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

The Botany of Desire by Michael Pollan
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's review
Jun 19, 2008

really liked it
bookshelves: non-fiction

This book is mind-bending. First of all, Pollan’s prose is so beautiful that it is a pleasure to read. But then, he takes that fluid prose, and tells the story of how people and plants co-evolve, through three plants: apples, tulips and marijuana.

The idea that we co-evolve with plants is, in itself, one of those perspective shifts that left me disoriented and tumbled upside down until Pollan gently set me down in a new paradigm. Think about it. When human beings arrived on the scene, plants (and animals) that mutated to serve the desires of human beings ended up with a competitive advantage. So instead of thinking that we are breeding apples or flowers or marijuana to serve our needs, you can think of the plants finding a way to multiply and flourish by enticing us to serve their reproductive demands. In truth, it isn’t all one way or the other. Hence, co-evolution.

The story of apples is full of amazing discoveries about Johnny Appleseed, who, in addition to his eccentricities, also turns out to have been a masterful businessman and land speculator; about the reason settlers wanted apple trees (mostly for hard cider!); and the effects of the market concentration in a small number of genetic breeds. The story of tulips not only covers the Tulip Craze in the Netherlands but also compares the way different cultures value different things in flowers and notes that human preference for a particular pattern of tulip (called “Breaks”) ended up improving the survival of a particular kind of tulip virus. The marijuana story is funny (and includes Pollan’s own close brush with the law) and scary (modern marijuana is way more powerful than only a few decades ago and is grown in bizarre indoor environments).

Read. Enjoy. Then puzzle over the next apple that you eat.
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