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We depend on plants for almost everything, whether food, oxygen, or the pleasure and relaxation provided by landscapes and gardens. And, as Richard Mabey reveals in this lyrical and highly original exploration of our relationship with plants, we have always seen them as far more than simply attractive or useful. Their extraordinary existences have challenged our imaginations, inspired our achievements, and may provide a road-map to a more fruitful, sustainable future for us all.
From Ice Age cave art to cutting-edge research into how mimosas learn and remember, Mabey traces the history of our imaginative encounters with them – including his own. Along the way, he reveals how medieval physicians and indigenous shamans used myths to explain how one plant could kill and another nourish, introduces the Enlightenment thinkers and poets who puzzled over carnivorous plants, and the Victorian engineers who made an Amazonian waterlily the blueprint for the Crystal Palace.
Ranging widely across science, art and cultural history, poetry and personal experience, Mabey puts plants centre stage, and reveals a true botanical cabaret, a world of tricksters, shape-shifters and inspired problem-solvers, as well as an enthralled audience of romantics, eccentric amateur scientists, transgressive artists and grass roots botanophiles. The Cabaret of Plants celebrates the idea that plants are not simply 'the furniture of the planet', but vital, inventive, individual beings, worthy of respect and that to understand this may be the best way of preserving life together on Earth.
Richard Mabey is one of our greatest nature writers. He is the author of some thirty books including the bestselling Flora Britannica, Weeds: The Story of Outlaw Plants and Nature Cure which was shortlisted for the Whitbread, Ondaatje and Ackerley Awards. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and lives in Norfolk.
"[...] Mabey is at his best when his subjects are closest to him. Does the cracked glass of cultural and literary record provide an adequate explanation for the innate fascination which the plant wodd holds for us? The quickening imperatives of biology which we share with plants may offer a clearer lens. Read Cabaret, and it becomes a two-way mirror. Here is another subject for Mabey's unique talents."
– James Robertson, British Wildlife 27(4), April 2016
"Mabey is – or should be – a national treasure [...] the finest current flowering of a great British traditions that includes not just prose writers but also the poets William Wordsworth and John Clare [...] like being taken aside by a complete stranger who talks as if you have known each other for years [...] it makes you feel that your home is much bigger and stranger than you ever imagined and it makes you glad – no, astounded – to be alive."
– The Sunday Times
"The greatest writer on nature alive [...] [Mabey] fuses botany, art and literature into a prose which is interrogative, pungent and urgently alive."
– The Evening Standard
"Our greatest nature writer [...] a true Renaissance man of botany, effortlessly bridging the divides between science and literature, history and psychology, forensic examination and sheer exultation at how plants are central to our lives."
– Fred Pearce, New Scientist
"Wonderfully thought-provoking [...] of all his 30-plus books this is surely among his finest, an eclectic world-roaming collection of stories [...] lacing colour, intimacy and emotional texture around the scaffold of hard facts."
– The Spectator
"The nation's favourite nature writer"
– Sunday Telegraph
"This is the nature-writing equivalent of fine dining – rich, full of different tastes, lasting and satisfying – as Richard Mabey, perhaps our greatest nature writer, drools over a subject he adores. A treat not to miss [...] the prose is so gorgeous it makes you want to clap [...] go, buy it, and feast. Botany rocks!"
– Dominic Couzens, BBC Countryfile
"Mr Mabey is the kind of person you wish you had with you on every country walk, identifying, explaining, deducing, drawing on deep knowledge lightly worn"
– Country Life
"Enraptured, visionary, witty and erudite"
– Daily Telegraph