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The Botany of Desire: A Plant's-Eye View of…

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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4,2281251,694 (4.06)156
Recently added byprivate library, Glynwood, wisemetis, elle_em, surtsey, Baharak, WrenStiner, Egaro
  1. 30
    Wicked Plants: The Weed That Killed Lincoln's Mother and Other Botanical Atrocities by Amy Stewart (clif_hiker)
  2. 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.
  3. 42
    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.

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» See also 156 mentions

English (123)  German (1)  All languages (124)
Showing 1-5 of 123 (next | show all)
Apples. Tulips. Marijuana. Potatoes.

Third subject aside, I didn't see how these topics could be at all provocative. But then of course I'd forgotten about Tulipomania and the Great Potato Famine, the former being a bizarre highlight in world history, and I had never guessed at how intricate the story behind breeding the many varieties of all of those plants could be. It makes you look at the produce section a little diffrently.

This was a lot of fun to read, I can see why Michael Pollan is such a popular writer. He was knowledgeable, funny, and suitably wide-eyed at the discoveries he made and was able to share. ( )
  ManWithAnAgenda | Feb 18, 2019 |
Good read. Enjoyable writing style and sense of humor. ( )
  snotbottom | Sep 19, 2018 |
I tried to listen to this audiobook but didn't finish. It seemed wordy and repetitive in spots. I DNF. Maybe I'd enjoy it better in paper so I could skim over the philosophical wanderings and focus on the interesting facts... I liked a lot of what he had to say but I felt like I was being beaten over the head with it. I like to be allowed some room to make connections and come to conclusions myself and not have every little idea spelled out over and over again.
  wrightja2000 | Sep 6, 2018 |
This was an interesting perspective on the evolution of plants. ( )
  cubsfan3410 | Sep 1, 2018 |
Figured I ought to read another Pollan, but most of his things were checked out (and the waitlist for Cooked was kind of absurd. Gonna put that one off for a while). This was one of his earlier bestsellers, and as a natural history book, it's great. The idea that our habits coevolved with plants as we 'domesticated'/pollinated them is an interesting one, for sure, and the four species presented have some historical heft to them.

What soured me, unsurprisingly, is the the chapter on the potato as the embodiment of control. Meaning, most of this chapter is devoted to Monsanto's NewLeafs and the (negative) implications of GMOs. I realize this book is from 2001 but the trepidation around genetic engineering drives me nuts. While I agree that a biodiverse field will be healthier than a monoculture, I still think GMOs are the wrong villains to slay. If a modified organism reduces the expensive and toxic cocktail of pesticides used yearly, then why not use that technology? Why be a luddite? We get it; Monsanto is evil. But as long as Big Food and nationwide brands are a thing, we'll need to figure out how to approach monoculture in a more sustainable way. (I realize how oxymoronic that is but DEAL WITH IT) ( )
  Daumari | Dec 30, 2017 |
Showing 1-5 of 123 (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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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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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.
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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)

» see all 5 descriptions

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