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The Garden of Invention: Luther Burbank and the Business of Breeding Plants

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A wide-ranging and delightful narrative history of the celebrated plant breeder Luther Burbank and the business of farm and garden in early twentieth-century America A century ago, Luther Burbank was the most famous gardener on the planet. His name was inseparable from a cornucopia of new and improved plants—fruits, nuts, vegetables, and flowers—for both home gardens and c A wide-ranging and delightful narrative history of the celebrated plant breeder Luther Burbank and the business of farm and garden in early twentieth-century America A century ago, Luther Burbank was the most famous gardener on the planet. His name was inseparable from a cornucopia of new and improved plants—fruits, nuts, vegetables, and flowers—for both home gardens and commercial farms and orchards. At a time when the science of genetics was in its infancy and agriculture was often a perilous combination of guess work and luck, many people wanted a piece of the man they called the Wizard of Santa Rosa. As the United States moved from a nation of farms to a nation of city dwellers, the people behind the new products that transformed daily life were admired with a fervor that is not accorded to their present-day counterparts. Everyone knew and marveled at Samuel Morse’s telegraph, Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone, and Thomas Edison’s electric light. And like these other great American inventors, Burbank was revered as an example of the best tradition of American originality, ingenuity, and perseverance. Burbank had learned the secret of teaching nature to perform for man, breeding and crossbreeding ordinary plants from farm and garden until they were tastier, hardier, and more productive than ever before. The Garden of Invention is neither an encyclopedia nor a biography. Rather, Jane S. Smith, a noted cultural historian, highlights significant moments in Burbank’s life (itself a fascinating story) and uses them to explore larger trends that he embodied and, in some cases, shaped. The Garden of Invention revisits the early years of bioengineering, when plant inventors were popular heroes and the public clamored for new varieties that would extend seasons, increase yields, look beautiful, or simply be wonderfully different from anything seen before. The road from the nineteenth-century farm to twenty-first-century agribusiness is full of twists and turns, of course, but a good part of it passed straight through Luther Burbank’s garden. The Garden of Invention is a colorful and engrossing examination of the intersection of gardening, science, and business in the years between the Civil War and the Great Depression.


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A wide-ranging and delightful narrative history of the celebrated plant breeder Luther Burbank and the business of farm and garden in early twentieth-century America A century ago, Luther Burbank was the most famous gardener on the planet. His name was inseparable from a cornucopia of new and improved plants—fruits, nuts, vegetables, and flowers—for both home gardens and c A wide-ranging and delightful narrative history of the celebrated plant breeder Luther Burbank and the business of farm and garden in early twentieth-century America A century ago, Luther Burbank was the most famous gardener on the planet. His name was inseparable from a cornucopia of new and improved plants—fruits, nuts, vegetables, and flowers—for both home gardens and commercial farms and orchards. At a time when the science of genetics was in its infancy and agriculture was often a perilous combination of guess work and luck, many people wanted a piece of the man they called the Wizard of Santa Rosa. As the United States moved from a nation of farms to a nation of city dwellers, the people behind the new products that transformed daily life were admired with a fervor that is not accorded to their present-day counterparts. Everyone knew and marveled at Samuel Morse’s telegraph, Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone, and Thomas Edison’s electric light. And like these other great American inventors, Burbank was revered as an example of the best tradition of American originality, ingenuity, and perseverance. Burbank had learned the secret of teaching nature to perform for man, breeding and crossbreeding ordinary plants from farm and garden until they were tastier, hardier, and more productive than ever before. The Garden of Invention is neither an encyclopedia nor a biography. Rather, Jane S. Smith, a noted cultural historian, highlights significant moments in Burbank’s life (itself a fascinating story) and uses them to explore larger trends that he embodied and, in some cases, shaped. The Garden of Invention revisits the early years of bioengineering, when plant inventors were popular heroes and the public clamored for new varieties that would extend seasons, increase yields, look beautiful, or simply be wonderfully different from anything seen before. The road from the nineteenth-century farm to twenty-first-century agribusiness is full of twists and turns, of course, but a good part of it passed straight through Luther Burbank’s garden. The Garden of Invention is a colorful and engrossing examination of the intersection of gardening, science, and business in the years between the Civil War and the Great Depression.

