I recently became aware of the work of the amazing American plant breeder Luther Burbank. It strikes me that if any rational optimist were looking for a subject for a feature-length documentary film, in the Ken Burns style, then Luther Burbank might be a good choice. It would portray rational optimism expressed through artisan science, how honest American graft and commercial enterprise vastly improved the world, and yet in the end was brought down by a poisonous religious bigotry. It would also offer a more subtle lesson on the risks of hero worship.
Here are links to what appear to be the only two screen documentaries on the man, both freely available online…
Luther Burbank (A Gardener of Eden) (1967), a 24 minute KPIX-TV documentary.
There is also a 2009 21-minute NPR radio Science Friday interview on Burbank with biographer Jane S. Smith, with the Burbank segement running from 3:30 to 24:00 minutes.
There are a number of print biographies, but no clear list of these online (even at Wikipedia). The Luther Burbank Society seems to have long since faded away. So, for the benefit of future Web searchers, below is my simple list of titles in date order. I link to the free full-text of the book, where available.
* New creations in plant life: an authoritative account of the life and work of Luther Burbank (1907 second edition, revised and enlarged).
* Luther Burbank, His Life and Work. (1915).
* Harvest of the Years (1927, Luther Burbank’s autobiography. Reprinted abridged as An Architect of Nature in 1938 in the UK).
* Luther Burbank, Plant Magician. (1943).
* Luther Burbank, a victim of hero worship. (1945).
* Luther Burbank, the wizard and the man. (1967).
* A gardener touched with genius: the life of Luther Burbank. (1993, revised and expanded edition).
* The Garden of Invention: Luther Burbank and the Business of Breeding Plants. (2009).
* Luther Burbank: Plant Breeder, Horticulturist, American Hero (2015, collection of scholarly essays from the American Society for Horticultural Science).
There appear to be no audio books, either Librivox recordings of the public domain books, or commercial recordings of the more recent titles.
He was best friends with the author Jack London, and also knew John Muir, so there may well be detailed information on Burbank in their biographies.