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

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Penguin, 2009 - Gardening - 354 pages
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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 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 Inventionis 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 Inventionrevisits 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 Inventionis 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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The Garden of Invention: Luther Burbank and the Business of Breeding Plants

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In this extensively researched work, Smith (Patenting the Sun: Polio and the Salk Vaccine) explores Luther Burbank and the world of plant breeding in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. From 1873 ... Read full review

Contents

Prologue i
1
Nature in an Age of Invention
13
The Lucky Spud
35
The Second Gold Rush
51
Faster Better Sweeter
75
A Personal Interlude
99
Marketing the New Creation
107
PART II
120
The Corn Palace and the Empire
219
PART III
226
The Meeting of the Masters
239
The Garden of Beautiful Thoughts 353
253
i5 Transplanting the Legacy
273
The Creators Art a7
287
The Garden as Intellectual Property
297
Searching for Luther Burbank
317

The Philosopher in the Orchard
133
California Boosters and the Ivory Tower
159
g The Carnegie Institution Seal of Approval
175
The Training of the Human Plant
189
Learning from Luther Burbank
197
Acknowledgments
327
Selected Bibliography
338
Index
344
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About the author (2009)

Jane S. Smith received her Ph.D. in English from Yale University and has taught at Northwestern University on topics ranging from twentieth-century fiction to the history of public health. Her history of the first polio vaccine, Patenting the Sun: Polio and the Salk Vaccine, received the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Science and Technology. She has served as a commentator, consultant, and writer for numerous documentary film projects. She works in a very small room with a very large window.

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