Weeds of Britain – A Naturalist’s View
By Richard Mabey
Ecco $14.95, 324 pages
“We habitually think of weeds as invaders, but in a precise sense they are also part of the heritage or legacy of a place, and ancestral presence, a time-biding genetic bank over which out buildings and tinkerings are just an ephemeral carapace.”
A British naturalist, Richard Mabey is the modern-day counterpart of our Henry Thoreau. Though his focus is on weeds of the UK, he touches some of the similar weed topics of the American West and Australia. The twelve chapters are twelve essays, rather lengthy and verbose, involving philosophy, history, art, literature, environment, herbal remedies and, include many, many quotes from historic texts and even poetry. Though Mabey’s writing is good, the long, somewhat dry paragraphs and heavy wordings are not meant for light reading. Readers interested in the subject are likely to read a chapter (or part of one) at a time. This book is not for everyone yet those who enjoy Thoreau’s writing will certainly enjoy Weeds. The author weaves many stories into each chapter, making reading interesting, for example: how the obnoxious weed burdock gave a Swiss inventor the idea of developing Velcro and the investigation of the luxuriant weeds growing on after-the-war London bomb sites. Each chapter starts with a black-and-white pencil line drawing. Since the weeds are mostly British, many names you won’t find in our standard Webster dictionary. The book ends with a lengthy nine-page glossary of British plant names; Notes and References; and a thorough index.
Reviewed By George Erdosh