We live in a world of seeds. From our morning coffee to the cotton in our clothes, seeds support diets, economies, lifestyles, and civilizations around the globe. In The Triumph of Seeds, award-winning author and biologist Thor Hanson explores both the natural and cultural history of seeds - why they are so dominant in nature, and why we are so utterly dependent upon them. Spanning locations ranging from the rainforests of Costa Rica and Nicaragua to the spice routes of Kerala, The Triumph of the Seeds is a book of knowledge, adventure, and wonder. Essential reading for anyone who loves who loves plants, or who may have wondered how the chili got its spice, what puts the buzz in coffee, or how seeds have influenced everything from the voyages of Christopher Columbus to the Industrial Revolution to the shape of the human face.


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Basic Books
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The Triumph of Seeds:

how grains, nuts, kernels, pulses and pips conquered the plant kingdom and shaped human history

Basic Books, 2015

Thor Hanson - Author & Biologist

Listen to Thor talk seeds . . . 

Praise for The Triumph of Seeds . . . 

“[T]he genius of Hanson’s fascinating, inspiring and entertaining book stems from the fact that it is not about how all kinds of things grow from seeds; it is about the seeds themselves. Hanson...takes one of the least-impressive-looking natural objects and reveals a life of elegance and wonder.... Although he is a storyteller by nature, he also charms us with an infectious enthusiasm. The reader feels that Hanson cannot wait to tell us what comes next.... Like all good writers, he understands narrative – that a book, at its best, is a story, and that this one is built by spinning stories within stories. They are fun, sometimes they are funny, and they are always fascinating and readable.... [An] engaging book.”

—Mark Kurlansky, The New York Times Book Review

“[An] engaging book.... What makes The Triumph of Seeds more than a routine pop botany book is the way Mr. Hanson teases out the resonances between the ways that plants and humans use seeds.... [A] lively and intelligent book.”

—Richard Mabey, The Wall Street Journal

“[Hanson is] jocular and entertaining in his dispensing of remarkable facts about these little vessels of life-to-be.... From high-tech, high-security seed banks bracing for climate change to the story of the gum extracted from guar seeds that is used in everything from ice cream to fracking, this upbeat and mind-expanding celebration of the might of seeds is popular science writing at its finest."

Booklist (Starred Review)

“This is a charming book, inspired by Hanson’s forays into seed identification and dispersal with his young, seed-obsessed son.... Hanson’s twist of looking at human interactions with plants in their embryonic stage is new.... The Triumph of Seeds will engender thoughtful consideration of our joint future.”


“[A] delight. Composed in charming and lively prose, the book introduces readers to a variety of quirky figures – biologists, farmers, archaeologists and everyday gardeners – who have something profound to say about a seemingly mundane topic: those little kernels that, against tremendous odds, have managed to take root all around us.... The Triumph of Seeds is a remarkable, gentle and refreshing piece of work that draws readers further into the wide arms of the world and makes them grateful for it.”


“[A] delightful account of the origins, physiologies and human uses of a vast variety of objects that plants employ to make more plants.... A fine addition to the single-issue science genre.”


"Combining personal anecdotes with rich historical examples, conservation biologist Thor Hanson delves into the origins and evolution of seeds, explains their unique ability to equip new plants with the nutrients they need to gain purchase in their respective ecosystems, and describes their host of formidable defenses. Drawing connections between, for example, coffee beans and the Enlightenment and wheat shortages and the Arab Spring, Hanson deftly shows how seeds have also played an important role in human history."


"In The Triumph of Seeds, Thor Hanson offers the reader a smorgasbord of the science and lore of seeds.... Hanson, following the recipe developed in his acclaimed book Feathers, breathes life into the sometimes dry topic of seed biology by weaving a colorful tapestry of stories that entertain as well as inform.... The Triumph of Seeds is eminently readable. Hanson is a great story teller and writes in a conversational style, so reading the book is like having an extended conversation with an entertaining friend.... The Triumph of Seeds is a thoroughly fun read, perfect for anyone wanting an introduction to seeds or for those who enjoy lively natural history."


"Hanson, a wide-ranging naturalist and writer, explores, chapter by chapter, the many faceted aspects of seeds.... And throughout, he weaves his own tales from his gardening. I loved this book and learned a lot."

Statesman Journal

"Written in an engaging style, the book flows nicely; each chapter leads into the next, so the book is hard to put down."


"Hanson's cinematic accounts of his own research and his interactions with the experts behind his stories set this apart from other era-hopping historical narratives."

The American Gardener

"How do you summarize a book that traverses every continent, plumbs the depths of human and paleontological history and skims both the ocean waves and the dead silence of outer space? The Triumph of Seeds does just that, tracing the journey of seeds and making a case that he world as we know it is saturated with, and impossible without, seeds."

Desert News

“Hanson delivers botanical information with wit and imagination. How seeds nurture themselves with starch, proteins, and oils may be a prosaic affair, but Hanson enlivens the explanation of their diverse nourishment strategies by examining the components of an Almond Joy candy bar: coconut palm, cacao beans, almond, corn.”


