Humble plants have long been the spur to economic growth, the key to political power, the tools of conquest, yet until Henry Hobhouse wrote this pioneering book, they had rarely warranted even a footnote in history.
For every two tonnes of sugar produced, a slave died: all to sweeten an Englishman’s cup of tea. Sugar was once a luxury, but by 1800, whole islands had been planted with it. Humble plants have long been the spur to economic growth, the key to political power and the tools of conquest, yet until Henry Hobhouse wrote this pioneering book, they had rarely warranted even a footnote in history. In Seeds of Change, they lie at the heart of six riveting dramas. Introducing us along the way to traders, politicians, slaves, scientists and farmers whose destinies were driven by ‘the seeds of change’, Hobhouse’s fascinating history maps out the far-reaching impact of agricultural industrialisation.
‘A mind-opener ... You cannot help but admire and enjoy the company of a man who takes such a novel and global view of history’
If pepper is not credited with much influence upon world affairs, neither are the plants that are the subject of this book. Who has ascribed enough significance to quinine, sugar, tea, cotton, or the potato? Other plants, too, have played their part in history, and are still doing so. Tobacco, for instance, an addiction which swept into fashion in some countries, was the essential import which corrected the chronic balance of payments deficit of the American colonies in 1774. Did it therefore finance the revolution? It is an attractive theory. But if tobacco had not existed, would not some other product – timber, grain for the West Indies, dried fish for southern Europe – have taken its place, as indeed happened after 1783? In our own time, the transfer of maize from America to Africa has helped to provide a staple food for perhaps a hundred million people, and is at least as significant to that continent’s history as the potato was to Ireland’s. But maize, unlike the potato in Ireland, has not always been grown to the exclusion of all other crops, and whereas the Irish were weaned away from the potato in the fifty years after the famine of 1845-6, the African maize story is still continuing.
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Review by smith54a on 10th Apr 2016
"I discovered this book too late in my teaching career! It definitely is one that every history teacher should know of and read as early as possible in their career, if not while studying for their de..." [read more]