Read The Cabaret of Plants: Forty Thousand Years of Plant Life and the Human Imagination by Richard Mabey Online


The Cabaret of Plants is a masterful, globe-trotting exploration of the relationship between humans and the kingdom of plants by the renowned naturalist Richard Mabey.A rich, sweeping, and wonderfully readable work of botanical history, The Cabaret of Plants explores dozens of plant species that for millennia have challenged our imaginations, awoken our wonder, and upturneThe Cabaret of Plants is a masterful, globe-trotting exploration of the relationship between humans and the kingdom of plants by the renowned naturalist Richard Mabey.A rich, sweeping, and wonderfully readable work of botanical history, The Cabaret of Plants explores dozens of plant species that for millennia have challenged our imaginations, awoken our wonder, and upturned our ideas about history, science, beauty, and belief. Going back to the beginnings of human history, Mabey shows how flowers, trees, and plants have been central to human experience not just as sources of food and medicine but as objects of worship, actors in creation myths, and symbols of war and peace, life and death.Writing in a celebrated style that the Economist calls “delightful and casually learned,” Mabey takes readers from the Himalayas to Madagascar to the Amazon to our own backyards. He ranges through the work of writers, artists, and scientists such as da Vinci, Keats, Darwin, and van Gogh and across nearly 40,000 years of human history: Ice Age images of plant life in ancient cave art and the earliest representations of the Garden of Eden; Newton’s apple and gravity, Priestley’s sprig of mint and photosynthesis, and Wordsworth’s daffodils; the history of cultivated plants such as maize, ginseng, and cotton; and the ways the sturdy oak became the symbol of British nationhood and the giant sequoia came to epitomize the spirit of America.Complemented by dozens of full-color illustrations, The Cabaret of Plants is the magnum opus of a great naturalist and an extraordinary exploration of the deeply interwined history of humans and the natural world....

Title : The Cabaret of Plants: Forty Thousand Years of Plant Life and the Human Imagination
Author :
Rating :
ISBN : 9780393239973
Format Type : Hardcover
Number of Pages : 384 Pages
Status : Available For Download
Last checked : 21 Minutes ago!

The Cabaret of Plants: Forty Thousand Years of Plant Life and the Human Imagination Reviews

  • Jim
    2019-07-05 17:26

    The introduction was long & full of fuzzy ideas. I'm interested in a scientific look at the plants & he drifts into poetry & criticizes a conservationist for using economic arguments! Ridiculous. Economics is a powerful drive & one that needs to be addressed to have any realistic hope. He's amazed that rare native species appeared along a track he bulldozed through his property. I find a lot amazing about that statement, but it's not the tenacity of the plants. He also mentions how a community of plants work together to survive as if they are thinking beings rather than opportunistic & symbiotic. Please! No, this isn't for me.I didn't care for the narration much either. Abandoned.

  • Book Riot Community
    2019-07-12 18:13

    Imagine if plants wrote their biography; it would be this book. Mabey takes readers through a fascinating look at our leafy green friends over the last 40,000 years. Even if you don't have a green thumb, you'll be amazed by what you learn. It's a beautiful-looking book, too - it would make a great gift!Tune in to our weekly podcast dedicated to all things new books, All The Books:

