Cloth $24.00 ISBN: 9780226553719 Will Publish April 2020
E-book $24.00 Available for pre-order. ISBN: 9780226555959 Will Publish April 2020

Amber Waves

The Extraordinary Biography of Wheat, from Wild Grass to World Megacrop

Catherine Zabinski

Amber Waves

Catherine Zabinski

216 pages | 11 halftones | 5 x 8 | © 2020
Cloth $24.00 ISBN: 9780226553719 Will Publish April 2020
E-book $24.00 ISBN: 9780226555959 Will Publish April 2020
At breakfast tables and bakeries, we take for granted a grain that has made human civilization possible, a cereal whose humble origins belie its world-shaping power: wheat. Amber Waves tells the story of a group of grass species that first grew in scattered stands in the foothills of the Middle East until our ancestors discovered their value as a source of food. Over thousands of years, we moved their seeds to all but the polar regions of Earth, slowly cultivating what we now know as wheat, and in the process creating a world of cuisines that uses wheat seeds as a staple food. Wheat spread across the globe, but as ecologist Catherine Zabinski shows us, a biography of wheat is not only the story of how plants ensure their own success: from the earliest breads to the most mouthwatering pastas, it is also a story of human ingenuity in producing enough food for ourselves and our communities.

Since the first harvest of the ancient grain, we have perfected our farming systems to grow massive quantities of food, producing one of our species’ global megacrops—but at a great cost to ecological systems. And despite our vast capacity to grow food, we face problems with undernourishment both close to home and around the world. Weaving together history, evolution, and ecology, Zabinski’s tale explores much more than the wild roots and rise of a now ubiquitous grain: it illuminates our complex relationship with our crops, both how we have transformed the plant species we use as food, and how our society—our culture—has changed in response to the need to secure food sources. From the origins of agriculture to gluten sensitivities, from our first selection of the largest seeds from wheat’s wild progenitors to the sequencing of the wheat genome and genetic engineering, Amber Waves sheds new light on how we grow the food that sustains so much human life.
Contents
Introduction. A Biography of Wheat?

Chapter One. The Whispering of the Grasses
Chapter Two. The First Encounter
Chapter Three. Intertwined Lives
Chapter Four. From Villages to Cities
Chapter Five. Relationships Are Hard Work
Chapter Six. Nurture and Nature
Chapter Seven. War and Peace and Wheat
Chapter Eight. Order in Chaos
Chapter Nine. A Love-Hate Relationship

Epilogue. An Eternal Harvest

Acknowledgments
Notes
Bibliography
Index
Review Quotes
Publishers Weekly
"For a sustainability-conscious readership, Zabinski looks at how wheat both enabled the food security necessary for civilization and created new ecological problems."
Library Journal
"Wheat is a staple in the diets of cultures across the globe. But when and how did the first societies decide to consume grass seeds? Plant and soil ecologist Zabinski takes the discussion beyond history and anthropology to talk about the science of agriculture and the development of wheat production throughout the modern world. The more practical aspects of the crop are also discussed, such as why grass seeds are easier to store than other early cultivated grains. While the account focuses on wheat’s history, there is a section that concentrates on the stress of the crop for a growing population. An abundance of endnotes and references indicate an extensively researched text, while the chronological narrative reads like a biography starting with ancient people and cultivation through the modern practices of manipulating food DNA. . . . This work will appeal to lay scientists, anthropologists, and consumers who wish to know more about the science behind this common dietary staple."
Noel Kingsbury, author of "Hybrid: The History and Science of Plant Breeding" and "Garden Flora: The Natural and Cultural History of the Plants in Your Garden"
“In a friendly and accessible style, Amber Waves rather cleverly integrates material about plant evolution and physiological processes into a narrative of the development of wheat, concentrating heavily on the early stages of the process of plant domestication, with asides into evolution, genetics, plant nutrition, gluten-related health issues, and the role of wheat in history and power politics. A balanced discussion of the Green Revolution and the future possibilities of wheat breeding bring the story up to date for anyone who wishes to learn more about the history of farming and about plants.”
Norman C. Ellstrand, author of "Sex on the Kitchen Table: The Romance of Plants and Your Food" and "Dangerous Liaisons? When Cultivated Plants Mate with Their Wild Relatives"
“Zabinski not only offers a biography of the multiple species known as ‘wheat’ but presents their story in the context of the rise of civilization itself.”
For more information, or to order this book, please visit https://www.press.uchicago.edu
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