The Botany of Desire: A Plant's-Eye View of the World
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 … see full wiki
The co-evolution of plants and mankind seems designed to be viewed from the perspective of the seven deadly sins, but Michael Pollan takes a nicely squared-off look at the topic through just four plants. Sweetness (the apple), beauty (the tulip), intoxication (marijuana) and control (the potato) form the human basis of this tale of mutable and mutating flora and fauna. Combining familiar stories (including Johnny Appleseed), history (including the Irish potato famine),botany, genetics and more in a pleasingly readable text, the author successfully challenges social assumptions (insect-free harvesting is good for example) without digressing into radical condemnation. A very human curiosity invites the reader to ponder and wonder delightfully, while enjoying a text rich with fascinating digressions and just deep enough to impart the odd lesson in science, myth and history. Yes, I know that plants don’t “care,” and the author knows it too. But the image of plants manipulating us, rather than us enjoying the imagined power of manipulating ourselves, is certainly one that awakens the mind and inspires the reader to stop and think a bit. Next time I see a field of potatoes I might ponder on how we harvest sheep as well, and wonder if they too might be vulnerable to the great unknown that can suddenly wipe out a monocultured crop. I’d like to see the TV series, but I’m reviewing this from the point of view of someone who hasn’t. I enjoyed the smooth writing, the self-deprecating tone, and the gentle lessons imparted. I’m still not an expert, but I am at least a slightly more interested and educated amateur in this fascinating world of co-evolution. Disclosure: Our book group chose to read this book and I enjoyed it. I’m hoping I might enjoy the discussion too.
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