14 September 2014

Book Review: Botany Fifth Edition by James D. Mauseth

While it's taken me 15 months to read this book; I can't praise it enough. Sometimes it felt overwhelming and never ending, but that's because most of the concepts and ideas where things that I'd never read about before. Luckily the author knows Botany so well that even with the scientific terminology, he has been able to communicate the ideas at a level even I could understand.

This book is large, not only page-wise (652 before a good size glossary and index), but also physically (28.2 cm by 23.5), but not a single page is wasted. The author is keen to make sure the students not only understand plants, but also other organisms so that we can learn by comparison. The book is split into 4 parts covering Plant Structure, Plant Physiology and Development, Genetics and Evolution, and Ecology. Within these parts are chapters that break the material into sensible chunks and within these chapters are a set of features that make the book highly readable and very interesting. These include, part openers that introduce the part of the book, which are followed by concept section that introduces the reader to each chapter.

The author is also keen on students knowledge being expanded from the basics of Botany and as such other features include: Alternatives, which look at if what plants typically do can be done in other ways, such as photosynthesis without leaves. 'Plants Do Things Differently', are boxes that compare plant biology with human biology, providing comparisons on things such as 'Calcium: Strong Bones, Strong Teeth, but Not Strong Plants'. Plants and People boxes are essays on the way that plants and people influence each other, with topics such as, 'Controlled Growth Versus Cancerous Growth'. The final set of boxes are Botany and Beyond, which provide learning beyond the essential plant science material, including 'Cacti as Examples of Evolutionary Diversification'.

Something that really helped me get to grips with the written material are the stunning illustrations, from diagrams of cells and functions, often accompanied by micrographs showing the minute functions and parts of plants, to photographs chosen to provide a really clear visual aid.

This is not how I remember text books back from my school days. Either I just wasn't interested, which made the books boring, or the books were just boring! But this book has been written with passion and it comes through in the text and the choice of additional material and illustrations. Even for someone like myself, who became interested in Botany less than 3 years ago, this book provides information at an understandable level.

As with any scientific area, there is a lot of terminology in the text, but this is backed up with an accessible glossary. Each chapter comes with a set of questions. There is even a companion website, but I haven't used the code for that yet, as access it only for 1 year and I want to make sure I have time to really get the most out of it.

I can't recommend this book highly enough. For anyone that really wants to learn how a plant does what it does, then read this book. Sure, it might be tough going in places; but afterwards when you read botanical topics, it'll be easier to understand. I really appreciate that my mother-in-law and sister-in-law gave me this book as a Birthday present 2 years ago - especially as now I've finished reading it; I feel a real sense of achievement.