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Second Nature: A Gardener's Education

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3.92 of 5 stars 3.92  ·  rating details  ·  4,233 ratings  ·  448 reviews
In his articles and in best-selling books such as The Botany of Desire, Michael Pollan has established himself as one of our most important and beloved writers on modern man’s place in the natural world. A new literary classic, Second Nature has become a manifesto not just for gardeners but for environmentalists everywhere. “As delicious a meditation on one man’s relations ...more
Paperback, 258 pages
Published August 12th 2003 by Grove Press (first published 1991)
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Community Reviews

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Rachel
I am an unabashed fan of Michael Pollan. Yes, it may sound strange, but in my esteem, he is tantamount to a rock star or a Hollywood A-lister. "But Rachel!" you may be thinking, "he's just a regular guy! In fact, he's just a bald and bespectacled ol' college professor!"

Despite these potentially legitimate arguments, I classify Michael Pollan among the ranks of the elite. So, when I learned that Michael Pollan published a book about gardening in the early 1990's, I seized the opportunity to get a
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Ken-ichi
All Pollan's books explore the ways people relate to the world around them, from plants to food in general to space itself. This one's about gardens and gardening, and is probably the book in which he most explicitly addresses man's relationship to nature.

The oft-repeated thesis of this book is that all American concepts of the physical world and our place in it stress a division between nature and culture, and that while this notion has been useful in its various forms (Puritan establishment to
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Jim
I've been a gardener my whole life and so was delighted with Michael Pollan's story of his experiences with gardening and the endless struggles we go through as nature does its best to undo our every effort. A great read and a true gem of a meditation on gardens and the human spirit.


After 2012:

This is my third read of Second Nature. Once again I'm impressed by Pollan's ability to weave personal history with past and present theories/ideas/politics of gardens and our changing attitudes towards th
...more
gina
This book was, erm, okay. Just okay. There were definitely parts that I really liked about it (historical overview of gardening in the US, Pollan talking about his struggles with his five acres, reminiscing about his childhood gardening memories). But, and this is a big but, each chapter felt like it's own book, with a wrap up that left me feeling like SURELY this should be the end of the book, only to realize there were a gazzillion cds left in the case to go through. When I put in the last one ...more
Mads P.
A fascinating and informative read that goes way beyond gardening. Drawing from history, ecology, religion, literature, and philosophy, Pollan discusses how gardening addresses our relationship with nature.

Excellent writing style. For example, he entertainingly describes "the loathsome slugs: naked bullets of flesh--evicted snails--that hide from the light of day, emerging at sunset to cruise the garden along their own avenues of slime."

In addition to the lowly slug, Pollan addresses big topics
...more
mark
Apr 01, 2015 mark rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Pollan fans, gardeners, NPRers
Written twenty-five years ago, much of what this book is about is as true today as it was then – because much of it is a history of the garden and gardening. It’s also, though, a contemporary study and self-analysis of the author’s one-year experience of putting in a garden(s) on his newly purchased (in 1984) five-acre, old farm, in Cornwall, Connecticut, with bits of social and cultural commentary sown in. Gardens are, he rightly point out, “a form of self-expression …” (p. 242) and Pollan exhi ...more
David Radavich
This is a revolutionary book from my perspective. It begins with the author's reflections on his grandfather's garden and his father's attitudes to yard care and continues to his own arduous garden-making. But along the way he considers the rich, fascinating history of gardens, yards, forests, and open spaces and how humans relate to them. I particularly relished his chapters on the "meaning" of trees across a broad variety of cultures and "the idea of a garden." As he says, gardens are narrativ ...more
MaryJo
Second Nature published in 1991 is Michael Pollans’ first book. I started reading Michael Pollan when my sister gave me Botany of Desire, and I had missed this early book about gardening. The voice is familiar to a Pollan reader, a combination of journalistic investigation, personal reflection, and an occasional zinger. The book is arranged by the seasons, a device which works well enough, as Pollan tells stories of his increasing engagement with gardening. I found myself laughing out loud, reco ...more
Frank
"Second Nature" is Michael Pollan's first book (and the last of all his offerings to date that I have read.) It is a book of the author's attempt to more deeply understand his connection to his gardens on his (now former) property in rural Connecticut.
The story travels from his boyhood exposure and fascination to his grandfather's suburban garden. It all culminates in a tour of his own gardens as an adult. Along that form he discusses the many stops we all take in our own gardens.
In typical Poll
...more
Nicki
One of my summer reading goals is to read through all of Michael Pollan’s work; so I started with Second Nature: A Gardener’s Education, his first book, which was published in 1991.

