Book Review: The Revolutionary Genius of Plants: A New Understanding of Plant Intelligence and Behavior by Stefano Mancuso

I start by saying that if you read one fact book this year, read this one. It is inspirational and it makes you see the world differently. Bold statements, I know, but there is something special about this book. It goes beyond the facts. It is the passion for plants and what we can learn by studying them that seeps through every page. I’m in awe with this book. Okay, I’m partial. I’m a nature nut. But to be honest, so should you be too. It is the foundation we live on. Without plants and agriculture, we wouldn’t be standing here (or most probably sitting here.)

Stefano Mancuso is a neurobiologist, and in this book, he leads the reader to see the world through plants, starting from plants having memories despite having no brain like ours, moving to the need to adapt and defend against attackers without the ability to move like we humans do; to the fact that many plants have tricked us into cultivating them, hiding in the fields and mimicking to look like something else (for example rye, a big deal where I come from and to find out it was a weed initially and now we praise it being healthier than wheat); to the plant structure that is democratic (Mancuso goes as far as to argue that nature is, that we humans mistake it to be hierarchical, he uses bees as an example); to asking questions are plants more cunning than we give them credit for, do they happen to enslave humans and other animals through chemicals; to humans using their structure to model our houses (there is and was a lot to learn, the structure abilities of Victoria Amazonica has inspired from buildings to art and created passion like no other, also how about technology and algorithms, should they mimic how plants do their business, how they store memory and information and how loosing one part won’t be a catastrophe as it often is with animals); to the trouble of running out freshwater and asking if we could use salt water instead; to pondering about other food shortages and finally to the future of plants and how we can go exit and how they might help us with space travel. (Sorry about this lengthy recap. But I wanted you to get the idea. There is a lot of information tossed in the air and so much to grasp and run with.)

I hope you understand why I’m in love with this book. It made me see the world through plants, something which, despite appreciating and caring for them, I have overlooked as simple beings. I have to say I am ashamed. This is why I read fact books to expand my mind, to see the world past the blinders I have put to appreciate possibilities. And you can ignore all my blabbering and just concentrate on facts. This is a short yet informative book, well written and comprehensible, but doesn’t talk down on the reader. It is passionate, and the book branches to bee colonies and human decision making, which gives it additional salt. About those bee colonies, I can never look at bees the same ever again after this book. Their dancing holds more information and communication that I thought there to be. Nothing dirty, just democracy and information exchange at work.

But! Now comes the inevitable but. The book jumps around from one subject to another, never delivering what it promises, and that is scientific proof for plant intelligence. The argumentation is at best one research example to prove the point and then moving on quickly to seem like a plausible argumentation what is said holds true. It never finishes the thought through or show the whole picture or give a counter-argument to the facts laid on the pages. As much I found the book inspirational, eye-opening, and altering my being, taking the arguments as a general theory or proof isn’t possible. Yet, I still love this book. That is because for lighting my curiosity towards plant intelligence, towards all the possibilities I have overlooked in the world. So while I hope you read this book, I want you to keep in mind that this is not enough for a coherent thesis or proof of revolutionary intelligence, as the book proposes. There needs to be more. A thesis needs the dwell on the facts and counter-arguments. But I believe that wasn’t the book’s point, it was to kindle a fire in the mere readers like me and see plants in a new light. That it did.

Thank you for reading, have a plantlicious day!

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