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Brilliant GreenStefano Mancuso and Alessandra Viola

Island Press, £12.89

Read this book: it informs and excites the mind.

Exuberantly translated from Italian by Joan Benham, Brilliant Green can be read in a sitting. It explores the phenomenal sensory and adaptive responses of higher plants, and is filled with anecdotal information, such as the way that growing plants recognise and respond to their kin.

There is a lesson on every page. Yes, they miss out items one would like to see included – for example, that the only reason multicellular animals have a brain is because we are divorced from sources of nutriment and moisture, and need to move to find our food.

They do, however, speak of the response of plants to fire and to humidity, and list 15 senses (in addition to those with which we are familiar, like optical sensing and touch) that are found only in plants.

When they discuss unicellular organisms, including Euglena, they are weaker. As readers of The Biologist will know, there are some remarkable senses in the microbial world. However, this is a timely work and has the makings of a great TV series.

Mancuso is a botanist specialising in what he calls 'plant neurobiology', the aptly named Viola is an Italian science writer. Between them, they have produced an excellent work: synergy at its best.

Professor Brian J Ford

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