Second Nature takes readers through the explorations, tribulations, and revelations of Pollan himself, as he works to leave his mark on his personal landscape. This is not a “how-to” garden book. Here you will not find natural remedies for warding off common garden pests, or how to produce more tomatoes per plant. Wha
...more
Stacy
So apparently Michael Pollan existed before he wrote "The Omnivore's Dilemma". Shocking, I know. What's more, he actually wrote other books, including this gardening memoir. He shares his own history in the garden, some historical background of gardening in America (and is particularly fond of bagging on Puritans), expounds on what we love roses so much, and explores environmental questions such as: Is it ever acceptable for man to alter nature, and if so, how and why?

One of my favorite section
...more
Susan Sink
This book gets five stars from me because I really believe it is a modern classic. It belongs up there with Izaak Walton, Aldo Leopold and yes, even Thoreau, with whom he argues throughout the book.

It's not just about gardening; it's about Americans' relationship to the land-- including their suburban front and back yards. I think the fact that he starts with his Long Island suburban plot is what really engaged me. We suburbanites grow up with a very limited view of nature and often a diminished
...more
Sarah
Finished a while ago but I had a hard time articulating how I felt about the book until I read some other reviews, and someone hit it spot-on: I was expecting a book about gardening, and this isn't one. This is characteristic (though early, and still good) Pollan, one part anecdotal, one part educational, and several more parts careful theorizing and philosophizing. His thesis is interesting (though repetitive), that the American relationship with nature has evolved into an either/or, mutually e ...more
Bill
This is one of Pollan's earlier books and it is fun to see his early thinking, ideas leading eventually to Botany of Desire (co-evolution) and his other books. This one looks at gardening and explores it as a useful metaphor for breaking the dichotomy between Preserving Nature (i.e. pretending that we are separate from nature and can wall it off from human influence) and dominating our environment (i.e. pretending that we can control it without ultimately destroying ourselves). He doesn't dwell ...more
jess
I haven't even read Michael Pollan's really famous work, but I always think of the Botany of Desire as one of the cornerstones of my perspective. I don't know why it took me so long to get to Second Nature. I'm so fascinated by humanity's place in the landscape and I like his style. In his typical style, Pollan brings a contemporary American ethnobotany to these classic garden icons.

Michael Pollan explores such items as:
his father garden vs. his grandfather's garden
roses, history, modern hybrid
...more
Paul
One of Pollan's earlier titles, I started reading this because for the first time I was to create and tend to my own little 10x10 garden this year. I figured having another perspective on this would be nice.

The book follows Pollan's own thoughts and musings on gardening in America. The main theme is that too often there are extremes in the environmental debate. Either we steadfastly preserve "wilderness" or we bulldoze the forest and put up condos. Pollan puts forth the idea that there needs to
...more
Patrick O'Connell
After having read "The Botany of Desire", enjoying "A place of My Own" and this book having come highly recommended, I was really looking forward to reading it. Frankly, I was a little disappointed.

It's really more about Landscape Architecture than "gardening". Even so, I might have found that topic interesting had I not already been a matriculating student of that subject. Having said that he, does seem to be very well informed and this would make a very good read for the first semester Landsc
...more
Ammie
There are so many books I want to give four and a half stars to, books that are way better than a four--my fallback rating--but not quite as mind-blowing as a five. This is one of those. It's a collection of essays about gardening, but along the way it touches on everything from rose-growing snobbery (I'm a florist, and since I read this many people have received an impromptue lecture on hybrid vs. old variety roses)to how to negotiate the nature-culture split in a mindful way both in and out of ...more
Kiirstin
A brave, necessary, and thoroughly-researched document proposing a new ethic to govern the relationship between humans and nature. Also a gardening memoir, a history of nature and culture, and a meditation on the meaning of a garden. I don't think Pollan's got it all exactly right, but he's got to be close. In addition, this is funny, fascinating, and very easy to listen to, even as it makes you think really hard about our place on, and our responsibilities to, this planet we call home.

full revi
...more
Nick
Although I am not a gardener--I joke that I have a black thumb, I do understand the attraction and love to walk through communal gardens and so forth. In this early book, Michael Pollan, known now for his two bestsellers on food (one reviewed by me), writes about gardening, the idea of gardens and the false dichotomy we make between nature and culture. A wise, thoughtful book that seems to me to reflect the attitude we need to deal with our environmental problems, from invasive species to global ...more
Derek
I accidentally (though I'm not willing to discount the power of the subconscious) started Michael Pollan's wonderful Second Nature: A Gardener's Education while in the midst of buying my first house. This had two results: it took me dreadfully long to finish a book I loved, and it gave me an appreciation of the ownership of land that I surely wound't have come by otherwise.

