Fields of gold  

Lords of the Harvest: Biotech, big money, and the future of food
Daniel Charles
$27 Perseus

GENETICALLY modified food has generated headlines around the world for almost two decades, and it is still a hot-button issue. As Lords of the Harvest makes clear, this is a story of ambitious scientists, calculating executives and outraged activists.

Dan Charles, a former Washington correspondent for New Scientist and now science correspondent for National Public Radio, is well placed to tell the tale of agricultural biotechnology from 1980 to the present. He explains the protoplasts and plasmids involved in manipulating genes, but his main interest lies with the people, and it is his rich cast of characters that moves Lords along.

At first this struggle seemed to pit Monsanto, Calgene and their millions against farmers, consumers and the Third World, but Charles makes it clear that there are no good guys or bad guys, not even in Greenpeace. Roundup Ready corn and the Flavr Savr Tomato did not represent evil. They didn't even make money.

Written by a farmer's son who has talked to all the major players, Lords of the Harvest provides a refreshingly nuanced view of this controversial intersection of biology and business.

Jonathan Beard