Hungry Planet: Stories of Plant Diseases . , , 294 pp. US$65. ISBN 978 0 89054 399 3 . St Paul, MN, USA : APS Press , 2012 ( softcover ).
This very readable softback book is a valid attempt to combine an introductory plant pathology textbook for undergraduate students into a book with the potential for more general readership. The title is clearly aimed to try and attract the more general readership market, but the book also comes with additional free online resources for the student/general reader combined with additional password protected resources for lecturers who adopt this text into their courses. The free online content includes references/further reading for the various chapters, additional images, internet resources, podcasts etc. and is a good way of providing this additional material, and as someone who teaches plant pathology to undergraduate students, I think this is a very valuable and well-constructed introductory book.
The text is divided into 14 chapters, which have broad plant pathology themes and then include examples of different diseases to highlight points within these themes. The first chapter for example is about the start of plant pathology as a discipline and so focuses on potato blight. The second chapter moves on to fungal and oomycete taxonomy/biology and includes some good basic scientific facts about these organisms and a number of examples of diseases caused by them. What is particularly useful is the use of ‘Science sidebars’ in these chapters that provide a bit of additional scientific information, and the diagrams/figures are also generally clear and informative. The chapters that follow don’t come in any particularly logical order, covering such themes as ‘To grow a healthy plant: soil, water and air’, ‘Roles people play: epidemics and their management’ etc., and in order to get the most out of this book, it needs to be read as a whole rather than as individual chapters. When it is read to completion, it is very satisfying to find that all the key areas of plant pathology are covered and that all the examples of diseases that I would normally use in my own teaching of the subject are also described, not just the most familiar historical pathogens such as rusts, southern corn leaf blight and potato blight, but also those that are less well-known. Indeed the authors are to be congratulated on their comprehensive coverage of the subject, and I think the text fulfils its role of being a good readable introduction to the subject for undergraduates, as well as an interesting read for a more general readership.