The Chemical Educator, Vol. 7, No. 2, S1430-4171(02)02548-5, 10.1007/s00897020548a, © 2002 Springer-Verlag New York, Inc.

Plant Sciences. Edited by Richard Robinson. Macmillan Reference USA (an Imprint of the Gale Group): New York, 2001. Illustrations. 4 volumes. lvi + 957 pp. 22.0 x 28.3 cm.; hardbound; ISBN 0-02-865434-X. $406.25.

George B. Kauffman, California State University, Fresno,

All animals, including humans, depend ultimately on photosynthesis for their food. Readers of this four-volume, 300,000-word encyclopedia, a set in the Macmillan Science Library series for students and laypersons, will find out how plants accomplish this photochemical alchemy, will learn about the extraordinary variety of form and function within the plant kingdom, and will be able to trace their 450-million-year history, diversification, and evolution, from the very first primitive land plants to the more than 250,000 species living today.

With the help of agriculture humans were transformed from a nomadic, hunting and gathering species numbering in the low millions into the most dominant species on the planet with a population currently exceeding six billion. Agriculture has shaped human culture profoundly, and together the two have reshaped our planet. This encyclopedia explores the history of agriculture, its practice today, both conventionally and organically, and its impact on the land, atmosphere, and other creatures that share our planet with us. It also details the history of the scientific understanding of plants through experimentation and the development of rational classification schemes based on evolution. Biographies of more than two-dozen scientific pioneers and essays on the history of physiology, ecology, taxonomy, and evolution are included. A wide range of entries describes our still-changing understanding of evolutionary relationships, genetic control, and biodiversity.

Each of the 280 alphabetically arranged, authoritative, up-to-date, cross-referenced, and signed entries by 216 contributors from academic and research institutions, industry, and nonprofit organizations, mostly in the United States but also in Canada, the UK, Austria, Germany, and Denmark, has been newly commissioned for this encyclopedia. They range in length from about 500 to 6,000 words. Almost every entry is illustrated, and numerous photographs and diagrams (many full-page and in full color), tables, boxes, and sidebars enhance the reader’s understanding. Most are followed by a list of readily available related articles and a short reading list for readers seeking additional information. Technical terms and jargon are avoided, but necessary unfamiliar terms are highlighted and defined in the margins.

Each volume includes a one–page geological time scale, a list of contributors and their affiliations (three triple-column pages), a table of contents for all the volumes (four double-column pages), a glossary of technical terms from “abiotic” to “zygote”(16 pp), a topic outline that groups entries thematically (9 double-column pages), and a detailed index. Although chemical entries predominate under the topics of “Biochemistry/Physiology,” “Drugs and Poisons,” “Foods,” “Nutrition,” and “Photosynthesis,” chemical topics are found throughout all four volumes. The last volume also contains a cumulative index of concepts, names, and terms for the entire set (49 triple-column pages). Because many subjects are not treated in separate entries but within the context of comprehensive articles, this index will guide readers to discussions of these subjects.

I am pleased to recommend this comprehensive, eminently readable, and modestly priced reference work to students, chemists, chemical educators, and anyone interested in the broad area of plant sciences.