The Botany of Desire: A Plants-Eye View of the World

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Now, desire sounds like a strong word to use about botany.

His four plants are: the apple, the tulip, marijuana and the potato. As a one time Irishman I have no problem with the idea that the potato might make the list of plants of desire, but I can see that others might struggle most with that one being included. This book is based on the idea that plants use us as much as we use them — and the plants best able to meet our desires are the plants we help most to spread about the world.

So much so that we tend to make monocultures of those plants that best match our desires — something that is arguably as much a problem for the plants as it is a boon for them.

The Botany of Desire: A Plant's-eye View of the World: Michael Pollan: Bloomsbury Paperbacks

I had that kind of relationship with the story of Johnny Appleseed aka John Chapman. While I had some notion of him going around frontier America planting apple seeds and ten points for promoting dental health he was never really going to cut it beside, say, Daniel Boone what a dream come-er-true-er was he! Little did I know that rather than being a man dedicated to the random distribution of apple seeds, he actually sold apple trees to pioneers when not considering matrimony with stray 10 year olds.

Pioneers were keen to buy the said apple trees not due to the dearth of doctors being kept away by all those apples being eaten, but rather the equally troubling shortage of bartenders. It is here that Pollan develops one of his major metaphors — borrowed from Nietzsche that most popular of masturbatory German philosophers of the dichotomy between the Apollonian and the Dionysian.

Basically, Apollo was the god of order and light, Dionysus the god of wine and orgies. Our obsession with growing the same potato all over the world to make the perfect McDonalds fry is symbolic of the Apollonian desire — Johnny Appleseed growing apple trees from seed and thereby getting a vast number of genetically different trees symbolic of the Dionysian.

This central tension forms a large part of the basis of the book. It proves an interesting thing to say about Tulips too, and obviously also of marijuana. I guess it is possible that if Dionysus was with us today he might well be a pot head. The stuff about marijuana is very interesting. Pollan says that his initial reaction to smoking pot was much the same as mine has always been. That its main effects seemed to be to make me feel paranoid and stupid. Which is probably for the best.

The Botany of Desire: A Plant’’s-eye View of the World

Again, as with the apples and the tulips, I did know much of the story of marijuana before I started reading, but not really all of the details. The story of tulips causing a major economic bubble is worth reflecting on at the moment. The plants themselves are equally fascinating, as are little facts gleaned along the way about depression and plant viruses.

But the section on the potato is riveting — and not just for the Irish. We really are going to have to do something about the way we produce food — and if you need to know why, then reading this chapter will make it all clear.

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I've wanted to read this book ever since it came out, but, so far, I've been pretty deeply disappointed by it. From the jacket copy and reviews I'd read, I'd come to expect a poetic lay-science book about the entwined destinies of plants and humans. Hell, that's what the author's introduction led me to expect, too. I did not expect, nor want, most of the chapter on the apple to be more concerned about the historical realities of Johnny Appleseed than with the apple itself.

I didn't want the autho I've wanted to read this book ever since it came out, but, so far, I've been pretty deeply disappointed by it. I didn't want the author to neglect almost the whole history of the fruit before , by virtue, apparently, of being too lazy to do more than pay lip service to anything that didn't happen in America. If I hear one more cute little musing about Johnny Appleseed, I will start seriously considering not listening to this book anymore. I hope the damned thing gets more interesting in the next chapter, that's all I'm saying.

But I don't have very high hopes. Updated: I don't think I ever even finished the dratted thing. Jun 30, Heidi The Reader rated it really liked it Shelves: non-fiction. Packed with food-related history, trivia and stories, Michael Pollan attempts to explain how four types of plants have had such a large effect on humanity.

Pollan removes the veil between apples, tulips, marijuana, potatoes, and mankind in order to illustrate how the plants evolved and what kinds of shenanigans they've brought on civilization in the process. That's why it makes just as much sense to think of agriculture as something the grasses did to people as a way to conquer the trees. Did you know at one point in the Dutch Republic a tulip bulb cost as much as a house? It was called "tulipmania" and it caused enormous havoc in the local economy when the tulip bubble burst.

I also learned about the evolution of flowers, which I didn't know anything about before reading this. I had only ever considered them from a spiritual perspective — I think it was Eckhart Tolle who talked about flowers being the "spiritual evolution of plants". It's rather interesting actually if you're into that kind of thing. Maybe there's a good reason we find their fleetingness so piercing, can scarcely look at a flower in bloom without thinking ahead, whether in hope or regret.

Pollan's writing style wanders no where quickly, so readers who have little patience for storytelling non-fiction may want to choose a different book. I rather liked it. I think he may have oversimplified the plants and humanity relationship by picking only one motivating desire per plant.


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Let's be real, things are never as simple as that. But for the premise of this book, it worked well enough. Basically, The Botany of Desire encourages readers to consider what plants get from us as much as what we get from them.

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It's a different perspective, like looking at your home from the level of a toddler rather than your usual height. There's things to learn and puzzle out and discover that you may have never even imagined. Recommended for readers interested in botany and different worldviews. View 2 comments. As beguiling as the plants this book enlightened me about. Reminded me of A History of the World in 6 Glasses with the introduction, except it was even worse. As well as Scott Brick read this, it was incredibly boring listening to the same points for half an hour, so I quit.

Yes, it is interesting to contemplate whether we domesticated a plant or it domesticated us. The evolutionary imperative of any organism is to spread copies of its DNA. That's all it's worth. It is a koan, a philosophical riddle that can mean many things depending on the observer.

However, his assertion that plants are almost mystically so wonderful at biochemistry is ridiculous. We're no slouches ourselves in our ability to break down wide varieties of materials to feed ourselves. Sep 10, Eh?

Four common plants and I didn't know they each held such a rich history. Well, I was kind of familiar with marijuana's development not from personal toking, honest Asian, but from being surrounded by tokers - hey, it was Oregon and that it was completely villified in the "just say no" era of drug awareness education.

The chapters on the apple, tulip, and potato offer cautionary evidence on the danger of destroying diversity in the name of commerce. Dratted industry and their shipping lives, ap Four common plants and I didn't know they each held such a rich history. Even though I'm probably being manipulated by the plants, I still want a garden in which to spread their genetic material.

Plant pimp? If only. On the subject of plants causing us to help them multiply by being appealing to us: I view this language as couching the concept in terms that we might understand, finding a common thread and expounding. I don't imagine Mr. Pollan meant plants as willfully selecting the characteristics that would cause us to replant and increase year after year. It's supposed to be a mutually beneficial interaction. If they could effect deliberate change in us, would they let us spray potatoes like that or make the mealy Red Delicious, I'm sure it was once actually delicious, the most common apple in US supermarkets?


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  6. I wonder what it would be like if plants could fight us. View all 3 comments. Just wow! This was another museum book club pick from our Minneapolis Institute of Art; while I like Michael Pollan it's unlikely I would have otherwise read this fascinating book. Even the description made it look doubtful that it would be my cup of tea. Boy, was I wrong! Pollan looks at four human desires and four plants that satisfy those desires to explore the interdependence of humans and plants. He busts the myth of Johnny Appleseed, shows how Tulipomania was the tech bubble of 17th century Dutch society, tells how cannabis produces the crystal clarity experienced by users and how it's different from others drugs and illustrates the historical folly of man's quest to industrialize food production by creating botanical mono-cultures.

    My hunch is after reading this you will never eat a commercially grown potato again! Pollan concludes that while humans believe in our ultimate control over plants, plants have equal influence on the destiny of mankind. Biodiversity is his premise and the story he tells to convince us of this will stick with me for a long time. View all 7 comments.