  • Michael
    2019-07-09 16:17

    Richard Mabey, noted British naturalist, has produced an impassioned plea for accepting plants on their own terms by demonstrating the diverse and still imperfectly understood life processes of plants that take place for the purposes of plants themselves rather than for those of humans. In the process, he documents the ways in which humans have incorporated plants into our own hubristic and anthropocentric view of the world. This intent is signaled in his working subtitle, "A Romantic Flora," which was expanded, perhaps by that most elusive of creatures, a talented editor, into "Forty Thousand Years of Plant Life and the Human Imagination." Mabey, the author of the quirky and strangely addictive Weeds: In Defense of Nature's Most Unloved Plants, presents his argument in the form of essay chapters, each replete with the erudition of one who read philosophy at St. Catherine's at Oxford but humanized by personal anecdotes of a lifetime of relationships with plants. Mabey's wonder at the incredible complexity of plants is infectious and invites the reader to learn more. To that end, he includes resources in the notes that will serve to lead down any number of rabbit holes for those who love plants.He does include a number of controversial opinions that deserve attention. Among those are his arguments that the current archaeological trend to regard some ecosystems (such as that of the Amazon basin) as largely human constructs do not give sufficient attention to co-evolutionary processes that over millions of years have produced elaborate collaborations of plants, insects, fungi, and mammals that make the ecosystems work; his contention that the current trend in the environmental movement (particularly among environmental scientists) to emphasize the "ecological services" provided by plants as their reasons for existence degrades plants to the role of servants of "higher" life forms (particularly humans); and his assertion that despite the significant contributions of plants to human life (in agriculture, horticulture, myth, medicine, art, etc.), they are life forms that deserve respect and understanding for their own unique characteristics wholly apart from any human utility they may have.Mabey is an engaging writer who has the ability to give us new perspectives on those (largely) green sedentary beings who form much of the background of our lives through intriguing historicalnarratives, personal anecdotes, and reports of scientific research. Highly recommended.

  • Andrea
    2019-07-11 11:19

    Can I possibly need more research on the subject after reading Mabey's wonderful book? This is a comprehensive and very enjoyable work on various species of plants and their relationship with mankind. If you would like to learn which trees possessed mystical characteristics for our ancestors, and which were suspected of having wondrous medicinal properties, this is great place to start. If you need to check a phrase "floral gangbang" off your literary bucket list, look no further. Lovely book that pays tribute to nature in all its weird, creative, and shameless glory.

  • Sophie Narey (Bookreview- aholic)
    2019-07-12 16:01

    Published 2015Author: Richard MabeyI received this book as a Christmas present after I'd seen an article about it in a magazine. I thoroughly enjoyed reading The Cabaret of Plants which was a combination of fact and myth I loved the vegetable lamb. There were illustrations dotted around which I thought complimented the book. Being an avid gardener this book was entertaining and informative. I'd not come across Richard Mabey before but will definitely check out his other works. If you enjoy finding out about the history of plants and trees this book is for you. It's easy to dip in and out.

  • Josh Friedlander
    2019-07-15 12:08

    A whole string of essays about cool plants: giant Amazonian water-lilies, ancient pagan yews, ferns, daffodils...I learned a lot, and Mabey's writing has flashes of inspiration. But it doesn't quite hold together. I wish there was a clearer theme, a direction for all of these sketches. But rather the overweening idea is, "PLANTS - they're quite something, huh?" Which is hard to disagree with.

  • Tuck
    2019-07-19 14:09

    huge overview and history of plants and humans, mainly, but not exclusively, from uk and westerns' perspectives, fun reading, great writer. wonderful color illustrations. end notes and references and additional reading and good picture credits pages and index,

  • Gill
    2019-07-08 11:17

    3.5, maybe 4stars. I'm not sure as yet! Well written, with some lovely pictures. The subject matter may interest others a bit more than it did me.

