell out the rationale behind the book." Bill Laws

NY Times Book Review 3 of 5 Stars
"One's back aches in sympathy for the author's exhaustive digging through ancient texts, medieval solstice rituals and the botany of Shakespeare. ... Things pick up--for this reader, at least--with the arrival of weeds as a metaphorical stand-in for Commies and a lively deconstruction of the botano-apocalyptic Day of the Triffids." Elizabeth Royte

Critical Summary

Few critics disputed Mabey's choice of an incredibly difficult subject to discuss, and all applauded his efforts. They primarily divided, however, on how effectively Mabey manages to keep a long treatise on weeds entertaining for the general reader. There are parts here that are, well, not so interesting to those not already captivated by the subject. Even so, every reviewer was impressed with Mabey's ability to introduce engaging, diverse, and global perspectives on a limited topic.