The Fruit Hunters: A Story of Nature, Adventure, Commerce, and Obsession by Adam Leith Gollner is a wild ride to say the least. Taking the reader to the margins of society - much like Krakauer did in Under the Banner of Heaven - this book explores the world of, well, fruit. But not just our grocery store fruit - we're talking the exotic, the rare, and the downright weird fruits that 99% of us will never see in our lives. Gollner travelled the planet during his research, going to the Seychelles in search of the endangered coco-de-mer; the junlges of Borneo to sample the stinky durian in it's natural habitat; Cameroon in search of the miracle fruit; as well as a bunch of other far off places like Hawaii, Thailand, and South America. Along the way, Gollner exposes a cornecopeia of not only exotic fruits, but strange, strange people.
As with most books I read, it's the characters that grab me, and this book was no different. The author meets some of the most obsessed whackos non-fiction has to offer. You couldn't make up some of these people if you wanted to.
There are fruitarian Doomsday cultists in Arizona. There are vicious fruitleggers. There are mega-rich men who spend their time collecting exotic fruit trees. There is the weirdo who invented the Grapple. There are men who make it their life's work to go clomping around the world's jungles cataloging every fruit they come across. There is the guy in Florida commonly known as "Graftin' Clafton", who is addicted to grafting to the point where security guards now make him leave his grafting implements at the door when he enters a certain botanical garden (he'd been caught grafting different species there too many times).
The Fruit Hunters also is a depressing overview of our modern fruit and agriculture industries. The chapter on marketing fruits here in North America was extremely disheartening. I will never go into a grocery store's produce aisle and look at the fruit displayed there the same way ever again.
A few things I'd like to point out:
- never buy Grapples. Trust me. It's not worth it and I wouldn't give that idiot any of my money
- 90% of the foods we eat derive from about 30 plant species
- fruit hunting isn't cheap, which is why it seems to be dominated by rich white men - most of them American
- some guy named Bob Harvey invented a nuclear powered artificial heart in the 1960s - WTF?
A fascinating read, one that I totally recommend.