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

4.05  ·  Rating Details ·  36,814 Ratings  ·  2,668 Reviews
In this original narrative about man and nature, a bestselling author masterfully links four fundamental human desires--sweetness, beauty, intoxication, and control--with the fascinating stories of four plants that embody them: the apple, the tulip, marijuana, and the potato.
ebook, 304 pages
Published June 12th 2001 by Random House (first published 2001)
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Christian Maulsby Pollan is sometimes whimsical ... he writes in a way that is like no other author. He is very emotional and at the same time very scientific and…morePollan is sometimes whimsical ... he writes in a way that is like no other author. He is very emotional and at the same time very scientific and logical, that is not a common group of traits in my opinion. This book had highs and lows but I the "strange" aspect is a reflection of emotional tone and style, The Omnivores dilemma was my favorite book of his. (less)
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Mar 28, 2016 Carmen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Non-Fiction Fans, Gardeners
All those plants care about is what every being cares about on the most basic genetic level: making more copies of itself...

Did I choose to plant these potatoes, or did the potato make me do it?...

All these plants, which I'd always regarded as the objects of my desire, were also, I realized, subjects, acting on me, getting me to do things for them they couldn't do for themselves.

Pollan posits that plants are clever little buggers who have tricked and enslaved the human race into doing their bidd
Jason Koivu
I love books that open my eyes, teach me something, and even go so far as to re-educate me on the fallacies foisted upon me by ill-informed elementary school teachers. To that last end, I found the chapter on Johnny Appleseed very enlightening as well as highly entertaining.

Michael Pollan is more humorous and, let's just say, more adventurous than one might expect from a journalist/botanist (see his passages on hallucinogenic plants.) I appreciate his willingness to "go first" in the same way I
Aug 28, 2007 Emily rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Okay, okay, books by Michael Pollan are clearly a fad right now, but I have bought into it whole-heartedly. He is an amazing, amazing writer: he makes me want to plant a garden, to tour his garden (his bedroom? what?), to only eat organic food, and to find out the story and origin of every morsel of food I put in my body. But he does it in a way that isn't overly preachy or agenda-driven. Instead, he lets you get what he is saying while at the same time telling an engaging, well-researched story ...more
Jun 10, 2015 Caroline rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a marvellous book, which discusses the science, sociology, aesthetics and culture, relating to four plants.


Because of who I am, the things that interested me most were the tulip and potato sections.

With the first, he discusses the notorious obsession surrounding tulip cultivation in Holland in the 17th century. With the second he discusses a genetically modified potato which was on sale in the US at the time he wrote the book, in 2001.

The potato is a variety
In East Asian cultures – according to my increasingly Japanese daughters – the number four brings bad luck. This is because it sounds a bit like the word for death. Clearly the number four has no such associations for Michael Pollan. The Omnivore’s Dilemma is based around four meals and this one is based around four plants. I’ve done more than just enjoy these two books, they have completely enchanted me whilst also informing me and keeping me greatly amused.

Now, desire sounds like a strong word
Apr 16, 2008 Jen rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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
Oct 03, 2007 Eh?Eh! rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: babble-added
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 ...more
Wow! 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. The desires/plants are Sweet/Apple, Beauty/Tulip, Intoxication/Cannabis and Control/Potato.
Feb 17, 2016 Alex rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biology, 2011
Pollan represents one of my favorite types of writers: modern polymaths who can bring scientific, historic and literary knowledge to bear on whatever they're writing about. When it's done well, I don't care what the question is; for instance, tulips aren't really my thing, despite their presence on my dining room table right now. The conversation between history, literature and science really interests me, though, which is why nearly all of the books I read fall into one of those categories.

