Ardent Audible listener with a long commute!
Amy Stewart just published the already much referenced “The Drunken Botanist: The Plants that Create the World’s Great Drinks” (2013).” I knew when I finished “The Drunken Botanist” I’d never settle for a badly made cocktail. Just yesterday, I was annoyed to see a “martini” menu at a well known chain restaurant (whose name resembles The Cheesecake Factory) listing only “vodka martinis”. Thanks to Stewart’s help, I made sure I got a real martini – made with gin.
“Wicked Plants: The Weed that Killed Lincoln’s Mother and Other Botanical Atrocities” (2009) is much shorter than “The Drunken Botanist”, and not quite as fun. There are no drink recipes in this one, but plenty of advice on what NOT to eat or drink.
In Stewart’s hands, each ‘wicked plant’ takes on a distinct personality. Some are bullying newcomers, like Japanese-native kudzu, which was imported for erosion control but is invading the American south. Some plants are deceptive, like foxglove. Used correctly, it produces the life saving digitalis. Used incorrectly, foxglove kills. It turns out the ubiquitous but much-maligned poinsettia plant is an irritant, not a poison.
I realized – and was quite disconcerted – that I am surrounded by poisonous plants. There are beautiful but poisonous oleander trees in my yard, I’m pretty sure I’ve seen hemlock in my yard, and, thinking back on it – as much as I loved pulling up and eating raw rhubarb as a child, I’m very lucky I’m here.
“Wicked Plants”, like Stewart’s “Wicked Bugs: The Louse that Conquered Napoleon’s Army and Other Diabolical Insects” (2011), is an A to Z encyclopedia of the bad boys of the natural world.
I wondered if I might have been better off with “Wicked Plants” in print so that I could see what Stewart was describing. I thought about it, and realized that if I had done that, I wouldn’t have had Colleen Marlo’s narration to tell me how to pronounce the names.
I’m not sure that I’ll buy “Wicked Plants” in text (I will buy “The Drunken Botanist” on paper for the recipes!), but it was definitely worth the listen.
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I focus on fiction, sci-fi, fantasy, science, history, politics and read a lot. I try to review everything I read.
This author tries very hard to express the stark realities of the energy issues facing the US and the world. He tries to cut through the hype regarding most green technologies and present the current realities. This involves a lot of numbers and predictions that are not the most fun to listen to.
The author’s main point is, given the expected world energy needs, the only viable primary source of energy is NtoN (Natural Gas transitioning to Nuclear). He gives detailed analysis of each alternative and demonstrates, while each may have a place, none of the alternatives, individually or in combination, can come close to meeting the enormous expected energy demands as the third world rushes to first world energy use.
The author tries to be careful with numbers but minorly cuts corners in favor of fossil fuels and does not do so for alternatives (except Nuclear). For Nuclear, the author does not fairly address the real safety concerns from spent fuel to melt downs.
The author does not, but should have, addressed fairly how unexpected and transformative new technologies like fusion, new energy storage technologies, new energy transmission technologies, or radical energy production or saving technologies might have on his assumptions. If history is any guide the unexpected will likely make a huge different in our energy outlook.
Occasionally the author is a snarky about people he disagrees with (which the narrator expresses quite well). I really dislike such snarkiness in a persuasive piece; more so when I agree with the author.
With all my nits, I would recommend this book to anyone who really wants to understand the energy issues we will face in the future. If you think a transition or solar and wind is currently reasonable, you should definitely read this book then run the numbers for yourself in Excel