Plants and Human Conflict: 1st Edition (Paperback) book cover

Plants and Human Conflict

1st Edition

By Eran Pichersky

CRC Press

190 pages

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pub: 2018-08-13
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Perhaps the least appreciated dramatis personae in human history are plants. Humans, like all other animals, cannot produce their own food as plants do through photosynthesis, and must therefore acquire organic material for survival and growth by eating plants or by eating other animals that eat plants. Humans depend on plants not only as a food source, but also as building and clothing materials and as sources of medicines, psychoactive substances, spices, pigments, and more. With plants being such valuable resources, it is therefore not surprising that plants have been involved in practically all violent conflicts among different human societies. Ironically, plants have also been the source of materials to construct weapons or weapon parts.

Wars have always constituted a large part of human history, and the overall theme of this book is that to understand the history of violent human conflict, we need to understand what specific materials plants make that people find so useful and worth fighting over, and what roles such plant products have played in specific conflicts. To do so, Plants and Human Conflict begins with a chapter explaining the basic biological facts of the interdependence between plants and humans, and the subsequent seven chapters describe the physical and chemical properties of specific plant products demonstrating how the human need for these products has led to wars as well as contributed to the prosecution of wars. These chapters recount some well-known (and some lesser known) historical events in which plants have played a central role.

This book uniquely combines the modern scientific knowledge of plants with the human history of war, introducing readers to a new paradigm that will make them reconsider their understanding of human history, as well as to bring about a greater appreciation of plant biology.

Table of Contents




Chapter 1 Natural Resources as Causes of Violent Conflicts

Universal History

War and Living Organisms


Chapter 2 Fighting Grains

Grains Are Targets of War

Grains Are the Perfect Food for War

Grains and Man-Made Famines in the 20th Century

The Russian Famine of 1932–1933

The Chinese Famine of 1959–1961

The Cambodian Famine and Genocide of 1975–1979



Chapter 3 War and Slavery Capitalism – Sugarcane, Tobacco, and Cotton

Transcontinental Staples






Chapter 4 Killer Spices

The Spice Trade Until the End of the 15th Century – The Rise and Fall of Venice, the First Predatory Company Masquerading as a State

The Spice Trade in the 16th to 18th Centuries – The Rise and Fall of VOC, a Rogue State Masquerading as a Company

The Attraction of Spices to Humans – Is It Chemistry or Metachemistry?



Chapter 5 Caffeine, Opium, and Other Drugs for the Masses

Why Plants Make Psychoactive Compounds


Opium and The Opium Wars

Cocaine, Tetrahydrocannabinol, and Modern Wars



Chapter 6 Wood and Rubber


Wood in Land Warfare

Wood in Sea Warfare

Rubber’s Good Qualities

Rubber’s Contribution to Human Misery

Rubber in Modern Wars



Chapter 7 Modern Land Grabs – Hawaii, Palestine, and Latin America

Farmland Ownership and National Identity

Sugarcane and Hawaii

Oranges and Zionism in Palestine

Bananas and Central America



Chapter 8 Black Plant Power – Coal and Oil

Coal and Oil Are Biochemicals that Store Sunlight Energy

Formation of Coal

Formation of Petroleum

The Crucial Roles that Coal and Oil Have Played in Recent Human History

Coal, Coal Miners, and Social Strife

Oil and Social Strife



Appendix: Chemical Notations

Scientific Glossary


About the Author

ERAN PICHERSKY is theMichael M. Martin Collegiate Professor in theDepartment of Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology (MCDB) at the University of Michigan. He received his B.Sc. degree from the University of California, Berkeley in 1980, and a Ph.D. from the University of California, Davis in 1984. After doing research as a post-doctoral fellow at the Rockefeller University in New York, he has been on the faculty of the University of Michigan since 1986, serving as the first Chair of the newly created MCDB Department from 2001-2003. His awards include a Fulbright fellowship and an Alexander von Humboldt fellowship, both received in 2000, and a Guggenheim fellowship in 2015. He was elected a Fellow by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in 2012 and by the American Society of Plant Biologists in 2017. Dr. Pichersky has served on the editorial boards of several major scientific journals that cover plant research, and had previously edited (together with Dr. Natalia Dudareva) a book on the Biology of Floral Scent published by CRC Press.

Dr. Pichersky’s research has concentrated on identifying the myriad compounds that are found uniquely in plants, many of which are extensively used by people, with emphasis on those that impart scent and flavor. His group further elucidates how plants synthesize these compounds, and how this information can be used to enhance the production by plants of such valuable chemicals. Over the years Dr. Pichersky’s research group has collaborated with many other research groups around the world, and Dr. Pichersky himself has spent extensive time as a visiting scholar doing research at scientific institutes around the world, including the United States, Germany, Israel and Australia. Dr. Pichersky has authored approximately 250 reports, reviews, letters and editorials in scientific publications, and is a recipient of several patents.

Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
SCIENCE / Life Sciences / Botany
TECHNOLOGY & ENGINEERING / Agriculture / General