What We Are Reading Today: How Plants Work

Updated 22 September 2018
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What We Are Reading Today: How Plants Work

  • Each section of the book focuses on a specific part of the plant — such as roots, stems and trunks, leaves, cones and flowers, and seeds and fruits

Author: Stephen Blackmore

All the plants around us today are descended from simple algae that emerged more than 500 million years ago. While new plant species are still being discovered, it is thought that there are around 400,000 species in existence.
From towering redwood trees and diminutive mosses to plants that have stinging hairs and poisons, the diverse range of plant life is extraordinary. How Plants Work is a fascinating inquiry into, and celebration of, the complex plant kingdom, says a review on the Princeton University Press website.
With an extended introduction explaining the basics of plant morphology — the study of plant structures and their functions — this book moves beyond mere classification and anatomy by emphasizing the relationship between a plant and its environment.
It provides evolutionary context drawn from the fossil record and information about the habitats in which species evolved and argues for the major influence of predation on plant form.
Each section of the book focuses on a specific part of the plant — such as roots, stems and trunks, leaves, cones and flowers, and seeds and fruits — and how these manifest in distinct species, climates, and regions. The conclusion examines the ways humans rely on plant life and have harnessed their capacity for adaptation through selection and domestication.
Abundantly illustrated with 400 color images documenting a wide range of examples, How Plants Work is a highly informative account about an integral part of our natural world.


Book Review: Exploring the beauty — and controversy — of Orientalist art

Exploring the beauty and controversy of Orientalist art. (Shutterstock)
Updated 16 January 2019
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Book Review: Exploring the beauty — and controversy — of Orientalist art

BEIRUT: Author James Parry examines the 19th century trend that saw scores of Western artists head to the Middle East in search of inspiration in this beautifully illustrated book.

“Orientalist Lives: Western Artists in the Middle East” looks at the lives and works of the diverse set of artists who traveled across the region and attempted to recreate their observations on canvas.

According to the book, Napoleon’s campaign in Egypt and the eventual publication of a series of documents titled “Description de l’Égypte,” which sought to comprehensively catalog all known aspects of ancient and modern Egypt, starting from 1809, sparked an interest in Egypt and the wider region.

German painter Carl Haag (1820-1915) enthusiastically wrote that for “anyone in search of a new ground of subjects for their pencil, there is only one Cairo and artists ought to see it.”

Scottish painter David Roberts (1796-1864), one of the most famous Orientalist artists, anticipated that there would be a market in Europe for drawings and watercolors representing the street scenes, rich architecture and bountiful landscapes of these faraway places. He traveled first to Spain and Morocco and then to Egypt — a journey that made him famous. The success of Roberts’ paintings and lithographs sealed his reputation as one of the most influential Orientalists, even though he only made one trip to the region.

While he may have only undertaken one trip to the Middle East, this book details the lives of other artists who developed a long and intense relationship with a particular region or country. This is the case with Alphonse-Étienne Dinet, a French artist who traveled to North Africa, founded the Société des Peintres Orientalistes (Society for French Orientalist Painters) and even converted to Islam, changing his name to Nasreddine Dinet. He is known for his paintings of the Ouled Naïl tribe of Algeria.

This captivating book goes on to describe the rise and fall of Orientalist art’s popularity and explores the notion that such works are based on caricatures of Arab culture — propagated by Edward Said’s seminal 1978 book, “Orientalism.”

Valuing form over content, Orientalist artists conjured up exquisite images, exceptional detail and vivid emotions with superb technique, giving their paintings an almost photographic quality, and this book will give you insight into their journey east.