  • Andrew Cox
    2019-07-12 14:13

    It took me 2 attempts to read this book which shows how my own emotional wellbeing affects my reading. This was a Xmas present & when I started reading it I failed to engage with it at all. I did meet Mabey once. He is a great admirer of the poet John Clare, who I love. I was preparing to write my herbal medicine dissertation & was hoping to look at plants mentioned by Clare in his poetry & hoped Mabey could give me advice. He wasn't very helpful. One of the herbal medicine textbooks I often used was edited by Mabey & I thought he would be a supporter of herbal medicine. When I read "Nature Cure" I was expecting herbal medicine to be part of the cure. It wasn't. It is a lovely book. I read the chapter about Ginseng (in The Cabaret of Plants) & was infuriated. It was an attack on what he saw as the joke of the Doctrine of Signatures- the idea that the appearance of a plant signifies its medical properties. I am a herbalist & am very aware that this Doctrine is not as simple as Mabey suggests & is a very small part of herbal medicine & that Lungwort (Pulmonaria officinalis) is really helpful in chest complaints (its leaves look like lungs & have white milky dots which can appear like possible discolouration or problem in the lungs) Its appearance & its use are coincidental. Other plants have similarly shaped & coloured leaves & have no medicinal use. This turned me against the book. I was bored by the early chapters.After a few months I thought I would look at it again & was absolutely delighted by it. I will have to re read the first few chapters. Although Mabey attempts to write in a "scientific" manner the characters of the plants and his inquisitiveness & clarity of writing produce a wonderful read. Plants are simply fantastic and Mabey reflects this brilliantly. Do they possess intelligence, how do they adapt so well to a changing environment, what is their relationship with insects, who initiates these relationships. The plants are the stars of this book & Mabey reflects this beautifully & thought provokingly. This book is an absolute gem & enters the world of plants in a way that I have never read before. It goes beyond a scientific view & seems to accept that the world of plants can be beyond our understanding & that our imagination and our use of art adds to a world that hopefully we will never truly understand & that science cannot explain.

  • Candace
    2019-07-16 11:09

    A collection of naturalist essays on plants, how humans conceive of and interact with them through history, and how our understanding of plants are likewise limited by our own mammalian concepts of how our own senses work and what constitutes demonstrable intelligence.I greatly enjoyed many parts of this book, I poked away at it over a number of months, I don't think it needs to be read very quickly, as the chapters often stand alone. It is a very Euro/Victorian centred book in the sense that it spends a fair bit of time talking about when many of these plants were "discovered" (by Europeans) and given their taxonomical names. It's interesting to learn about, but bears mentioning, that it deals with humanity's conception of plants, but not quite from a wide range of cultural sources since all the essays are by one person.

  • Mr_wormwood
    2019-06-22 17:11

    a chapter on the Sequoias references a famous illustration, "Impromptu Ball on the Stump of a Sequoia”. The image is of a party of middle class Nineteenth Century Americans dancing, in full ball attire, on the stump of a tree that was estimated to be at least 1, 200 years old. It is truly an expression of everything disgusting at the heart of Western industrial capitalism

  • Mila
    2019-06-29 18:29

    Richard Mabey is my new favourite science writer. There is so much information here that I could re-read many times. I did jot down a few favourites while reading:- in Mexico there are 160 species of oak, 109 of which grow nowhere else.- Orchids grow in the Burren, County Clare, Ireland. If you go stay in the spa town of Lisdoonvarna.- 14,000 years ago plants crossed the land bridges which still joined Britain to the continent.- Ginseng is the original panacea- the vegetable mudfish - Samphire - a spine-free marine cactus, edible, treated like asparagus, grows in mud- Venus flytrap aka tipitiwitchet- painting olive trees is so difficult because of the way the light shines through the leaves constantly changes the colours- Victorian's were crazy about ferns- the Amazon lily sounds awesome with its enormous circular leaf that children can stand on- the huge stinky Titan Arum- the Vegetable Lamb - a myth that a plant was part animal (cotton)- Wordsworth's daffodils may have been found by his sister- the Green Men (faces on trees)

  • Darcy
    2019-07-02 12:03

    As a fiction writer, I love to read some non-fiction every now and then. I also find plants fascinating. This book indulged both of these interests. Richard Mabey has florid prose, but his love of plants and enthusiasm shines through; he questions the modern commoditization of nature, of how humans see plants and plant intelligence. He has picked fascinating examples of plants that have defied what humans believe plants should be and he has explored our historical relationship with fauna. He also has a love of botanical art and photography, leading to riveting anecdotes. It took me a while to get through this weighty tome, but I think that's probably because it is packed with information to digest before moving on. As said, the prose are flowery (appropriately so perhaps) and the illustrations are beautiful. It is a book you could easily dip in and out of, but I enjoyed reading it from start to finish.

