A fun and fascinating deep dive into the natural history, current uses, and vast potential of algae.
Who knew that the slimy green stuff we commonly encounter as seaweed and pond scum is a driving force behind all of life as we know it? In this accessible and enthralling book, Kassinger (A Garden of Marvels: How We Discovered That Flowers Have Sex, Leaves Eat Air, and Other Secrets of Plants, 2014, etc.) writes that algae are responsible for creating the environment that supports our existence on this planet. Today, algae are much talked about as an abundant source of alternative energy, but scientists have discovered that the usefulness of algae extends far beyond biofuels. They play a role in the production of a bevy of everyday products, from beer to paint. In seaweed form, algae are incredibly versatile and nutritious. The seaweed industry alone generates more than $6 billion per year, and seaweed may be an effective prebiotic. (As just one of the many charming features of this book, the author includes a few delectable seaweed recipes in the appendix.) Never one to shy away from getting her hands dirty, Kassinger traveled around the world to interview researchers and see for herself how algae may help save coral reefs, curb climate change, and produce eco-friendly plastics. She also provides exciting updates on how algae are being used to solve that pesky petroleum problem. Importantly, the author doesn’t overlook the not-so-rosy qualities of algae, touching on its potentially harmful effects on marine life. Still, there is no ick factor here. Kassinger delivers the powerful and optimistic message that slime just may be our savior. “Remember,” she writes, “that every fish in the sea depends on algae and that every plant on land is actually a sophisticated alga.”
Thorough but not dense, informative but never boring—a delight from start to finish.