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Amy Stewart just published the already much referenced “The Drunken Botanist: The Plants that Create the World’s Great Drinks” (2013).” I knew when I finished “The Drunken Botanist” I’d never settle for a badly made cocktail. Just yesterday, I was annoyed to see a “martini” menu at a well known chain restaurant (whose name resembles The Cheesecake Factory) listing only “vodka martinis”. Thanks to Stewart’s help, I made sure I got a real martini – made with gin.
“Wicked Plants: The Weed that Killed Lincoln’s Mother and Other Botanical Atrocities” (2009) is much shorter than “The Drunken Botanist”, and not quite as fun. There are no drink recipes in this one, but plenty of advice on what NOT to eat or drink.
In Stewart’s hands, each ‘wicked plant’ takes on a distinct personality. Some are bullying newcomers, like Japanese-native kudzu, which was imported for erosion control but is invading the American south. Some plants are deceptive, like foxglove. Used correctly, it produces the life saving digitalis. Used incorrectly, foxglove kills. It turns out the ubiquitous but much-maligned poinsettia plant is an irritant, not a poison.
I realized – and was quite disconcerted – that I am surrounded by poisonous plants. There are beautiful but poisonous oleander trees in my yard, I’m pretty sure I’ve seen hemlock in my yard, and, thinking back on it – as much as I loved pulling up and eating raw rhubarb as a child, I’m very lucky I’m here.
“Wicked Plants”, like Stewart’s “Wicked Bugs: The Louse that Conquered Napoleon’s Army and Other Diabolical Insects” (2011), is an A to Z encyclopedia of the bad boys of the natural world.
I wondered if I might have been better off with “Wicked Plants” in print so that I could see what Stewart was describing. I thought about it, and realized that if I had done that, I wouldn’t have had Colleen Marlo’s narration to tell me how to pronounce the names.
I’m not sure that I’ll buy “Wicked Plants” in text (I will buy “The Drunken Botanist” on paper for the recipes!), but it was definitely worth the listen.
[If you found this review helpful, please let me know by hitting the 'helpful' button! Thanks.]
109 of 114 people found this review helpful
i would highly recommend you purchase the printed version of this book. the text is interesting, but it reads like an encyclopedia.
33 of 34 people found this review helpful
I loved this read! such a fun and lively description of some of the planets most fascinating plants!! I do recommend a background or knowledge of Latin names, simple because there aren't any pictures!! must read for all plant lovers and horticulture enthusiasts!!
Would you say that listening to this book was time well-spent? Why or why not?
Wicked Plants is a reasonable listen, with some interesting facts but it dealt with the subject matter quite lightly. I thought 'the Drunken Botanist' was better.
What was your reaction to the ending? (No spoilers please!)
This was a book of lists. It didn't have an ending so much as a stopping point.
What about Coleen Marlo’s performance did you like?
She hisses her 's', which gets a bit jarring when you listen to the book over the full four hours. That could be an artifact of production as it didn't seem as noticeable in the other works she's narrated.
If this book were a film would you go see it?
I'd rent it but not buy it.
Any additional comments?
Wicked Plants felt like an excerpt from 'the Drunken Botanist' as though it was a way for the author to use her leftover research. Not a bad book but cursory.