Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Joe Pappalardo's SUNFLOWERS: THE SECRET HISTORY Reviewed in American Gardener Magazine

Joe Pappalardo's Sunflowers is reviewed in the current issue of American Gardener: "It's not often that a single-topic horticulture book can spur much interest beyond those who love the plant. However, confessed sunflower stalker Joe Pappalardo packs much more than the botanical aspects into what he calls "the unauthorized biography of the world's most beloved weed." The author's fascination with his subject—from the flower head's logarithmic spiral (the most efficient way to pack the maximum number of seeds in an area) to bits of history such as the sunflower's role in Hitler's invasion of Russia during World War II—is reflected in his engaging prose. The reader can't help but be drawn in as Pappalardo paints a compelling picture of just how integral sunflowers are to our everyday lives. A veteran science journalist, the author applied the same research skills he's used at Popular Mechanics, the Smithsonian's Air & Space magazine, and Time to uncover a wealth of sunflower science and lore. His obsessive research revealed that these plants can "lay legitimate claim to participation in all sorts of historical events and the actions of all kinds of famous characters." For example, Pappalardo relates how NASA used sunflowers to prove one of Charles Darwin's theories in Spacelab during the 1960s and how Osama bin Laden used sunflowers to fund al-Qaeda. The book also brings the unsung heroes and behind-thescenes characters into the light. These include many of the Sunflower People, as he calls them, "those who have dedicated their lives to the plant." Among these are plant hunters stalking rare species, and scientists at the United States Department of Agriculture working to track down, catalog, store, and preserve more than 3,000 sunflower species. If you are a science, history, or trivia junkie, this book is for you. Add the horticultural component, and any plant lover will enjoy this "sunflower's-eye view of humanity," despite the lack of photography aside from a few grainy, black-and-white photos. Therein lies my only complaint about the book, but it did not outweigh my appreciation for Pappalardo. captivating, well-documented research and breezy, easy-to-absorb writing style." —Doreen G. Howard.

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