30 review for The Garden of Invention: Luther Burbank and the Business of Breeding Plants

  1. 4 out of 5

    GoldGato

    Before the multi-billion dollar food genetics industry, there was Luther Burbank. He was a horticulturist who put the spotlight on the science of agriculture, even though he wasn't a scientist. Burbank was one of those self-made men, like Edison, Bell, and Ford, who changed the way we all lived. Nowadays we have Monsanto, that behemoth corporation which has already destroyed many of the original crops from the American pioneer days. Burbank was no Monsanto, just a man who adored plants and who co Before the multi-billion dollar food genetics industry, there was Luther Burbank. He was a horticulturist who put the spotlight on the science of agriculture, even though he wasn't a scientist. Burbank was one of those self-made men, like Edison, Bell, and Ford, who changed the way we all lived. Nowadays we have Monsanto, that behemoth corporation which has already destroyed many of the original crops from the American pioneer days. Burbank was no Monsanto, just a man who adored plants and who could never stop figuring out ways to improve them in order to help mankind. His most famous 'invention' was the Burbank Potato, which was able to stave off the blight which had disrupted Ireland. He didn't breed it for money but to help the people suffering from the Irish Potato Famine. He left the East Coast and came to California, which he believed to be a paradise with its plentiful sunshine and bountiful soil. It's because of Luther Burbank that California is known not just for oil and gold and movies but also for agriculture. In his time (mid 19th-century to the 1920s), he was considered one of the greatest men on the planet. Now few remember him. Yet, he did so much. Hoping to overcome the lack of food and water for men and cattle in the Southwest, he developed a spineless cactus so the meat from the plant could feed without killing. The Santa Rosa Plum. The July Elberta Peach. The Shasta Daisy. These were all Burbank creations, although he barely made a living from his successes because in his time, one couldn't copyright plant creations. The information contained in this book was enlightening. Granted, I didn't know much about Burbank. For instance, if you ever drive through California, you will see acres upon acres of walnut trees. Before Burbank, the Black Walnut was not the tasty nut we know today. It was really the Persian Walnut that was presentable for food. But Burbank's persistent efforts brought forth the walnut we know and love...although it took ten years for the first hybrid tree to grow before he could determine if his experiment worked. This is one of those books where the reader learns a lot but without getting to know the subject. Sure, I knew more about Burbank by the time I finished, but I really didn't know him. This is a straightforward biography which focuses as much on Mr. Burbank as it does on plant breeding. Nothing spectacular but much to learn. In many ways, it says much about the state of California, from then to now. Orchards and fields remain, but their edges are fringed with signs advertising real estate, ayurvedic yoga, wine country balloon tours, self-storage lockers, and lawyers eager to help you get the disability payments you surely deserve. Book Season = Spring (Jove's acorns)

  2. 4 out of 5

    Leslie

    Although I found the story of HOW he did the amazing things he did with plants fascinating I noticed almost immediatly that this book didn't make me feel at all like I'd met the man. It was rather impersonal. I suppose we modern readers like a little more detail. This was a very interestng book that I'd recommend to anyone interested in gardening or history but I still feel like I know nothing about this guy. We always want to know what our heroes eat for breakfast, what brand of toothpaste do t Although I found the story of HOW he did the amazing things he did with plants fascinating I noticed almost immediatly that this book didn't make me feel at all like I'd met the man. It was rather impersonal. I suppose we modern readers like a little more detail. This was a very interestng book that I'd recommend to anyone interested in gardening or history but I still feel like I know nothing about this guy. We always want to know what our heroes eat for breakfast, what brand of toothpaste do they use and little things like that. I may be exaggerating a little, but it's shame more of those fun little details couln't have been included. ARe there no accounts of such that have survived? I was really hoping to learn what his favorite breakfast cereal was. Sigh.

