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THE BOTANY OF DESIRE by Michael Pollan
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THE BOTANY OF DESIRE (original 2001; edition 2001)

by Michael Pollan

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
3,9331191,309 (4.07)144
Member:cerce7
Title:THE BOTANY OF DESIRE
Authors:Michael Pollan
Info:Random House (2001), Edition: Later printing, Paperback
Collections:Your library
Rating:*****
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. 52
    Tulipomania by Mike Dash (lorax)
    lorax: The Dutch "tulip mania" touched on in this book is explored in more detail in Tulipomania.
  3. 42
    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 144 mentions

English (118)  German (1)  All (119)
Showing 1-5 of 118 (next | show all)
Pollan's take on apples, tulips, marijuana, and potatoes. A good mix of history, reporting, and personal experience as he explores humanity's relationship with plants (using these four to elucidate the desires for sweetness, beauty, intoxication, and control). A good quick read for a summer afternoon. ( )
  JBD1 | Jul 2, 2017 |
Pollan explores the co-evolution of plants by examining how people have bred qualities in plants they find desirable, causing some plants to thrive. He gives as his example, Apples (bred for sweetness), Tulips (bred for beauty), Marijuana (bred for intoxication), and Potatoes (bred for control).

For each plant examined, Pollan spins a masterful tale of how these plants have changed overtime in order to thrive. People have seen desirable qualities in each of these plants and cultivated them; the plants in turn have used their desirable qualities in order to thrive in relationship with humanity.

I found apples particularly interesting. Prized for sweetness and bred for cider, undergoing a change of use in the late nineteenth century temperance movement. Since then they became more sweet, and varieties have become more standardized (apples from seeds apparently aren't as sweet, so therefore varieties are maintained through grafts).

But of each of these plants I learned a lot. Pollan tries to peel back the pages of history to give us a look at the real John Chapman AKA Johnny Appleseed. He recounts the history of the Dutch's fascination with Tulips and how these plants thrived among austere cranky protestants who longed for beauty. Pollan talks about the increase in Marijuana's THC levels under prohibition when breeds were crossed to maximize their effects. He uses potatotes, specifically the New Leaf Potato to talk about genetically modified foods and humanity's actions to take over the evolution of the plant and its possible implications.

This book would be interesting if it just told you a little bit of trivia about plants and their development. Of course Pollan is much more interesting in that, because his aim is to cause us to think about our relationship to plant life, their reliance on us, and our reliance on them. He makes the case that plants are not simply for our use, but exist with us in a relationship of reciprocity and mutual connection. Very thought provoking and worth reading. ( )
  Jamichuk | May 22, 2017 |
Loved the content, hated the reader of this audio book. I'm sure I would have enjoyed this more if I had either read the book, or if the audioreader had a less pompous voice. It's the type of book I prefer to listen to. This type of non-fiction interests me but I sometimes find it hard to stay engaged. If you are a gardener of any kind, or a flower lover, there will be a lot you'll enjoy here. ( )
  Eye_Gee | May 8, 2017 |
I picked up and put down Pollan's Botany of Desire many times. It wasn't because it wasn't filled to the brim with interesting information, or that it was in any way tiresome of boring. The book requires you to take your time.

The four subjects Michael Pollan has decided to investigate are well researched: the apple, the tulip, marijuana, the potato. He takes you on a journey of each of their origins, their place here in modern society, and where we are to go from here in the realm of agriculture.

It is an engaging read, and Pollan, obsessed with going into the field himself and getting his hands dirty, encourages us to do the same: learn about what we put in our mouths, and why we find certain things beautiful, and other things abhorrent. ( )
  JaredOrlando | Apr 2, 2017 |
Pieces of it were interesting, but most of it dragged on past the point of any enthusiasm on my behalf. On a whole, the book was very informative, but there isn't much useable information for me to take away - like his other books typically have. ( )
  benuathanasia | Oct 27, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 118 (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)

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Michael Pollanprimary authorall editionscalculated
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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Wikipedia in English (3)

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)

» see all 4 descriptions

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