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

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4.04 of 5 stars 4.04  ·  rating details  ·  28,446 ratings  ·  2,235 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.
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Published June 12th 2001 by Random House (first published 2001)
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Emily
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
Eh?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...more
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 grammar school teachers. To that last end, I found the chapter on Johnny Appleseed very enlightening as well as highly entertaining. Pollan is more humorous and, let's just say, more adventurous than one might expect from a botanist (see his passages on hallucinogenic plants.) Farmers on any scale will enjoy and find use in The Botany of Desire. For myself,...more
Trevor
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...more
Jen
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...more
Alexandra
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.
Alex
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.

(Tha...more
Nick Black
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.
Lisa Vegan
Aug 11, 2007 Lisa Vegan rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  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
Kat
Apr 08, 2007 Kat rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  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
Jessica
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...more
Don
Jan 20, 2008 Don rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  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...more
Lightreads
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
Manderson
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
Luke
The Botany of Desire was written in language that made it obvious that Michael Pollan likes to hear himself write. His ideas were interesting, following four plants, the potato, cannabis, the apple, and the tulip through their journey with mankind. I like how he approaches the topic, observing not only what people have done to the plants to develop them to our own use, but also how the plants have in some ways used us for their own ends. It is true that we, while we think we are masters of our o...more
Gendou
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...more
Ken-ichi
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
Isis
Jul 09, 2009 Isis rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  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
Jenn
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Meg
The author adds a wrinkle to our thoughts about domestication by arguing that plants have selected for a preference for their qualities in humans, leading to their cultivation, ensuring their survival. Rather than us manipulating the traits of our crops, we've been manipulated by them!

Though I disagree with this premise (you can never determine an evolutionary reason for something, and it's hardly parsimonious to think of organisms acting as agents of selection on our perceptions of them (and ho...more
Deborah
I actually found this book a couple of years before Omnivore's Dilemma, and was impressed with the writing style: part essay, part research, part memoir, and all so well edited that there doesn't seem to be one wasted word. Not nearly as long as Omnivore, you can see how this book was the necessary first step for Pollan toward thinking about the relationship - and he does mean relationship, give and take - between what we treat as food or consumables, and human beings. The four consumables he lo...more
Dani
This book was incredibly thought provoking - you'll think about our (human) relationship with food and plants in a whole new way. The first chapter of the book that dealt with apples and the desire for sweetness was too much about Jonny Appleseed in my opinion. Yes, he was an important figure, but I got bored and wanted to know more about the worldwide history and appeal of the apple. The rest of the sections were much better, my favorite being the potato (the tulip was fabulous as well). If you...more
Amit
If the science books I have read reveal science writers, then Pollan is among the top three! Here is Pollan cleverly asking the reader to think of plants not as any vegetative material that we gulp down, kick off the ground, and cut down daily, but as species - just like us. The question he asks is this - if a human and a plant were JUST two species in the Darwinian world of struggle for survival, then didn't the Potato do a better job at being fruitful and multiply, or perhaps outright world do...more
Dinah
Caveats first: Michael Pollan is less than diligent about naming his sources and weeding out the dubious ones. He does much better wading through facts to find meaning than riding out to sea on long philosophical tangents divorced from context. He tends to repeat himself.

All that being said, Botany of Desire was a great read. The historical legwork that went into pulling this book together is impressive, and Pollan has a way of juxtaposing anecdotes and statistics that completely turns a lay und...more
Brian
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
Clif Hostetler
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...more
Chrissy
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...more
Dolly
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
emily
Nov 27, 2007 emily rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people who eat
i enjoyed this book, but i didn't find it as interesting as _the omnivore's dilemma_. but then, you can't win 'em all, can you? as with _the OD_, the last chapter (potatoes) was the most fascinating, making me feel like i really never want to eat potatoes again, unless i know their origin.

this is a little off the subject, but the more i read the more i want to leave the united states. what is wrong with us here? seriously. i mean, we let corporations like monsanto use us as guinea pigs so that...more
Ma Arms
While interesting, Pollan's idea - that we should look at plants as being symbiotic with humans rather than simply the subject of human action - is not nearly as radical as he claims it to be, and the notion has been present in the study of the origins of agriculture for several decades. What is troubling, however, is Pollan's tendency, both in this book and in other books, articles, and interviews, to subtly push a particular agenda with little regard for evidence. In this book it is manifest i...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 Food Rules: An Eater's Manual Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation Second Nature: A Gardener's Education

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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.” 19 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)” 14 likes
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