  3. 5 out of 5

    J.S.

    Although barely known anymore, Luther Burbank was once as well-known and highly regarded as Thomas Edison and Henry Ford. Instead of inventing machines, however, Burbank invented new varieties of plants. From the larger and more uniform Russet Burbank potato which is still the primary potato grown and eaten to the walnuts grown all over California to crosses between plums and apricots to spineless cacti, Burbank was celebrated for the advances in plant breeding that provided not only more bounti Although barely known anymore, Luther Burbank was once as well-known and highly regarded as Thomas Edison and Henry Ford. Instead of inventing machines, however, Burbank invented new varieties of plants. From the larger and more uniform Russet Burbank potato which is still the primary potato grown and eaten to the walnuts grown all over California to crosses between plums and apricots to spineless cacti, Burbank was celebrated for the advances in plant breeding that provided not only more bountiful harvests but larger and more beautiful flowers. Each year in the winter, as I'm longing to be outside working in the garden (not an impossibility where I live), I look for something to read to satisfy that urge. And the story of Luther Burbank was an interesting one and certainly one I previously knew nothing about. It's interesting but not particularly compelling, but still a part of history worth knowing. It's not a full biography and doesn't delve into his methods (his record-keeping remains a mystery to this day), but it describes a different time when patents on living inventions were not allowed and the struggles to improve the agricultural output of farms. And it's a situation not so far removed from the current day efforts to improve upon nature, albeit by genetic modification.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Andrew

    It's interesting to read the bio of someone who was tremendously famous & influential in their own time, and yet relatively little known now. Luther Burbank was one of those folks, a plant 'inventor' who developed over 800 new varieties of plants, including the Shasta Daisey, the Russett Burbank Potato, the plumcot (a cross between a plum and an apricot), a spineless cactus. He was good friends with Henry Ford & Thomas Edison, and considered to be their equal (all self-made men, with little form It's interesting to read the bio of someone who was tremendously famous & influential in their own time, and yet relatively little known now. Luther Burbank was one of those folks, a plant 'inventor' who developed over 800 new varieties of plants, including the Shasta Daisey, the Russett Burbank Potato, the plumcot (a cross between a plum and an apricot), a spineless cactus. He was good friends with Henry Ford & Thomas Edison, and considered to be their equal (all self-made men, with little formal education, who were achieved success). He wanted to improve plants for the benefit of mankind, producing more (and better) food to meet the demands of the world. After his death he was celebrated in poems de Dos Passos and paintings by Frida Kahlo, and was the impetus for the 1930 Plant Patent Act which allowed new plants to be patented. His advice on raising children: ""Give the nature. Let their souls drink in all that is pure and sweet." - The word "scientist" was coined by William Whewell at the urging of the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Katy

    very good book. chronicling the turn of the century process by which a nation and a man "discovered" nature. burbank is a fascinating figure whose practices, thoughts, and unique sensibility refused to cater to the many persons who admired and coveted his support. a romantic, a man of practicality, a "cosmist," and a business man - jane smith paints a relevant, historical, thoughtful, and personal sketch of this critical figure in agricultural history. i can't wait to get the seeds and plant tha very good book. chronicling the turn of the century process by which a nation and a man "discovered" nature. burbank is a fascinating figure whose practices, thoughts, and unique sensibility refused to cater to the many persons who admired and coveted his support. a romantic, a man of practicality, a "cosmist," and a business man - jane smith paints a relevant, historical, thoughtful, and personal sketch of this critical figure in agricultural history. i can't wait to get the seeds and plant that heirloom tomato mentioned in the final chapter. i am just certain it will be delightful.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Terry Earley

