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BOOK REVIEW: The Rose: A True History by Jennifer Potter

Wednesday, November 29, 2017


The Blurb (From Goodreads):

For fans of Anna Pavord's "The Tulip" and Andrea Wulf's "The Brothers Gardener," a vividly written and lavishly illustrated history of the Queen of Flowers Ever since Sappho planted roses at the shrine of Aphrodite, no flower has captured the imagination in quite the same way. Here, the acclaimed horticultural historian Jennifer Potter sets out on a quest to uncover the life of a flower that has been viewed so hetrogenously by different cultures in different countries across the centuries. Beginning her story in the Greek and Roman empires, she travels across Europe, the Middle East, Asia, and the Americas to unravel its evolution from a simple briar of the northern hemisphere to the height of cultivated perfection found in rose gardens today. Whether laying bare the flower's long association with sexuality and secret societies, questioning the Crusaders' role in bringing roses back from the Holy Land, or hunting for its elusive blooms in the gardens of the Empress Josephine at Malmaison, Jennifer Potter reveals why this flower, above all others, has provoked such fascination.


My Thoughts:

Someone who loves roses – as I do – is called a ‘rose-fancier’. I’ve always loved that term. On the one hand, it has connotations of something that is fancy or fantastical: dreamy, whimsical, capricious, voluptuous. On the other hand, the word implies someone who is a ‘fan’ or a ‘fanatic’ in the sense of being excessively and unreasonably enthusiastic, coming from the Latin term fanaticus, meaning ‘worshipping at a temple’.

This gorgeously produced and illustrated book by Jennifer Potter is the perfect gift for a rose-fancier. It tells the history, mythology and romance of the rose from its very earliest days, many millions of years ago. As the author tells us, ‘roses appeared on earth after the dinosaurs but long before man.’

Jennifer Potter is described as a horticultural historian (what a wonderful job that would be!) and was, until recently, a Royal Literary Fund Fellow at King’s College in London. The book moves through time and across geographies, from ancient Greece to Rome and thence through all of Europe, and from ancient China along the silk roads and the trade routes to Persia, and, eventually, to the United States. It is particularly concerned with the depiction of the rose in art and poetry. Jennifer Potter examines how roses flourished in the work of such diverse writers as Sappho, William Shakespeare and Gertrude Stein; and traces the history of roses in visual arts from the first depiction in Minoan Knossos frescoes 3,500 years ago to their overt symbolism in the 1999 film ‘American Beauty’.

The Rose: A True History
is gorgeous to look at and utterly fascinating to read, whether you dip in and out or devour it all in just a few sittings, as I did. 


If you enjoy reading about nature, you might also enjoy Hope Jahren's memoir, Lab Girl. 



Please leave a comment, I love to know your thoughts. 


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