Author: Daniel Stone
Release Date: 20th February, 2018
My Rating: 4/5
This biography of David Fairchild, the nineteenth century adventurer-botanist, narrates the story of his travels across the latitudes and back again in search of plants that went on to revolutionise how and what America eats. Needless to say, me being both a foodie and someone interested in plant genetics, this book had my full attention just by reading the synopsis.
One does not usually think that a scientist could have made America into the diverse culinary hub it is today but that is what came to light when Daniel Stone stumbled upon a map showing where the popular foods were domesticated while researching an article for National Geographic. It transpired that this plethora of crops arrived in America the same way immigrants did. He dug deep into the life of Fairchild and showed us his journey from a young enthusiastic scientist who was inspired by Alfred Russel Wallace’s The Malay Archipelago to being the hard working traveller who sent the U.S. Department of Agriculture seeds and cuttings of every unique plant he could find.
The book ventures into various aspects of Fairchild’s life including his encounters with historical figures like Alexander Graham Bell (with whom he had a personal relationship), George Washington Carver and Theodore Roosevelt. The part which mostly concentrated on his personal life was where we see his courtship of the daughter of the famous inventor and the brief glimpses into his married life, showing us his transformation from an ambitious adventurer into a family man. The remarkable development of friendship between Fairchild and Barbour Lathorp who was his constant companion and an integral ally in making everything possible. Thanks to Fairchild, now we have the avocado on our toasts and the mango in our smoothies and numerous other superfoods. His visit to India surely made the Americans able to access the king of all fruits, our amazing mangoes (you’re welcome world). Before him, America only ate to survive but not to savour.
If I were to mention my favorite parts of the book, the close-up encounter with cannibalism in the Islands of Fiji would be sure to take the cake but I was intrigued by Fairchild’s visit to Hawaii where he feels that even though America fought for freedom from colonialists, it had somehow started being one itself, imposing and invading where they were not welcome. This impressed me because writing a book about a white man domesticating native elements from all corners of the globe while respecting their boundaries and their culture is splendid. The book also shows the struggles of the American farmers due to America’s expansion and reconstruction which undermined and destabilized farming.
An intricately winding novel that would be loved by the scientists, foodies, adventure lovers and history buffs all the same, this was enlightening to say the least.
Thank you Penguin Randomhouse and Dutton Books for sending me the physical ARC and Net-Galley for the digital ARC as well.