    Very informative. I want to order the Burbank Tomato for next year, even though it is determinate. Very informative. I want to order the Burbank Tomato for next year, even though it is determinate.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Greg

    Full disclosure, I did not finish it. The book is fine. There's a praise blurb from Mark Kurlansky of Salt and Cod on the back, and if you enjoy Kurlansky's books, you'll probably like this one. For me, this book is a bit too breezy and shallow, treating as it does the broad trends in turn-of-the-century America with as much attention as it does Burbank and "plant invention." There are interesting facts here and there on any number of topics. If you're reading for general interest and maybe know Full disclosure, I did not finish it. The book is fine. There's a praise blurb from Mark Kurlansky of Salt and Cod on the back, and if you enjoy Kurlansky's books, you'll probably like this one. For me, this book is a bit too breezy and shallow, treating as it does the broad trends in turn-of-the-century America with as much attention as it does Burbank and "plant invention." There are interesting facts here and there on any number of topics. If you're reading for general interest and maybe know about the Russet Burbank potato or like looking through seed catalogues, you'll probably find a lot to hold your interest here. The failure of the book in my case is simply a case of misplaced expectations. I kind of thought that the book might dig more into his process and insight as a horticulturalist and placing them in the context of running his business. There is that...a little bit...but it's not much of a focus of the book. Some of the plant discoveries do get small explanations and write-ups, but there's a lot else besides that I've either read before or felt to me like filler.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Daniel

    What a book. Before reading this book I had heard of Luther Burbank. I knew that he raised pants. But, I had no idea when he lived or how long he lived or if he ever got married. I had also heard of the spineless cactus he developed. That was the extent of my knowledge of Luther Burbank. The book was a pager turner for me. I was surprised to learn that Luther Burbank was born in New England. I was surprised of the prices of his plant introductions in his 1893 new creations catalog. He was fascin What a book. Before reading this book I had heard of Luther Burbank. I knew that he raised pants. But, I had no idea when he lived or how long he lived or if he ever got married. I had also heard of the spineless cactus he developed. That was the extent of my knowledge of Luther Burbank. The book was a pager turner for me. I was surprised to learn that Luther Burbank was born in New England. I was surprised of the prices of his plant introductions in his 1893 new creations catalog. He was fascinating to learn more about. I liked his mothers Name Olive. This book made me want to be a plant breeder.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Etta Madden

    As a biography, this book on Burbank's life pictures a boy driven to explore the natural world and to lift himself from a rural life of little means. Smith's account captures a personality that grew to the likes of Henry Ford and Thomas Edison--his peers with whom he is pictured in the early twentieth century. Burbank's career-driven goals also included utopian visions of humanity--including applying what he knew of plant science to the cultivation of the human plant. What else is a kindergarten As a biography, this book on Burbank's life pictures a boy driven to explore the natural world and to lift himself from a rural life of little means. Smith's account captures a personality that grew to the likes of Henry Ford and Thomas Edison--his peers with whom he is pictured in the early twentieth century. Burbank's career-driven goals also included utopian visions of humanity--including applying what he knew of plant science to the cultivation of the human plant. What else is a kindergarten for??? A must read for anyone interested in plant science and the histories of eugenics and education in the US.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Brett Anderson

    "What a joy life is when you have made a close working partnership with Nature, helping her to produce for the benefit of mankind new forms, colors and perfumes in flowers which were never known before; fruits in form, size, color and flavor never before seen on this globe; and grains of enormously increased productiveness, whose fat kernels are filled with more and better nourishment, a veritable storehouse of perfect food- new food for all the world's untold millions for all time to come." - L "What a joy life is when you have made a close working partnership with Nature, helping her to produce for the benefit of mankind new forms, colors and perfumes in flowers which were never known before; fruits in form, size, color and flavor never before seen on this globe; and grains of enormously increased productiveness, whose fat kernels are filled with more and better nourishment, a veritable storehouse of perfect food- new food for all the world's untold millions for all time to come." - Luther Burbank, January 31, 1926