The book is a lot of things, but the parts I connected with the most were the things I've loved about Pollan for as long as
...more
Rj
Just as I had read Ruth Reichl's book in reverse order I have been doing the same with Michael Pollan. While I was not anticipating finishing Reichl's first book, I did not want to turn the last page, I found Michael Pollan's first book, Second Nature: A Gardener's Education (New York: Dell Publishing, 1991) awaiting me at the library. Pollan is as good and entertaining a writer as Reichl, drawing readers into his quest to develop a garden on what was his new property in Cornwall, Connecticutt. ...more
Gwendoline Van
It's always interesting to read well-known author's earlier works, so when I stumbled upon Second Nature by Pollan, I was beyond intrigued.

Indeed, as an earlier work, it reveals the author's thought process and growth and does pave the way for his more developed ideas and books in more recent years. At times a bit too poetic for its own good, Second Nature nonetheless drops of nugget of fascinating detail about the American landscape and gardening overall.

For instance, did you know that most o
...more
Kelly
Do you garden? Do you tend to plants and work the soil each day? Well then, this book is for you, since it's about gardening. However, it's about a lot more than that. When the author starts to garden, he also starts to speculate about things much deeper than just a pretty little flower. No, the author does more than that. He compares and contrasts America's view of nature with the reality of gardening; he shares his experiences with the American lawn; he battles a woodchuck; and much more. Whil ...more
Mark
Lately I’ve been spending an inordinate amount of time thinking about food, ecology, natural places and farms. These thoughts inevitably led me to writers such as Michael Pollan. Second Nature is the fourth Pollan book that I’ve read and I probably plan on reading several more for the same reason that I like this book.

Pollan’s style is easy, laid back and non-controversial reminding a bit of Wendell Berry without the outbursts of frustration and religious piety that I get from Berry’s writings.
...more
Mike Prochot
Michael's cosmology is in perfect tune with my own.

Gardening is "hands on" involvement with nature and the planet that makes you more aware of life around you - (it creeps up on you silently and effortlessly!)

I do not enjoy or agree with much coming from the "greenies" or "environmentalists" these days, and Michael has helped me flesh out and organize the thoughts about the planet and nature that roll through my head when I am amending soil, planting seeds and seedlings, choosing plants, harve
...more
Justin Barney
I really enjoyed Pollan’s In Defense of Food, and so I thought I would give some of his earlier stuff a shot. This book is a reflection on gardening generally, but more importantly it is a philosophical exploration of the relationship between humans and the environment. I’m uncomfortable with some of his dismissive comments about naturalists. I’m not sure if he is trying to show that our fixation on unmolested landscapes is silly or that we should, in addition, be interested in land that is orga ...more
Tristan
I chose this because I'm currently designing my own garden. and I like Pollans outlook on nature. This was very informative as to how to start planning a garden. He weighs many historical perspectives and systems on natures scales, and points out the fact that humans ARE a part of nature, yet our culture separates us from as purely a domineering outsider to it
Susan
I am a real michael Pollan fan. Fun to see the seeds of his later books, planted in this one. As a beginning gardener, I found this book fascinating, informative and very easy to read. I most particularly like his discussion of what makes a "green thumb" and the concept of "wilderness."
Jennifer Adams
I honestly love every book I have read by Michael Pollen, and I am late to the game on this one (published in the early 90s, when I was more interested in college parties than gardening). I am glad that I took the time to read this one, because it is as inspirational a gardening book as I have come across. It is a philosophical book without being overbearing. There is one chapter in which he engages in what I would call a marxist rhetorical criticism in his review of different garden catalogs. H ...more
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Michael Pollan is an American author, journalist, activist, and professor of journalism at the University of California, Berkeley, where he is also the director of the Knight Program in Science and Environmental Journalism.

Excerpted from Wikipedia.
More about Michael Pollan...
The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto The Botany of Desire: A Plant's-Eye View of the World Food Rules: An Eater's Manual Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation

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“A garden should make you feel you've entered privileged space -- a place not just set apart but reverberant -- and it seems to me that, to achieve this, the gardener must put some kind of twist on the existing landscape, turn its prose into something nearer poetry.” 28 likes
“Anthropocentric as [the gardener] may be, he recognizes that he is dependent for his health and survival on many other forms of life, so he is careful to take their interests into account in whatever he does. He is in fact a wilderness advocate of a certain kind. It is when he respects and nurtures the wilderness of his soil and his plants that his garden seems to flourish most. Wildness, he has found, resides not only out there, but right here: in his soil, in his plants, even in himself...
But wildness is more a quality than a place, and though humans can't manufacture it, they can nourish and husband it...
The gardener cultivates wildness, but he does so carefully and respectfully, in full recognition of its mystery.”
24 likes
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