Isis'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 29, 2009

it was amazing
bookshelves: audiobook, food, favorites
Recommended for: Steph, Res, people who like microhistories
Read in July, 2009

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 entertaining and educational, written well and read (in the audio edition I listened to) superbly.

Pollan takes a vast road-trip through history, and although it seems like a pleasantly meandering journey, it's actually quite focused and organized. In the chapter on apples we learn of the real Johnny Appleseed, and of the concept of sweetness, and of how Prohibition changed apple marketing for good. The tulip chapter touches on not only the (obvious) tulip mania speculative bubble, but also on the genetics of tulips and the virus that affected them, and on the idea of floral beauty in different cultures. And so on.

There is a bit of moralizing: the drug war comes in for some criticism, and monoculture is reviled as the root of all of industrial agriculture's evil. But I don't disagree with these points!
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Reading Progress

07/01/2009 "20% through audiobook. So far I love it."
07/02/2009 "It is no coincidence that A is for both APPLES and AWESOME. Next up, tulips!"
07/03/2009 "Finished ch. 2 - Tulips: It's All About Sex. Next up, Cannabis!"
07/06/2009 "Chapter 3: why plants might want us to get high, and why we might be able to. V.v. cool. Next up, potatoes."
07/08/2009 "Chapter 4: the pesticide arms race. And potato famine. And Malthus. Woo!"

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