  11. 5 out of 5

    Tami

    Growing up in the Sonoma Valley I had heard the name Luther Burbank. Mostly because of the Luther Burbank Center for the Arts but I knew nothing about him. I am glad I know now about this interesting man who rubbed elbows with some of the most influential innovators of his time. And I am glad to know how much of his work still ends up on my plate today. What a legacy.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Peter Tillman

    Disappointing. I'm not sure if Burbank had a dull life, or if the author was dull writer. Perhaps both. Anyway, the book never caught my interest. Abandoned less than halfway in. Oh, well. Disappointing. I'm not sure if Burbank had a dull life, or if the author was dull writer. Perhaps both. Anyway, the book never caught my interest. Abandoned less than halfway in. Oh, well.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Joan Bailey

    A great story of an amazing plant breeder that also revealed much about the history of plant breeding and seed development in the US and around the world.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Elizabeth Fet

    Fascinating read about the growth of agriculture and breeding plants in the US.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Dennis Thorsted

    At first it's fun that the author is happy to entertain every interesting tangent, but after a while it seems like the book could have used a more aggressive editor. At first it's fun that the author is happy to entertain every interesting tangent, but after a while it seems like the book could have used a more aggressive editor.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Fred Setterberg

    Burbank was a self-taught plant man. He read Darwin (his lifelong hero), Humboldt, Thoreau, Emerson, Poe, Whitman: a late nineteenth century autodidact with Job’s patience who was willing to cross-pollinate thousands upon thousands in search of the one reproducible or graftable successor. He knew nothing about plant genetics, the rising force. Professional scientists thought him remarkable, but not one of their own. The public at large admired him, titans of agri-business lauded him, tried to ma Burbank was a self-taught plant man. He read Darwin (his lifelong hero), Humboldt, Thoreau, Emerson, Poe, Whitman: a late nineteenth century autodidact with Job’s patience who was willing to cross-pollinate thousands upon thousands in search of the one reproducible or graftable successor. He knew nothing about plant genetics, the rising force. Professional scientists thought him remarkable, but not one of their own. The public at large admired him, titans of agri-business lauded him, tried to manipulate him, and grew rich thanks to him, and nobody could replace him. His memory was so prodigious that he knew what was happening with every rootstalk over acres and acres of breeding grounds; he knew his plants like children, though he was wont to sacrifice virtually all in pursuit of the one bankable breed. As a result, his records are a mishmash, indecipherable, unusable. Our own gardens are full of his inventions – Agapanthus, plums, plumcots, peaches (but they do not include a kind of cacti which he tried and failed for years to breed as livestock feed for dry climes) – which this book argues to be the correct way of thinking of them; that is, as inventions. Burbank – though far better mannered, more lovable, and not prone to anti-Semitic and right-wing rants – was also friends and kindred spirits with Henry Ford, along with Thomas Edison. Together, they formed the troika of American resourcefulness and practicality in the nation about to dominate the world in most respects, along with more than a hint of anti-intellectualism that remains implicated in that triumph.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Dorothy

    At the turn of the 20th century, Luther Burbank was a rock star. His fame as a breeder and "inventor" of plants had traveled around the world. His gardens in Santa Rosa, California were places of pilgrimage for his army of admirers. Burbank had absorbed the writings and theories of Charles Darwin, who was one of his heroes, and he applied Darwin's explanations of the principles of evolution to the breeding of plants. He was easily the most successful plant hybridizer of his time and many of the v At the turn of the 20th century, Luther Burbank was a rock star. His fame as a breeder and "inventor" of plants had traveled around the world. His gardens in Santa Rosa, California were places of pilgrimage for his army of admirers. Burbank had absorbed the writings and theories of Charles Darwin, who was one of his heroes, and he applied Darwin's explanations of the principles of evolution to the breeding of plants. He was easily the most successful plant hybridizer of his time and many of the varieties that he introduced are still on the market today. This book is not so much a biography of Burbank as a cultural history of his times and of his importance in the pantheon of famous inventors and innovators of those times. People like Thomas Edison and Henry Ford. It was a heady time in the history of the young country, and indeed in the history of the world, and Burbank left his mark on it. Smith has done a yeoman job of researching Luther Burbank's life and his influence on a era and she has written a very workmanlike history of the time. As a gardener, I felt a great deal of empathy with her subject and, while her writing is not particularly scintillating, it held my interest throughout. I think anyone with an interest in plants and how new ones are created would enjoy this book.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Lynne