  • Henrique Maia
    2019-07-17 15:02

    This book covers a very interesting, though not much explored, subject of the history of how humanity came to perceive plants and their roles. This, in some sense, is a history of botany, but taken in a much broader sense of how societies understand plants. As the subtitle suggests, the book focus on the human perspective of plants, with many tales of discoveries and fascinations, fads, and the personalities behind such events. If you read it expecting to have plants as the main characters, this will be disappointed. But that you probably know. If this is a book about the forty thousand years of plant life and the human imagination, it comes with little surprise that this will focus on the human dealings with plants. If you like plants; and if you like to discover how humans have changed their perceptions about these fascinating yet so strange living things, this book will definitely entertain you as well as enlighten you on this subject.

  • Shonna Siegers
    2019-06-24 16:25

    This book had some great chapters! The introduction and conclusion were fantastic. And while some chapters helped solidify his thesis, often the authors focus didn’t always seem to follow the thread. Due to this there it took me much longer to get through this book. However, I love his desire to show us that plants are not simply the ‘furniture of the earth’ but are autonomous beings in their own right with their own agendas. Their value therefore is not simply in the service or beauty they may provide us, but they have value for themselves, of themselves whether we existed or not!

  • Onceinabluemoon
    2019-07-02 11:05

    2.5 bumped into this while searching for garden books and thought give it a try.... one word, DRY! At first I was excited with that rare sketch of peoplopsis, put a fast smile on my face but it was quickly down hill from there. Ended up skimming to my favorites, great idea of a book but writing left me cold, I love gardening too much to have to drone on 😟

  • Cellularluminescent
    2019-06-26 13:21

    I decided to take this as a slow read. Picking up when I felt like it. Now I can't get enough of other plants the Victorians obsessed about, yews and what other botanical histories I am missing. This won't disappoint if you love horticulture and plant obsessions.

  • Ann
    2019-07-08 18:16

    I was expecting something more like a history of plant discoveries. This is some nice stories of humans finding, coveting, and trying to grow plants in the wrong climate. Some interesting stories and interesting science.

  • megan donaldson
    2019-06-30 17:26

    Incredibly well written and I enjoyed each segment. I started it in audiobook form and finished with book in hand. I enjoyed the illustrated plates and learning the details. I have always loved history and enjoy my garden and this was a solid cumulation of them both.

  • David R.
    2019-07-13 14:06

    Interesting but on the tedious side.

  • Rochelle March
    2019-07-20 15:28

    Great chapters on old, respectable trees and my favorite botanical artist, Margaret Mee, but much of the book was slow and detailed - similar to Swan's Way, beautiful but paced.

  • Marcus Thompson
    2019-06-25 17:17

    An Oxbridge toff's flowery ego wank.

  • Rebecca Stevenson
    2019-06-24 17:26

    A deeply enjoyable read--wide ranging and deftly written for a lay reader.

  • Jola Cora
    2019-06-30 17:04


  •  Atuabnaq
    2019-07-18 16:08

    If I was to map how much I liked the book over time it would be like a wave. Some of the chapters were dragging a bit while some of the others were more interesting. I liked the chapter on Orchids, maybe I should find something about Orchids.

  • Suzie Grogan
    2019-07-06 16:23

    Loved this as I have loved much of Richard Mabey's work, but there was a tad too much plant classification in this to make it a really comfortable read for me. He writes so well, with such deep know,edge and attachment to plants and our relationships with them that it is irresistible nonetheless...

