BOOK REVIEW / Bookshop Window: The Culture of Flowers - Jack Goody: Cambridge, pounds 45

The only sad thing about this impressive book - a discussion of the role flowers play in the daily life of different cultures - is that the price, and a good deal of the language ('There is a problem here of periodisation') puts it out of reach of the nation's gardening millions. It begins with a very good question: why are there so few flowers in Africa? The absence of a vigorous domestic plant life leads, Goody argues, to Africa's small vocabulary for colours and perfumes - just one of botany's many gifts to the world. In the lengthy argument that follows, the author traces the role of flowers in both ceremonial and everyday life in Europe, Asia and America. He considers the economic history of horticulture and the symbolic gestures that flowers have come to represent. Moghul garlands are deconstructed with sombre thoroughness. There is little sense of flowers as things that wave in the breeze; but the book remains a sturdy history of a fragile but enduring human habit.