    Of all places to find the biography of a gardener, this little gem was in the library of a cruise ship. My next surprise was that I had never heard about this intrepid seeker of better plants for home and market gardeners. With only an idea that seeds harbor desirable latent traits, Burbank combined techniques of selection, cross-pollination and grafting at time when seed genetics was unheard of. He began propagating hundreds of new vegetable varieties even as new land grant colleges were being f Of all places to find the biography of a gardener, this little gem was in the library of a cruise ship. My next surprise was that I had never heard about this intrepid seeker of better plants for home and market gardeners. With only an idea that seeds harbor desirable latent traits, Burbank combined techniques of selection, cross-pollination and grafting at time when seed genetics was unheard of. He began propagating hundreds of new vegetable varieties even as new land grant colleges were being funded by the federal government and the Carnegie Institute would fund his "research" in an effort to define the science of plant selection and breeding. His strategy proved to be more like that of an inventor, and eluded the scientists right into the twentieth century. Burbank's story comes alive in the recounting because of its multidisciplinary perspective. Here is an insight into the legal precedents that once prevented patents on nature, and how that view morphed to accommodate patents on seeds. The book is concise yet highly informative and entertaining as it touches on the history of modern agriculture and horticulture. The best find is the inspiration to break new ground (pun intended), to experiment and rediscover the wonders laying in wait in your own garden plants.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Michael

    This book was a really interesting look at Luther Burbank and the era between the Civil War and the Great Depression. I became interested in his story because there is a beautiful park near where I live that bears his name. It was surprising to learn just how influential his single minded pursuit was not just nationally but across the globe.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Marissa

    Delightful. "What a beautiful world we live in! My seventy-seventh birthday finds me busier than ever in Nature's school, where I have always been a student; it finds me happier than ever because I have strength and the will to work. To all the world but especially to the children who will think of me today -- the friends I love best -- I send this message: As you hold loving thoughts towards every person and animal and even towards plants, stars, oceans, rivers and hills, and as you are helpful Delightful. "What a beautiful world we live in! My seventy-seventh birthday finds me busier than ever in Nature's school, where I have always been a student; it finds me happier than ever because I have strength and the will to work. To all the world but especially to the children who will think of me today -- the friends I love best -- I send this message: As you hold loving thoughts towards every person and animal and even towards plants, stars, oceans, rivers and hills, and as you are helpful and of service to the world, so you will find yourself growing more happy each day and with happiness comes health and everything you want." He died three weeks later.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Joan

    Wow, I had no idea that what I eat today could conceivably have been invented! Fascinating! ANd even more fascinating is how come I have never heard of the man before when the author said he's right up there with Thomas Edison and Henry Ford! What I found most fascinating though is that he became famous for developing what we now know today as the Russet potato and (I think) founded his whole plant breeding business on his fame. Wow, I had no idea that what I eat today could conceivably have been invented! Fascinating! ANd even more fascinating is how come I have never heard of the man before when the author said he's right up there with Thomas Edison and Henry Ford! What I found most fascinating though is that he became famous for developing what we now know today as the Russet potato and (I think) founded his whole plant breeding business on his fame.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Donal Keady

