Hybrid: The History and Science of Plant Breeding

Hardcover | October 15, 2009

byNoel Kingsbury

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Disheartened by the shrink-wrapped, Styrofoam-packed state of contemporary supermarket fruits and vegetables, many shoppers hark back to a more innocent time, to visions of succulent red tomatoes plucked straight from the vine, gleaming orange carrots pulled from loamy brown soil, swirling heads of green lettuce basking in the sun.

With Hybrid, Noel Kingsbury reveals that even those imaginary perfect foods are themselves far from anything that could properly be called natural; rather, they represent the end of a millennia-long history of selective breeding and hybridization. Starting his story at the birth of agriculture, Kingsbury traces the history of human attempts to make plants more reliable, productive, and nutritious—a story that owes as much to accident and error as to innovation and experiment. Drawing on historical and scientific accounts, as well as a rich trove of anecdotes, Kingsbury shows how scientists, amateur breeders, and countless anonymous farmers and gardeners slowly caused the evolutionary pressures of nature to be supplanted by those of human needs—and thus led us from sparse wild grasses to succulent corn cobs, and from mealy, white wild carrots to the juicy vegetables we enjoy today. At the same time, Kingsbury reminds us that contemporary controversies over the Green Revolution and genetically modified crops are not new; plant breeding has always had a political dimension.

A powerful reminder of the complicated and ever-evolving relationship between humans and the natural world, Hybrid will give readers a thoughtful new perspective on—and a renewed appreciation of—the cereal crops, vegetables, fruits, and flowers that are central to our way of life.

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Disheartened by the shrink-wrapped, Styrofoam-packed state of contemporary supermarket fruits and vegetables, many shoppers hark back to a more innocent time, to visions of succulent red tomatoes plucked straight from the vine, gleaming orange carrots pulled from loamy brown soil, swirling heads of green lettuce basking in the sun. Wit...

Noel Kingsbury is a horticulturalist and writer, and the author of many books, including Designing with Plants and Natural Gardening in Small Spaces, and coeditor of Vista: The Culture and Politics of Gardens.

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Format:HardcoverDimensions:512 pages, 9 × 6 × 1.7 inPublished:October 15, 2009Publisher:University Of Chicago PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0226437043

ISBN - 13:9780226437040

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Extra Content

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments

A Note on Names

Introduction

Part One

From the Birth of Agriculture to the Birth of Genetics

One. Origins: The Domestication of Plants

Two. Landraces: Bedrock of Traditional Agriculture

Three. “Improvement”: The Agricultural Revolution

Four. Vegetable Mules: The Beginnings of Deliberate Breeding

Five. Empire: Globalization in Earnest

Six. Breakthrough: Gregor Mendel

Seven. Germination: Mendelism and Plant Breeding in the Early Twentieth Century

Eight. Luther Burbank: Miracle Worker or Charlatan?

Nine. “Let History Judge”: Plant Breeding and Politics in the USSR

Part Two

Flowering of a Technology

Ten. Hybrid! Corn and the Brave New World of F1­ Hybridization

Eleven. Cornucopia: Genetics Opens up the Horn of Plenty

Twelve. Green Revolution: Can Plant Breeding Feed the World?

Thirteen. Ornament: Furnishing Our Gardens

Fourteen. Ownership and Diversity: Issues of Property Rights over Plant Genetic Resources

Fifteen. Conclusions

Technical Notes

Bibliographic Essay

Works Cited and Consulted

Index

Editorial Reviews

"A novel might be hard pressed to imagine some of the incredible stories covered in this book."