“Lest you get the impression that Hanson’s book is all academic grit and gruel, be advised that he has thoroughly leavened his narrative with odd facts and fascinating digressions.”

Natural History

“Thor Hanson has taken the history and science of these little marvels and drawn out a fascinating account of seed culture. We should not forget the importance of seeds in the liquor cabinet, as well. From rye whiskey, to wheat vodka, to barley beer, it would be a lot harder to get drunk without our friends in the grain world.”

from "Best New Books to Read While Drinking"

Home Wet Bar

Hanson writes in that breezy, enthused, confident way of good American science writers, scattering stories and analogies like dandelion seed-puffs . . . Seeds are more interesting than they look. It is possible to look at one with the same sense of wonder as when looking at a tiger. Hanson tells you how, and why.

British Wildlife (UK)

“For the past fifty seven years I have relied on seeds for food and, throughout much of my horticultural career for earning a living. This new book has re excited my fascination for these wonderful living structures.... [I]nformative, yet readable.... [A] fascinating book.”

—Chris Allen, The Gardening Times (UK)

"An engaging and illuminating read."

Countryside (UK)

“If everything holds the secret story of the universe, can anything? Yes, Hanson, a biologist shows persuasively. Seeds can.... Almost everything in the living world is awesome and improbable if you think about it hard enough. That’s the author’s aim here: to get us to consider something as seemingly mundane as a seed for the complex marvel that it is.”

Maclean's (Canada)

“[A]n intriguing look at the acorns that grow into oaks, the orchid beans that flavor vanilla extract, and other ordinary seeds that affect the world, often in extraordinary ways.... [The Triumph of Seeds] is a mix of lively stories, adventure, natural history, botany and ecology.... Hanson’s book isn’t a ‘how-to,’ but it is a ‘don’t miss’ for naturalists, from amateurs to experts, or for anyone who enjoys growing plants from seeds.”

—HGTV Gardens

“Hanson does his job well. And in the end becomes one of my favorite kind of writers – the kind who can take something so seemingly (and perhaps deceptively) simple and so oven overlooked and make it not only relevant, but fun.... People who want to get students more interested in science would do well to read The Triumph of Seeds and take note: tell stories, combine science and technology with pop culture, art, and literature, have a sense of humor, be enthusiastic.”

Pop Matters

“[F]ast and fascinating prose.... Hanson, who has also chronicled feathers and gorillas, is a conservation biologist and Guggenheim fellow, and an ace dot-connector: He can draw a line between all the grain panics and crises and the tiny, miraculous structure of the seeds themselves, because he dives deeply into botany, economy and history. Also, he’s just plain fun.”

Denver Post

"A rip-roaring read."

—Robert Krulwich, Curiously Krulwich

“Who knew that seeds could be so thrilling and dangerous? Thor Hanson is a lively storyteller, a lyrical writer, and a quick wit. The Triumph of Seeds is more than an engrossing work of natural history. It's a compelling and highly entertaining journey, populated by scientists and historians, criminals and explorers, aviators and futurists. Following Hanson's global voyage is the best sort of armchair travel, because it is filled with wonder, poetry, and discovery.”

—Amy Stewart, author of The Drunken Botanist: The Plants That Create

the World's Great Drinks, a New York Times Bestseller 

“As he did in his phenomenal Feathers, Thor Hanson brings us the incredible world of seeds in a package as graceful and elegant as they are themselves, gift-wrapped in utterly seductive stories. I cannot recall a book I was so eager to finish, that I might begin it again.”

—Robert Michael Pyle, author of Wintergreen and Mariposa Road 

“If you eat seeds of any kind, you must read this book! Ecologist Hanson gives us a rich Darwinian view of how seeds came to be the most important nutritional resource for human as well as older than human species. He is at his best when we are in the field with him, learning like detectives the "whodunnits" of seed dispersal. You will never look a seed in the eye again without thanking Thor.”

—Gary Paul Nabhan, Franciscan brother and author of Enduring Seeds

and Food, Genes, and Culture 

“Thor has done it again. In a page-turner, he tells the stories of seeds, their ecology, evolution and histories and why each of us every day depends on, relies on, delights in or suffers from seeds. This book will change the way you think about your coffee, your chocolate or even just the weed growing stubbornly (from a seed) out of the crack in the sidewalk. Because seeds are everywhere, a reality that you will never forget again after reading this book.”

—Rob Dunn, author of The Wild Life of Our Bodies 

“This beautifully written book is a magnificent read. Every page is full of surprises and illuminating insights, illustrating the fascinating evolution of seeds, and their extraordinary impact on humans, past and present. A master storyteller, Hanson has created a first-rate natural history. When you reach the end of this page-turner, you will wish there were more … and you will never look at seeds in the same way.”

—Eric Jay Dolin, author of Leviathan: The History of Whaling in America

and When America Met China: An Exotic History of Tea,

Drugs, and Money in the Age of Sail