Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer: Book Review

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Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer Book Cover
Title: Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants

My Synopsis:

In this collection of essays, Robin Wall Kimmerer, a Native American woman who holds a PhD in Botany, weaves together apparently disparate beliefs into a healthy, hopeful whole. She argues that traditional ways of viewing the world and the scientific process complement rather than detract from each other. In a world facing climate change; the thorny problem of Superfund sites; and rapidly-depleting, unequally-distributed resources, people should honor both traditions, care for the earth, and start living in sustainable ways.

My Review:

If you look at all six of the genres I’ve placed this book in, you can tell that it defies description. The title sounds boring to me. I had to take a plant taxonomy class in college. While I enjoyed learning the names of things, I didn’t like learning about the plants themselves. Photosynthesis, xylem and phloem, or pinnate versus palmate leaves? Give me animal systems any day.

And yet I found myself completely engrossed in Dr. Kimmerer’s essays. This is so much more than “a book about plants.” She weaves together Native American mythology (largely from her Potawatomi heritage but drawing from other sources as well), her scientific background, her personal history, and her Nation’s history, leading me to feel that there is a better way forward for our planet. We should be aware of what we take from the earth and what we give in return. We should be thankful for each gift the earth gives us (spoiler alert: everything is a gift). Rather than brushing off Native American ways as superstition, scientists should learn from and study them. She cites several studies she took part in that completely reinforced Native traditions and turned scientific assumptions on their ear.

Dr. Kimmerer’s writing is beautiful and I would love to include some meaningful quotes here. But I honestly would have just highlighted and re-written the entire book if I’d tried. Her thoughts aren’t really expressed in “soundbites.” She builds her argument with stories and leads you to her conclusions and there’s no real way to select any small section as a representative whole. Which is largely the point that she makes about our relationship with nature: we’re all a part of the whole.

The library has a waiting list that is weeks, if not months, long, so I was in a rush to finish before I had to return it and start over at the back of the line. I simply ran out of steam by the last couple of essays so I knocked my rating back half a star. Maybe I lost interest or maybe those essays weren’t quite of the same quality as the earlier ones–I’m not sure.

I highly recommend this to anyone who is willing to embark on a reflective journey of learning about and honoring our planet. If you can swing it, pick up your own copy so you can savor it by reading an essay at a time here and there.

Recommended by:

Jessica at Book Ouroboros

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Reading Challenge:

2021 Nonfiction Reader Challenge


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  1. So much more than a book about plants indeed! This is the kind of thinking we need for the future, such a great model for all kinds of change and renewal. I did have to return it early in those last few chapters (I also got a bit bogged down there) and wait till I could get it back from the holds list. A year later, it was still popular but not quite so much – it took only a few weeks.

    1. I loved the blend of science and–indigenous knowledge? Someone who lives close to the land has plenty of knowledge to contribute when discussing stewardship of the land, even if they can’t entirely explain what they know to be true.

      1. The blend of science and indigenous knowledge AND poetic/aesthetic sense was dynamite. We need this kind of synthesis in our thinking today — with each part being highly developed and respectable in its own right, yet working together for a true healing vision. More of this please!

  2. Our naturalist book club read Gathering Moss by this author early this year, and we all loved it. We ended up adding this book to our reading list for 2022. I am eager to read this one. Fortunately, I received a copy as a gift so I won’t have to rush through it.

  3. I’m really looking forward to reading this one. Though based on your notes about it, I think this would be one I need to buy rather than checking out of the library. I’m not sure I’d be able to do it justice during a brief check-out period.

  4. Wow, this looks wonderful. Learning more about traditional knowledge is definitely a plus in my book. You’re right, everything that the earth gives us is a gift.

  5. This sounds super interesting. I’ve only seen it on one other blog, but that reader really enjoyed it, too. It’s not something I’d normally pick up, but I’ll consider it now.

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