Lisa Vegan
Aug 11, 2007 Lisa Vegan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everyone, unless they loathe all non-fiction
I really enjoyed this book (and enjoyed the lecture I attended when the author talked about the book and answered questions.) He talks about 4 crops: apples, potatoes, tulips and marijuana, and the interactions between them and humans: history, culture, human psychology, and science, etc. I knew nothing much about botany and have never been particularly interested in that branch of science, but this book was a very easy read and I found it extremely fascinating. Gave it as a gift on a couple of ...more
Nick Black
May 14, 2014 Nick Black rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-nyc
this was like NPR in printed form, and felt intended to be read in that medium. the potato chapter was great, the marijuana chapter irritating, the tulip chapter needlessly verbose (but full of some of the book's best trivia), the apple chapter...quixotic. it's all grotesquely bucolic, and the lack of any synthesis at the end left me underwhelmed. short, and by all means worth reading if it's all you have available.
Jul 30, 2008 Alexandra rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I couldn't get into this book at all and gave up reading it after the first chapter. The premise was a good one, but Pollan's writing style drove me up the wall. I called it quits when he started analogizing Johnny Appleseed and Dionysius. Too much navel-gazing and not enough substance.
Cornelia Funke
Aug 20, 2016 Cornelia Funke rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
As beguiling as the plants this book enlightened me about
Vimal Thiagarajan
This is the best piece of anything that I've ever read on gardening, even though its not entirely on gardening. Aside from making me incredibly sad at not having a garden patch anymore in my home and having to contend with purchased pots and soil, this book was a delightful read. Michael Pollan takes a simple question - Have we domesticated plants or have plants domesticated us?- and to make a case for the latter, provides us with a heady mix of history,science,philosophy,botany,literature and w ...more
A brief but compelling history of four plants whose genetic destiny has been markedly altered by man – the apple, the tulip, cannabis, and the potato. Pollan’s argument is that, though we see domestication as a strictly top-down, subject-to-object process, there really may also be some co-evolutionary force at work. Johnny Appleseed’s efforts were to the overwhelming advantage of apple genetic proliferation, and the science of mass potato farming means more seeds are planted every year. But we’l ...more
Jan 20, 2008 Don rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Jason, Dad, Jono
Recommended to Don by: Scott Abbott
I read this a few days after "The Omnivore's Dilemma", and began it the day after picking up "In Defense of Food". I loved the former, thought the latter was thin and a resaying of what he'd already said. This book was a beautiful book, though not the tome that O.D was, it's beautifully written. It also sets the stage nicely for O.D.

Here, using apples (with their amazing capacity to evolve based on seeds that don't grow true to the parent), tuplips, cannabis and potatoes Pollan sets out plainly
Apr 08, 2007 Kat rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Everyone
Pollan's The Botany of Desire is by far one of the best books I have ever read, and it is one of those books that has changed my world view for the better. Pollan takes his readers on an odyssey through the natural histories of four plants that have been important to the course of human history, and relates them to a certain form of desire that he believes to be inherent in each and every person. He chronicles the potato (sustenance), the tulip (beauty), cannabis (pleasure), and the apple (sweet ...more
Apr 22, 2015 Ms.pegasus rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone interested in gardening or food
Recommended to Ms.pegasus by: browsing at my local bookstore
Shelves: nonfiction, history, food
Michael Pollan approaches the relationship between plants and humans through the aperture of the plant. The altered perspective displays the multiple props of genetic diversity — color, shape, size, fragrance, taste and robustness — offered to seduce the gardener's favors. Of course Pollan realizes that intent cannot be ascribed to the plant. These are merely the standard tools available to the plant for survival and procreation. ”Our desires are simply more grist for evolution's mill, no differ ...more
Feb 09, 2015 Jessica rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
just as a warning, the below is not really about the book by pollan at all (which is great, btw!), but is mostly some really juvenile hatin' on thoreau. so if you read it, shut up, i warned you; i needed to get some trash-talking out of my system before going on w/ my day.


so i cannot, for the life of me, read thoreau. & this may not be entirely his fault. it may not just be that i find him frustratingly ignorant, pompous, rambling, lacking cohesion & coherence, more irritatingly
Aug 26, 2007 Ken-ichi rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: learning
Wonderful, wonderful book, full of fantastic info and insights. My main critique is Pollan's main conceit, and the language used to express it: plant species have domesticated humanity just as much as humanity has domesticated them. My problem is his constant insertion of agency into the process of evolution and mixing metaphors of individuals and of species. Flowers are not individually clever, and neither are species of flowers. Flowers do not manipulate bees in the same way that a botanist ma ...more
Jan 30, 2014 Gendou rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biology
The chapter on the apple was sort of enlightening, but had too much obsession with Johnny appleseed.

The chapter on Tulips was really boring.
Pollan's evolutionary/philosophical speculation in this chapter is all wrong.
Many scientific facts, too, are misguided or incorrect. Lots of face-palms.

The musings on the effects of Marijuana is really uncomfortable.
Pollan obviously wrote this chapter while high.
He suggests that meditation can get you high like Marijuana, which just isn't true.
He rambles on
Bark's Book Nonsense
This guy has inspired me to grow my own food and keep a few hens in the backyard. Being a little self-reliant in these unsettling times gives me a sense of stability and hope.

