Book Review: The Seed Detective by Adam Alexander
Originally posted on 12 Feb 2023
- Title: The Seed Detective: Uncovering the secret histories of remarkable vegetables
- Author: Adam Alexander
- Year: 2022
A book about the history of vegetables? Yes, please! I tend to enjoy works like this (Beans by Ken Albala, Cod and Salt by Mark Kurlansky, The Taste of Empire by Lizzie Collingham, etc.). I’ve read several more over the years, so I tend to have a pretty good grounding in what veggies came from where and how, but it’s always fun to read more.
This book, though, wasn’t that much fun for me. It was more memoir than pop culinary history, which isn’t what I was looking for. The author gets to travel the world for his job (film maker) and visit a lot of local markets in the process. That’s nice; I don’t care. Tell me about the vegetables in general, not about the ones you choose for your garden.
He does go into the history a bit, but his interest is more on the side of botanical breeding than anthropology. This leads to sections that are reminiscent of Homer’s catalogue of ships or Old Testament list of who begat whom. The author’s consistent use of botanical names didn’t help with this. While more accurate and technically correct, I feel it also made the content less approachable for much of the potential audience.
There are people whose interests intersect more closely with the author’s botanical inclination who will enjoy this book. I found myself largely bored and learning very little new information about the origins of vegetables.