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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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4,4601331,757 (4.05)163
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 byTomMcGreevy, ktkeith, warrenf, pnficara, Rebreitz, HeaterJo, pgkr, cfickett, private library, lukegolemon
  1. 52
    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.
  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. 41
    Wicked Plants: The Weed That Killed Lincoln's Mother and Other Botanical Atrocities by Amy Stewart (clif_hiker)
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» See also 163 mentions

English (131)  German (1)  All languages (132)
Showing 1-5 of 131 (next | show all)
An interesting book overall. The theme of nature vs culture is useful, as are the considerations on monoculture and genetically modified crops. The four detailed studies certainly taught me things I didn't know and moved Pollan's argument forward. Clearly plants and humans have co-evolved in ways that we don't always recognize. ( )
  TomMcGreevy | Jul 10, 2020 |
paperback
  mikeemcg | Jun 28, 2020 |
It may sound like science fiction, but let me assure you... it's not.

Indeed, Pollan writes very well about the history and effects of four plants that have a huge impact on our lives... even if we may never have had two of them. His tone and his command of the various histories managed to make his writing both personal and wildly interesting.

I'm speaking of Apples, Tulips, Cannabis, and Potatoes, however.

I'll assume that everyone has had apples and potatoes, but I can also assume that everyone is at least AWARE of cannabis. As for tulips, they once caused rather fascinating Dionysian meltdown among the Dutch. Toppled a kingdom. That's pretty heavy. :)

The real history of Johnny Appleseed might very well have been about apple alcohol. Cider. But once upon a time, and thanks to the wildly diverse possibilities within the apple seed, the whole nation had thousands of different kinds of apples. People selected and bred the best and all of a sudden this nearly unique source of sweetness (sugar being either rare or distasteful thanks to the slave trade) made apples more than a huge market. Sweetness was the key, but when other foods replaced the apple's kingship of sweetness, by that time, the amazing variety had been reduced to a mere handful.

It was our desire for the apples that caused this domestication, but beyond that, the apple trees themselves found themselves in a paradise of genetic dispersion, so helped it along. Selective breeding programs have been a real thing for a long time.

Tulips, for their beauty and a sometimes erratic explosion of color (thanks to a virus that made it weaker) became a craze of economic speculation, driving the prices up until it bankrupted a kingdom.

Cannabis, also a victim or a happy co-author of selective breeding, has undergone massive changes as well. Maybe it was the prohibition against it that made it so coveted, but this is almost as crazy as the Tulip economic bubble.

Potatoes, the last chapter, is all about control. Monsanto. If you like to be freaked out and get the skinny on that debate (as of 2001, when this was published) I can promise you that it will do the job nicely. The kinds of things that are done today with pesticides, GMOs, and the forced termination of genes in order to force farmers to come back, repeatedly, to Monsanto, is a tragedy of epic proportions. And then there's the comparison of this mono-gene-culture to the one that starved a million people in the Potato Famine in Ireland, driving away half the population because they could no longer feed themselves.

Can something like that happen to us?

It's the big question. We're doing it to ourselves. Our need for perfect french fries may undo us all. ( )
  bradleyhorner | Jun 1, 2020 |
Very interesting book about the interrelationship between people and plants, specifically how various human desires have meshed with -- or messed with -- the desire of plants to procreate. The author examines our desire for sweetness by looking at apple growing, including some information of Johnny Appleseed that surprised me. He then looks at our desire for beauty by studying tulips, especially the tulipomania that gripped Holland (and other parts of the world) centuries ago. He then turns to our desire for intoxication by looking at the largely illegal growing of cannabis. Finally, he examines the human desire for control by studying the cultivation of potatoes, raising issues such as biodiversity and GMOs.

Through it all, the writing is accessible, at times funny and often profound in its messages. I really enjoyed it. ( )
  LynnB | Feb 13, 2020 |
A very readable exploration of man's relationship to nature, particularly with our efforts to domesticate plants thereby forming a reciprocal relationship. The book includes a little philosophy, history, psychology as well as biology. ( )
  snash | Oct 27, 2019 |
Showing 1-5 of 131 (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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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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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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