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THE BOTANY OF DESIRE by Michael Pollan

THE BOTANY OF DESIRE (original 2001; edition 2001)

by Michael Pollan

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3,7291091,398 (4.07)133
Authors:Michael Pollan
Info:Random House (2001), Edition: Later printing, Paperback
Collections:Your library
Tags:Botany, Natural History, Evolution

Work details

The Botany of Desire: A Plant's-Eye View of the World by Michael Pollan (2001)

  1. 30
    Wicked Plants: The Weed That Killed Lincoln's Mother and Other Botanical Atrocities by Amy Stewart (clif_hiker)
  2. 42
    Tulipomania by Mike Dash (lorax)
    lorax: The Dutch "tulip mania" touched on in this book is explored in more detail in Tulipomania.
  3. 32
    Shrinking the Cat: Genetic Engineering Before We Knew About Genes by Sue Hubbell (lorax)
    lorax: Both books are case studies of human breeding and selection of four domestic species; while the focus of the two is different there's enough overlap to create common interest, and both books choose apples as one of the species of interest.

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» See also 133 mentions

English (108)  German (1)  All languages (109)
Showing 1-5 of 108 (next | show all)
Pollan takes four aspects of human desire and how plants epitomize that desire. Sweetness = Apples. Beauty = Tulips. Intoxication = Marijuana. Control = Potato. A really excellent read. I learned a lot, from the real story of Johnny Appleseed, to the level that Monsanto was going at crop manipulation, even back in 2001 when this was first written. Would be really interested in seeing how things have changed, especially in the Control section.

"The seeds of this book were first planted in my garden - while I was planting seeds, as a matter of fact."

Apples : "Figures of tart wildness, both have been thoroughly domesticated - Chapman (Appleseed) transformed into a benign Saint Francis of the American frontier, the apple into a blemish-free plastic-red saccharine orb. "Sweetness without dimension" is how one pomologist memorably described the Red Delicious; the same might be said of the Johnny Appleseed promulgated by Walt Disney and several generations of American children's book writers."

Tulips : "Though we self-importantly regard domestication as something people have done to plants, it is at the same time a strategy by which the plants have exploited us and our desires - even our most idiosyncratic notions of beauty - to advance their own interests."

Marijuana : "There it is, right in the middle of the word intoxication, hidden in plain sight: toxic. The bright line between food and poison might hold, but not the one between poison and desire."

Potato : "Monoculture is where the logic of nature collides with the logic of economics; which logic will ultimately prevail can never be in doubt. In Ireland under British rule the logic of economics dictated a monoculture of potatoes; in 1845, the logic of nature exercised its veto, and a million people - many of whom probably owed their existence to the potato in the first place - perished."


S: 1/28/16 - F: 2/16/16 (20 Days) ( )
  mahsdad | Mar 22, 2016 |
A great set of essays on plants of political, social and economic importance. ( )
  ndpmcIntosh | Mar 21, 2016 |
Got bogged down about half way through (marijuana section) and moved on to something else. Intended to come back to the book but it was due back at the library. Will pick it up another time.
Interesting information, but seemed somewhat repetitive.
  KylaS | Feb 18, 2016 |
I feel sort of guilty reviewing this book. See, this was a book for my book club and the majority of the readers there really enjoyed it. I didn't think it was a great book, but I didn't think it sucked either.The premise of this book was simple...at least to me. The author who is a botonist and a gardener had 4 examples of what he wanted to illustrate in the area of self promotion and competition. We all compete. Everything competes. He wanted to take 4 plants and show how their nature helped them not only survive in this world but thrive. The 4 plants were, the Apple (Sweetness) The Tulip (Beauty) Cannibis (Desire) and the Patato (Control). Overall, I think the author did a pretty good job. The reading of the book was easy and he had a vast knowledge of his plants and their history. This alone kept me very interested. I learned a few things along the way. However, I feel that the point he was trying to make got lost along the way.For example, in the Chapter on sweetness (The Apple), he went into a long diatribe of John Chapman (Johnny Appleseed) Although, I felt that this was important to the story of the apple, he spent too much time talking about Johnny Appleseed, the man, who quite frankly, I had no real interest in. In talking about the Potato (control) he does not really give a really compelling reason for its success. He describes how in Ireland, the Potato saved those people. Sure, when something has no competition and that is all there is, there is only one really direction to go and that's up! Point I am making is that in the preface, the author claimed that the plants he describes first self promoted themselves to man and man then learns about himself to promote the plant again. The latter part of that sentences is carried out to perfection in this book. What I thought was missing was how the plant promoted itself to begin with. This was a good book. Don't get me wrong here. Would I recommend it? Absolutely! It was a good read and there is a lot of interesting facts that had me look up many of the details he goes into about the individual plants and their history. I just felt that the author could have done a better job of sticking to his premise and explaining it a little better. I feel that the answers he gave to his own premise were too subtle and unclear. I did not want to give out too many of the topics in this book as I don't really give spoilers out in my reviews. ( )
  DVerdecia | Jan 29, 2016 |
My Dad was still alive when I read this because we read and talked about it together, so it was sometime before March 2002. ( )
  ellenuw | Jan 27, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 108 (next | show all)
In other words, human desire shapes the plants that then shape human desire. In displaying for us, in his graceful and literate way, the intricacies of the mechanisms involved, Mr. Pollan shines a light on our own nature as well as on our implication in the natural world.
It's an absorbing subject, and Pollan, like his hero, brings a clutch of quirky talents to the task of exploring it. He has a wide-ranging intellect, an eager grasp of evolutionary biology and a subversive streak that helps him root out some wonderfully counterintuitive points. His prose both shimmers and snaps, and he has a knack for finding perfect quotes in the oddest places (George Eliot is somehow made to speak for the sense-attenuating value of a good high). Best of all, Pollan really loves plants.

