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"The Light Eaters" | Reviewed by Bill Schwab

Just as Peter Wohlleben and Suzanne Simard have written books that expanded our understanding of trees, "The Light Eaters" by climate journalist Zoë Schlanger expands our knowledge of plants. Schlanger delivers a vanguard work that explains the role of plants in the circle of life and presents how our recognition of plant intelligence can help us reverse the damage inflicted on our environment.

Plants have implemented ingenious ways to survive in one location. Through extensive research, botanists have learned how plants communicate, behave socially, hear sounds, blend with their surroundings, and deceive animals into behaving for their benefit.

Plants do not have brains, but they are clever. The author maintains that plants and fungi have formed a parallel system of agency, intelligence, and consciousness to humans. Vines grow leaves that blend into the shrubs they climb on; flowers shape their blooms to fit the beak of a pollinator. When being eaten by caterpillars, some tomato plants fill their leaves with a chemical that is so foul that the caterpillars start eating each other instead of the tomatoes.

Schlanger explains how plants use information from their environment and the past to make "choices" for the future. The primary way plants communicate with each other is through chemical gases released through microscopic pores. When an animal eats a plant, it releases an alarm that other plants pick up. This alarm can travel long distances, giving the plants that receive the warning time to prepare their immune systems for an invasion of defoliating animals before they arrive.

Schlanger spent many years of research exploring lab plant life before writing

 this cutting-edge book.

Since I read "The Light Eaters," I reflect on the plant drama around me when walking in a park. The journalist’s work awakens the reader to how much humans rely on plant life and the necessity of protecting Earth's flora. Her research has led her to return to climate journalism with a greater sense of what humans have to lose from climate change. Schlanger reminds readers that every species is a creative biological feat that would be tragic to lose. This fascinating exploration of plant life increases awareness of the ecosystem, the role of plants, and the place of humans in the natural world.

Although the paragraphs and chapters are long, the information is intriguing, inspiring, and presented clearly. I came away from the book with a lot to think about.

About the author: Zoë Schlanger is a staff reporter at the Atlantic, primarily responsible for covering climate change. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, The Nation, and NPR, among other major outlets. She received the 2017 National Association of Science Writers reporting award.


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