    To anyone who's ever tried to grow anything, or who loves the land, this book is fascinating trip back to a time before the internet and all the other resources of information we rely so heavily on. By sheer genius, and a little luck along the way, this man discovered and created many new and improved breeds of fruits, vegetables and trees that we still have today...it'll make you want to go out and hand pollinate your potatoes! To anyone who's ever tried to grow anything, or who loves the land, this book is fascinating trip back to a time before the internet and all the other resources of information we rely so heavily on. By sheer genius, and a little luck along the way, this man discovered and created many new and improved breeds of fruits, vegetables and trees that we still have today...it'll make you want to go out and hand pollinate your potatoes!

  23. 5 out of 5

    Gwen the Librarian

    I took this one on a trip with me and was enjoying reading about the excentricities of Luther Burbank as a botanist and inventer. I was fascinated by the mood of the period and how enthusiastic people were about new plant species. If I had more time in my life, I'd keep reading, but it wasn't quite compelling enough to pick back up after my trip. I took this one on a trip with me and was enjoying reading about the excentricities of Luther Burbank as a botanist and inventer. I was fascinated by the mood of the period and how enthusiastic people were about new plant species. If I had more time in my life, I'd keep reading, but it wasn't quite compelling enough to pick back up after my trip.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Karen

    I really enjoyed this and found it super interesting. This guy breed many mnay of the modern day garden plants and I had never heard of him. It was also cool to read about the other gardeners of the time, many of which still offer catalogs today. A must read for the gardener! I am lending it to friends.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Karen Mahtin

    I had never read anything about Luther Burbank. I found this to be a fairly informative biography, with a bit of information about his plant-breeding business. The lesson: keep good records. I also like that it connected Massachusetts and California (some nice history of the area where I now live).

  26. 4 out of 5

    Judy Aulik

    This was a book I had eagerly awaited for an area library to make available, and I wasn't disappointed by it. Burbank was almost a family friend--my grandfather sold some of Burbank's plants at his greenhouse--as well as a beloved legend. The biography was well-written and evenhanded in its presentation. Today's world needs another gentle manlike Burbank. This was a book I had eagerly awaited for an area library to make available, and I wasn't disappointed by it. Burbank was almost a family friend--my grandfather sold some of Burbank's plants at his greenhouse--as well as a beloved legend. The biography was well-written and evenhanded in its presentation. Today's world needs another gentle manlike Burbank.

  27. 4 out of 5

    David R.

    Smith offers up a surprisingly lifeless biography of the great Luther Burbank. Her portrayal of Burbank lanks real depth: it is as if everything is viewed from a great distance. Nor is there focus. I wasn't sure if this was a bio, a narrative about plant genetics, or a study of the plant business. It's an interesting work but more is needed, I think. Smith offers up a surprisingly lifeless biography of the great Luther Burbank. Her portrayal of Burbank lanks real depth: it is as if everything is viewed from a great distance. Nor is there focus. I wasn't sure if this was a bio, a narrative about plant genetics, or a study of the plant business. It's an interesting work but more is needed, I think.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Susan Dermond

    I learned so much more about Luther Burbank and the times he lived in. A very unusual, humble man, two of his friends were Edison and Henry Ford whom he met late in life. Eye-opening about the history of gardening and plant development. The author seems unbiased and respectful.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Wrdwrrior

    Who knew Burbank just wanted to invent! He tried desperately to sell all of his inventions to finance his real work. Interesting piece on horticulture, business and California at the turn of the last century.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Tonya

    More about business than plants...well-written and interesting, it just didn't warrant an entire book. A long Smithsonian article would have been perfect! I do have new appreciation for Shasta Daisies and "Luther Burbank Drive" in Seattle though! More about business than plants...well-written and interesting, it just didn't warrant an entire book. A long Smithsonian article would have been perfect! I do have new appreciation for Shasta Daisies and "Luther Burbank Drive" in Seattle though!

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