» Add other authors (9 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Michael Pollanprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Brick, ScottNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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For my parents, who never doubted (or if they did, never let it show); and my grandfather, with gratitude
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The seeds of this book were first planted in my garden--while I was planting seeds, as a matter of fact.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Wikipedia in English (6)

Book description
This work explores the nature of domesticated plants from the dual perspective of humans and the plants themselves. Pollan presents case studies that mirror four types of human desires that are reflected in the way that we selectively grow, breed, and genetically engineer our plants. The apple reflects the desire of sweetness, the tulip beauty, marijuana pleasure and the potato sustenance.
Haiku summary

Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0375760393, Paperback)

Working in his garden one day, Michael Pollan hit pay dirt in the form of an idea: do plants, he wondered, use humans as much as we use them? While the question is not entirely original, the way Pollan examines this complex coevolution by looking at the natural world from the perspective of plants is unique. The result is a fascinating and engaging look at the true nature of domestication.

In making his point, Pollan focuses on the relationship between humans and four specific plants: apples, tulips, marijuana, and potatoes. He uses the history of John Chapman (Johnny Appleseed) to illustrate how both the apple's sweetness and its role in the production of alcoholic cider made it appealing to settlers moving west, thus greatly expanding the plant's range. He also explains how human manipulation of the plant has weakened it, so that "modern apples require more pesticide than any other food crop." The tulipomania of 17th-century Holland is a backdrop for his examination of the role the tulip's beauty played in wildly influencing human behavior to both the benefit and detriment of the plant (the markings that made the tulip so attractive to the Dutch were actually caused by a virus). His excellent discussion of the potato combines a history of the plant with a prime example of how biotechnology is changing our relationship to nature. As part of his research, Pollan visited the Monsanto company headquarters and planted some of their NewLeaf brand potatoes in his garden--seeds that had been genetically engineered to produce their own insecticide. Though they worked as advertised, he made some startling discoveries, primarily that the NewLeaf plants themselves are registered as a pesticide by the EPA and that federal law prohibits anyone from reaping more than one crop per seed packet. And in a interesting aside, he explains how a global desire for consistently perfect French fries contributes to both damaging monoculture and the genetic engineering necessary to support it.

Pollan has read widely on the subject and elegantly combines literary, historical, philosophical, and scientific references with engaging anecdotes, giving readers much to ponder while weeding their gardens. --Shawn Carkonen

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:23:26 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

Focusing on the human relationship with plants, the author of Second nature uses botany to explore four basic human desires, sweetness, beauty, intoxication, and control, through portraits of four plants that embody them, the apple, tulip, marijuana, and potato. Every school child learns about the mutually beneficial dance of honeybees and flowers; the bee collects nectar and pollen to make honey and, in the process, spreads the flowers' genes far and wide. In The botany of desire, Michael Pollan ingeniously demonstrates how people and domesticated plants have formed a similarly reciprocal relationship. In telling the stories of four familiar species that are deeply woven into the fabric of our lives, Pollan illustrates how the plants have evolved to satisfy humankind's most basic yearnings. And just as we've benefited from these plants, the plants have done well by us. So who is really domesticating whom?… (more)

(summary from another edition)

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