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The Forbidden Garden of Leningrad

On sale

14th November 2024

Price: £25

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Selected: Hardcover / ISBN-13: 9781399714556

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From the winner of the 2023 Wingate Literary Prize comes a fascinating and moving untold story of the Leningrad scientists who risked everything for the future of humanity

In the summer of 1941, German troops surrounded the Russian city of Leningrad – now St Petersburg – and began the longest blockade in recorded history. By the most conservative estimates, the siege would claim the lives of three-quarters of a million people. Most died of starvation.

At the centre of the embattled city stood a converted palace that housed the greatest living plant library ever amassed – the world’s first seed bank. After attempts to evacuate the collection failed, and as supplies dwindled, the scientists responsible faced a terrible decision: should they distribute the specimens to the starving population, or preserve them in the hope that they held the key to ending global famine?

Drawing on previously unseen sources, The Forbidden Garden tells the remarkable and moving story of the botanists who remained at the Plant Institute during the darkest days of the siege, risking their lives in the name of science.


PRAISE FOR THE ISLAND OF EXTRAORDINARY CAPTIVES 'Vivid and moving' MAX HASTINGS 'Excellent . . . a powerful tribute' GUARDIAN 'Riveting' NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW 'Eye-opening, insightful and brilliantly written' DAILY MIRROR 'Exhilarating' SPECTATOR
Helen Anne Curry, author of <i>Endangered Maize</i>
A gripping, harrowing history of science amid war and starvation, The Forbidden Garden of Leningrad recovers in astonishing detail the efforts of Soviet botanists to maintain their country's most precious seed collection through the siege of Leningrad. It is an unforgettable tale of devotion to science, seeds, and the future
Tom Bissell, author of APOSTLE
What an impressive achievement this book is. Moving, mordant, crushingly sad, and often horrifying, The Forbidden Garden of Leningrad is a useful reminder of how much human drama there remains to excavate from the ruins of the Second World War. Indeed, Simon Parkin has proved himself to be a human dowsing rod for such stories-and, in the meantime, become one of my favourite writers of literary-historical narrative alive.