In this book, Pollan takes a look at four plants and relates them to human desires, I think . . . He starts things off with the apple and goes into a bit of long-winded ramble about Johnny Appleseed's quest to sell his trees to pioneers and his lust for a 10 year old bride (fortunately this bit wasn't dug into with any sort
Sep 03, 2007 Manderson rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
In a kind of a meandering, relaxed writing style, Michael Pollan tells the tale of apples, tulips, cannabis, and potatoes and their co-evolution with human desire. Although I agree somewhat with his premise---that plants also influence human desires, not just vice versa---I never found that he fully developed a convincing proof of it. Rather, he just gently threads a tangential narrative about his subjects, as if he were having a conversation with you in his study while looking out the window a ...more
Clif Hostetler
Nov 25, 2009 Clif Hostetler rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science
This is an enjoyable book that wanders back and forth through the subjects of botany, history, and literary philosophy. An example of the later is quoted below:

"For look into a flower, and what do you see? Into the very heart of nature's double nature--that is, the contending energies of creation and dissolution, the spring toward complex form and the tidal pull away from it. Apollo and Dionysus were names the Greeks gave to these two faces of nature, and nowhere in nature is their contest as pl
After reading The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals, I was determined to read more by Michael Pollan. It took me three years to get around to reading this book, but I'm glad I finally did. It's a bit more metaphysical than the other books I've read by him, but still very informative and interesting. I was fascinated by his exploration of the four different kinds of plants and the human desires sated by each. And I was amused by his continual revisitation of the Dionysus/Apollo ...more
May 23, 2016 Caterina rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Caterina by: Parker
What if we humans are being manipulated by plants to serve their desires? From this slightly creepy flipped perspective, masterful storyteller Michael Pollan illuminates the crazy and complex interdependency of living things -- and also, some of the dangers we inflict on ourselves and our entire world by contemporary agricultural practices -- through four stories - and what stories! -- of the apple, the tulip, marijuana, and the potato. (Ok, he admits the conceit of manipulative plants to be a b ...more
Michael Pollan is swiftly solidifying his position as "somebody I want to know." He's a clever writer, an inquisitive journalist, and a creative storyteller, as well as a shining light of simple food consciousness in an era of either not asking at all or asking far too much.

This book is equal parts natural history, social history, regular history, botanical musing, plant biology, evolutionary theory, and psychology, with a smattering of classical mythology, memoir, neuroscience, and investigativ
Jul 09, 2009 Isis rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Steph, Res, people who like microhistories
Shelves: audiobook, food, favorites
I liked this book even better than The Omnivore's Dilemma. When you strip aside the somewhat heavy-handed Apollo vs. Dionysus metaphor and the provocative subtitle that suggests that it's plants, not people, who invented agriculture -- that we're essentially only sophisticated bees -- you get a fascinating set of histories of four very interesting plants: apples, tulips, cannabis, and potatoes. And yes, they co-evolved with people, but that's really nothing surprising or shocking. But it is both ...more
Jan 27, 2008 Jenn rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Aug 24, 2010 Brian rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
By the end of this book, I really wanted to have Michael Pollan's life, more or less. Though I'd settle for a nice house somewhere where I can have a big garden with all types of plants like his; that was the main attraction, along with the requisite knowledge and experience of nature itself and the nature of how things grow, in a word. As noble as it sounds in theory for man to be in harmony with nature, it becomes clear by his summation in the epilogue that it's nothing less than quite practic ...more
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Play Book Tag: The Botany of Desire / Michael Pollan. 3.5 stars 5 15 Apr 30, 2016 04:47PM  
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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...

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“For it is only by forgetting that we ever really drop the thread of time and approach the experience of living in the present moment, so elusive in ordinary hours.” 23 likes
“Sooner or later your fingers close on that one moist-cold spud that the spade has accidentally sliced clean through, shining wetly white and giving off the most unearthly of earthly aromas. It's the smell of fresh soil in the spring, but fresh soil somehow distilled or improved upon, as if that wild, primordial scene has been refined and bottled: eau de pomme de terre. You can smell the cold inhuman earth in it, but there's the cozy kitchen to, for the smell of potatoes is, at least by now, to us, the smell of comfort itself, a smell as blankly welcoming as spud flesh, a whiteness that takes up memories and sentiments as easily as flavors. To smell a raw potato is to stand on the very threshold of the domestic and the wild. (241)” 18 likes
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