by Stefano Mancuso
Publication Date: August 28, 2018
Do plants have intelligence? Do they have memory? Are they better problem solvers than people? The Revolutionary Genius of Plants—a fascinating, paradigm-shifting work that upends everything you thought you knew about plants—makes a compelling scientific case that these and other astonishing ideas are all true.
Plants make up eighty percent of the weight of all living things on earth, and yet it is easy to forget that these innocuous, beautiful organisms are responsible for not only the air that lets us survive, but for many of our modern comforts: our medicine, food supply, even our fossil fuels.
On the forefront of uncovering the essential truths about plants, world-renowned scientist Stefano Mancuso reveals the surprisingly sophisticated ability of plants to innovate, to remember, and to learn, offering us creative solutions to the most vexing technological and ecological problems that face us today. Despite not having brains or central nervous systems, plants perceive their surroundings with an even greater sensitivity than animals. They efficiently explore and react promptly to potentially damaging external events thanks to their cooperative, shared systems; without any central command centers, they are able to remember prior catastrophic events and to actively adapt to new ones.
I had high hopes for this one, and it started out really strong. But it lost its momentum after the first few chapters.
This is a translation from the original Italian, so I can’t be sure there’s not some explanation there, but the writing felt oddly defensive, as if it should have been titled In Defence of the Revolutionary Genius of Plants. It also fell in this weird middle ground of explaining what felt like super obvious basics in a very academic voice.
I admit there were some chapters I skimmed, but then things got interesting in chapters 4 and 5, although I got irritated by the failure of reasoning exhibited by the author – which is, to be fair, a very common one. The chapter concerned the symbiotic and sometimes manipulative relationship between some plants and animals and in the writing he mused on the motivation of the plant to develop such strategies. I hear/read this type of thing a lot and it drives me nuts; I always picture of room full of whatever – in this case acacias – sitting around pondering, with a whiteboard covered in figures in the background, plans for their future evolutionary development. I’m not schooled in science, but I do know that’s putting the cart before the horse.
I was back to skimming towards the end as there was a lot of general lecturing on how applications from the plant world can be applied to solve the industrial world’s problems. There’s a little tooting of his own horn too, but to be fair the Jellyfish Barge sounds incredibly cool. The last chapter on plants in space I skipped completely as I lacked the interest and the attention span to tackle it (it was short and I’m not sorry).
A beautifully made book, with some really good information but overall it was just not written (or perhaps translated) in an engaging enough way to keep me glued to the page.