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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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3,588921,471 (4.07)124
Authors:Michael Pollan
Info:Random House (2001), Edition: Later printing, Paperback
Collections:Your library
Tags:Botany, Natural History, Evolution

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

Recently added byd-vod, karenw215, private library, mdyewhea, Lyle_X, mauramcf, thebigidea, QG, ElusiveNeutrino
  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 124 mentions

English (91)  German (1)  All languages (92)
Showing 1-5 of 91 (next | show all)
This had some interesting information, especially in the section about potatoes, but it was a little weird too. I really didn't like the section about the tulip -- he reminded me of a middle-school age boy in how he talked about sex at every turn. Overall, I learned some things I was glad to learn about, but I wish he had written it very differently. He could have scaled back on the Greek Gods too. ( )
  creynolds | Jul 9, 2015 |
I enjoyed this book so much that I have now taught it in my Intro to Literature classes for two semesters. What I like most is what a good storyteller Pollan is. Though he's building an argument about human-plant co-evolution, which is not fiction, he makes extensive use of fiction-writing techniques to make his ideas interesting and accessible, to promote both understanding and agreement in readers. So, not only does he create narratives, but he also makes characters out of unlikely players, such as animals and even plants. And herein lies the genius of this book, which is announced in the title but becomes much clearer as the discussion proceeds: to look at life from the perspective of creatures other than humans, and even other than animals--to look at life from the viewpoint of plants. Pollan both announces and illustrates this approach in the first pages of his introduction, which includes my favorite passage in the entire book:
“A bumblebee would probably also regard himself as a subject in the garden and the bloom he’s plundering for its drop of nectar as an object. But we know this is just a failure of his imagination. The truth of the matter is that the flower has cleverly manipulated the bee into hauling its pollen from blossom to blossom” (xiv).
What? The flower manipulated the bee? Yes! And in fact, as we will soon learn, the flower has also, in its way, manipulated the gardener. How could one not keep reading to find out how that story plays out? ( )
  Jujunna | Mar 27, 2015 |
I didn't find this book as intersting as Omnivore's Dilema was and had a hard time keeping interested in reading it. ( )
  Marleen_Cloutier | Oct 26, 2014 |
The last book I read by this author, [b:The Omnivore's Dilemma|3109|The Omnivore's Dilemma|Michael Pollan|http://photo.goodreads.com/books/1192945129s/3109.jpg|3287769], was great, and this one I liked even more. The author really knows how to write about a potentially boring subject (plants) in a way that made me want to keep reading. As in the Omnivore's Dilemma, I especially enjoyed how he travelled around to investigate what he was writing about.

Now I'm on to his current book, [b:In Defense of Food An Eater's Manifesto|315425|In Defense of Food An Eater's Manifesto|Michael Pollan|http://photo.goodreads.com/books/1203535494s/315425.jpg|3100234]. ( )
  piersanti | Sep 28, 2014 |
I've been a fan of Michael Pollan since reading "The Omnivore's Dilemma." Combing a love for food, nature, biology and sociology, Pollan extracts fascinating stories from mundane foodstuffs we often take for granted.

In this book, Pollan discusses the rise (and potential fall) of four highly successful crops: apples, tulips, potatoes, and, well. weed. He theorizes how these plants, from humble beginnings, helped engineer us to aid in its reproductive success. Primordial apples from the forests of Kazakhstan are virtually inedible, and until fairly recently (and only because of the temperance movement in the late 19th century) have they been bred for sweetness and crispiness that we value as an edible fruit. Prior to this, apples largely were used to make apple cider, the alcohol of choice before California wine country was established. What I found interesting is that rarely does an apple seed produce a tree with edible fruit -- all of the popular varieties seen in supermarkets are grafted trees.

Tulips, on the other hand, were bred strictly for beauty. Holland, known for tulips went through a period of tulipmania where extravagant prices were paid for single perfect specimens. A more recent success story is that of weed, well, hemp, hooch, mary jane...yes, marijuana. While I have no intention of reliving indiscretions of my youth, I found it interesting that the "ditch weed" of yore -- domestic crap with low thc has given way to a very high quality product of domestic origin...all thanks to the "war on drugs." The result is marijuana is now the most valuable cash crop in America.

Finally, Pollan discusses potatoes. Modern genetically modified potatoes contain their own antibiotics...bacterial DNA that kills off bugs that often feast on potato crops. He speaks with potato farmers who explain the process...and then tell him on the sly they keep a small, organic plot for their own use and when it comes to the stuff they sell, they suggest there is no such thing as washing them too much.

One warning, a common theme for Pollan expressed in other books, is that fields of genetically identical products are susceptible to complete devastation from a specific virus or bacteria. This happened in Ireland, famously resulting in the great potato famine. It can happen too with any of the crops discussed in this book. ( )
  JeffV | Mar 30, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 91 (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.

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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.
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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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