  • Kaleb Lund
    2019-07-15 16:19

    I kind of have a love-hate relationship with this book. On the one hand, Richard Mabey does a good job of arguing that it’s not always fruitful to interpret the ways of plants through human eyes. Rather, we need to let plants speak for themselves and meet them where they root so to speak. In the opening chapter he supports this argument in the justification of the title, that it is a Cabaret that we are witnessing - plants do plant things and we are mostly an audience. The rest of the book explores specific human-plant relationships from the development of maize to the Victorian orchid craze. I did like many of these little vignettes and learned a few things here and there. I especially liked the exploration of the Yew trees of England and later the interesting journey of the giant pond lily. Did you know that these giant leaves can support children like rafts and that first glass-houses were designed based on its leaf structure? Like I said, there’s some neat stuff in here, but now for the hate part.So my biggest beef with this book is that it is soooooo British. Not in a hip 21st century British way, but in the early 20th century snobbish aristocrat kind of way. Mr. Mabey tries really hard to pretend that he is into modern sensibilities about how we view nature and the direction that natural sciences are going, but through it all you can just feel that he is still a product of a colonial style England. Maybe it is just a difference in styles between the two of us, where I allow my enjoyment of nature to take on a kind of spiritual reverence, for Mabey it is a mistake to indulge in such fancies and detracts from the reality. I like hug and dance with trees, but Mr. Mabey seems to think we are in a dance, but that we shouldn’t touch (very British). This is pretty well illustrated when Mabey describes his confusion over Wordsworth’s “I wandered lonely as a cloud,” because daffodils don’t actually dance…I mean, really?!So, it is an interesting book and maybe I’m just showing my own version of modern snobbery. Like I said, there are some interesting things in this book, but the language and feel were a little off to me.

  • Steven
    2019-06-22 15:02

    Some of the most artistic science writing I've ever read. Mabey is an excellent naturalist and writer, able to switch seamlessly from describing complex biological processes to waxing poetic on the details of a tree or flower. The book opens with humanity's first attempts at capturing images of plants, and moves on to catalog the many ways we interact with plants, in science and in art. Interspersed are brief chapters highlighting a particular species that illustrates this long-running relationship. The focus is on British flowers and trees, although the book covers plants world-wide. And the chapter on orchids clearly showed that they have a special hold on the author. Not on me, so much, but Mabey's knowledge and passion really rang through, which as a reader I always appreciate.It's hard to categorize this book. I enjoyed it, but it took me a while to get through. It moves from story to vignette in an almost dreamy kind of way (to me), that made it hard for me to focus. But I loved reading about all the plant hunters, botanists and artists who've been obsessed by plants and have tried to find, grow and depict them.From a physical standpoint, this book was illustrated with full-color cut illustrations scattered throughout. Quite nice and way better than sections of plates. However, the paper seemed rather fragile. The tiniest of drip of condensation from a water bottle did an alarming bit of damage.

  • JQAdams
    2019-06-30 12:20

    "People are too anthropocentric when they botanize" possibly is a worthy theme for a book, but it doesn't really work here. That might be because Mabey wanders away from that theme for long stretches, but it was equally uncompelling that the book doesn't always seem to believe it himself. If Mabey likes authors who think anthropocentrically, he condones or even celebrates their thoughts, but other people can say very similar things and for whatever reason he'll be sternly dismissive. He definitely thinks anthropocentrism is more acceptable if you're non-Western. "Colonial" is one of his bitterest insults, which seems to build to a different book than this purports to be.As a collection of loosely related meditations on plants and how they are perceived in the culture -- each chapter is devoted to a different species or two -- the book did occasionally toss off some interesting material: learning about the Victorian fad for ferns does at least suggest something about how "Fern" became a semi-common name. But mostly, despite its sheaf of very strong reviews, the book seemed like homework to me, and not even educational homework at that. It may just be that my horticultural interests do not align well with Mabey's. The chapters are quite variable in length, and it happens that I found some of the longer ones (primulas and yews leap to mind; Mabey is at times very, very British) to be the least interesting in the book.

  • Joy
    2019-07-10 11:12

    580 Mabey 2/20/2016 nonfiction Very readable.. Mabey also wrote a previous book: Weeds: In Defense of Nature's Most Unloved Plants pg 335 a discussion of plant intelligence "indisputably communal is happening underground in the bush telegraph of root systems." "..ecologist called a 'wood-wide-web' the more mature trees were using the net to nourish the most shade-compromised seedlingspg 342 message of this book ..plants are never simple victims, passive objects, but vital, autonomous beings, and that listening to and respecting that vitality is the best way we can co-exist with them, and in very difficult times, learn to help them."Makes me think again of Avitar (the movie with the TREE that all beings were connected to. also in the Hobbit..when the forest came alive.