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

by Michael Pollan

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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4,8261441,841 (4.03)173
Every schoolchild 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. He masterfully links four fundamental human desires: sweetness, beauty, intoxication and control with the plants that satisfy them: the apple, the tulop, marijuana, and the potato. In telling the stories of four familiar species, 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 also benefited at least as much from their association with us. So who is really domesticating whom?… (more)
Recently added byprivate library, LRohrbach, FlorenceSloane, quavmo, suepr634, ninam0, bohmanjo, afdisah
  1. 41
    Wicked Plants: The Weed That Killed Lincoln's Mother and Other Botanical Atrocities by Amy Stewart (clif_hiker)
  2. 52
    Shrinking the Cat 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.
  3. 53
    Tulipomania : The Story of the World's Most Coveted Flower & the Extraordinary Passions It Aroused by Mike Dash (lorax)
    lorax: The Dutch "tulip mania" touched on in this book is explored in more detail in Tulipomania.
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» See also 173 mentions

English (142)  German (1)  Italian (1)  All languages (144)
Showing 1-5 of 142 (next | show all)
Every schoolchild 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. He masterfully links four fundamental human desires—sweetness, beauty, intoxication, and control—with the plants that satisfy them: the apple, the tulip, marijuana, and the potato. In telling the stories of four familiar species, Pollan illustrates how the plants have evolved to satisfy humankind’s most basic yearnings. And just as we’ve benefited from these plants, we have also done well by them. So who is really domesticating whom? ( )
  jepeters333 | May 26, 2022 |
Nopity nope, nope, nope. Couldn't do it. Way too much meandering about and I was just bored. Plus, I have problems with authors trying to explain evolution as though it were a sentient process, and while I agree with the premise that plants have likely evolved to appeal to humans, thus ensuring their own survival, I draw the line at the conceit, through bad use of language, that the plants made a rational choice to do so. It makes me imagine a room full of plants, sitting around a table, plotting out the structure of their own DNA in order to better market themselves to humans.

No, no, no, no, no.
  murderbydeath | May 23, 2022 |
I'm not an agronomist, a scientist, or even a gardener, but I found "The Botany of Desire" pretty fascinating. This one is incredibly dense: we hear about the history, genes, varieties, social consequences, survival strategies, and the potential future of four well-known plants. In many ways, it's positively eye opening. Pollan emphasizes both how much these plants have changed over the centuries' we've spent with them and how much they've changed us. As the subtitle promises, he even goes out of his way to explain why a certain plant -- or insect, or bacteria -- might benefit from changes in often unexpected ways. "The Botany of Desire" leaves the reader with the impression that nature's logic doesn't necessarily resemble our own. Nor, it argues, does our view of these plants necessarily resemble our ancestors': there's a lot of historical weirdness to be found here. I particularly enjoyed hearing about the role of hard cider in frontier America, a man who made it his life's work to preserve old, out-of-fashion apple varieties, and the madness that famously affected Dutch tulip collectors in the 1600s. For contrast, we hear about factory-like potato farms and the intensely futuristic way that marijuana is grown today. Our great-grandfathers might not recognize how we now grow and consume these plants. Pollan seems to want to communicate that what the average person considers "natural" is really anything but. That's an important perspective to have.

The other thing that makes "The Botany of Desire" such a good read the obvious passion that Pollan has for his subject. More than just an understanding of plants, the author might actually be said to have real empathy for them. His descriptions of his garden are nothing short of rapturous. He comes off as a man who's most at peace when he's got his hands in the dirt. Of course, I expect that not everyone will enjoy this aspect of the book. Pollan's an excellent writer, but he doesn't write much like the average scientist, and I couldn't help thinking that some of his tastes and priorities were a bit bougie. He even lives in Connecticut, for Pete's sake! Readers who want a more technical, straightforward look at plant development might want to look elsewhere. But I'm sort of a beginner here, so I really enjoyed this one. Maybe you will, too. ( )
2 vote TheAmpersand | Nov 17, 2021 |
weed chapter was most interesting part ( )
  jooniper | Sep 10, 2021 |
Interesting stories about four plants that have played a significant role in human society: the apple, the potato, the tulip, and marijuana. Pollan discusses a significant time in the history of the domestication of the plant and also how and why human desires affected our relationship with the plant. ( )
  Charon07 | Jul 16, 2021 |
Showing 1-5 of 142 (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 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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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Every schoolchild 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. He masterfully links four fundamental human desires: sweetness, beauty, intoxication and control with the plants that satisfy them: the apple, the tulop, marijuana, and the potato. In telling the stories of four familiar species, 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 also benefited at least as much from their association with us. So who is really domesticating whom?

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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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