Flowers: How They Changed the World

William C. Burger, Author . Prometheus $23 (337p) ISBN 978-1-59102-407-1

Behind its provocative title stands an engaging and beautifully written look at how flowering plants, over more than 100 million years, have "transformed terrestrial ecosystems, supported the origin of primates, and helped us humans become the masters of our planet." In a short but sweet overview that can be enjoyed by laypeople and scientists alike, Burger, curator emeritus in the Department of Botany at Chicago's Field Museum, delivers a perfect match to his earlier work, the well-received Perfect Planet, Clever Species . Burger begins with the specifics of what actually defines a flowering plant—a group that, as some readers will be surprised to discover, doesn't include the bougainvillea or dogwoods (which Burger calls "pseudo-flowers"), but does include the carrot and grasses. He then deftly explores the ways in which plants are "particularly challenged" in defending themselves from plant eaters; how early insect-eating primates began to climb trees in search of insects, whose numbers grew in flowering trees; and how flowering plants provide a huge portion of human nutrition. Burger convincingly argues that, while plants have changed the world, it's now time for humans, who have gained so much from plants, to protect their future existence. Illus. not seen by PW . (Apr.)

Reviewed on: 02/06/2006
Release date: 05/01/2006
Genre: Nonfiction
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