In 1637, one Dutchman paid as much for a single tulip bulb as the going price of a town house in Amsterdam. Three and a half centuries later, Amsterdam is once again the mecca for people who care passionately about one particular plant - thought this time the obsessions revolves around the intoxicating effects of marijuana rather than the visual beauty of the tulip. How could flowers, of all things, become such objects of desire that they can drive men to financial ruin In The Botany of Desire, Michael Pollan argues that the answer lies at the heart of the intimately reciprocal relationship between people and plants. In telling the stories of four familiar plant species that are deeply woven into the fabric of our lives, Pollan illustrates how they evolved to satisfy humankinds's most basic yearnings - and by doing so made themselves indispensable. For, just as we've benefited from these plants, the plants, in the grand co-evolutionary scheme that Pollan evokes so brilliantly, have done well by us.
Erudite, engaging and highly original, journalist Pollan's fascinating account of four everyday plants and their coevolution with human society challenges traditional views about humans and nature. Using the histories of apples, tulips, potatoes and cannabis to illustrate the complex, reciprocal relationship between humans and the natural world, he shows how these species have successfully exploited human desires to flourish. "It makes just as much sense to think of agriculture as something the grasses did to people as a way to conquer the trees," Pollan writes as he seamlessly weaves little-known facts, historical events and even a few amusing personal anecdotes to tell each species' story. For instance, he describes how the apple's sweetness and the appeal of hard cider enticed settlers to plant orchards throughout the American colonies, vastly expanding the plant's range. He evokes the tulip craze of 17th-century Amsterdam, where the flower's beauty led to a frenzy of speculative trading, and explores the intoxicating appeal of marijuana by talking to scientists, perusing literature and even visiting a modern marijuana garden in Amsterdam. Finally, he considers how the potato plant demonstrates man's age-old desire to control nature, leading to modern agribusiness's experiments with biotechnology. Pollan's clear, elegant style enlivens even his most scientific material, and his wide-ranging references and charming manner do much to support his basic contention that man and nature are and will always be "in this boat together." (May) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
Showing 1-3 of the 3 most recent reviews
1 . great reading
Posted December 28, 2009 by Daniel T. , San Jose, CAonly reason i am writing this review is because i found pollan's book to be quite entertaining. i was forced to read this book for a college class, so i was already going in with a negative point of view, but upon reading the material that is posed, it enlightened to me certain facts that i didn't really pay attention to in my day to day life. his talks about people's desire for beauty and control was a bit intriguing and they definitely made me think about our society a different way.
this book may have some bit of re-told information, but to the average person like that is looking for a good book to read with interesting points of views, it's great. on the other hand, if you already know what he's going to talk about, then don't bother reading this.
this is a classic michael pollan book and it is good. get it.
2 . Respectfully disagree with the prior rating :)
Posted December 27, 2009 by Laughing Owl , OrlandoI am sorry the gentleman who was looking for a text on apples, and orchard culture felt disappointed with the book. I must say, I enjoyed it.... many things about chemical communication, pherome equivalents, etc....
I'll give this a 5 to balance out the previous 1, which I feel is unfair.
I have 9 years of education in the biologic sciences past my bachelor's of science. I inhale books like this whenever I can get my hands on them, and I enjoyed this one.
Bon Appetit! (Just don't expect a text devoted to apples.)
(My name? A combination of my Appalachian Trail name, and Scouting.)
Posted January 11, 2007 by maloney , OhioI purchased the book because I have a small orchard and am always looking for new info on apples. All of the information in the book was re hash. The section on biogenetics is trash. Mr. Pollan has this elitist style that is so annoying. I don't know what you would call it...elitist NY Times/NPR ish? The underlying tone here is that all big companies are bad, bla, bla,bla......Christians are idiots, and the best botanists are pot growers How many times does this guy say perhaps?.Perhaps, this.....perhaps, that bla bla bla. Gosh, lets just reflect on that.
Don't waste your money. You can easily find most of the information in the book at your local library without the stupid elitist commentary
May 27, 2002
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Excerpt from The Botany of Desire by Michael Pollan
Plant: The Apple
If you happened to find yourself on the banks of the Ohio River on a particular afternoon in the spring of 1806 ' somewhere just to the north of Wheeling, West Virginia, say ' you would probably have noticed a strange makeshift craft drifting lazily down the river. At the time, this particular stretch of the Ohio, wide and brown and bounded on both sides by steep shoulders of land thick with oaks and hickories, fairly boiled with river traffic, as a ramshackle armada of keelboats and barges ferried settlers from the comparative civilization of Pennsylvania to the wilderness of the Northwest Territory.
The peculiar craft you ' d have caught sight of that afternoon consisted of a pair of hollowed-out logs that had been lashed together to form a rough catamaran, a sort of canoe plus sidecar. In one of the dugouts lounged the figure of a skinny man of about thirty, who may or may not have been wearing a burlap coffee sack for a shirt and a tin pot for a hat. According to the man in Jefferson County who deemed the scene worth recording, the fellow in the canoe appeared to be snoozing without a care in the world, evidently trusting in the river to take him wherever it was he wanted to go. The other hull, his sidecar, was riding low in the water under the weight of a small mountain of seeds that had been carefully blanketed with moss and mud to keep them from drying out in the sun.
The fellow snoozing in the canoe was John Chapman, already well known to people in Ohio by his nickname: Johnny Appleseed. He was on his way to Marietta, where the Muskingum River pokes a big hole into the Ohio ' s northern bank, pointing straight into the heart of the Northwest Territory. Chapman ' s plan was to plant a tree nursery along one of that river ' s as-yet-unsettled tributaries, which drain the fertile, thickly forested hills of central Ohio as far north as Mansfield. In all likelihood, Chapman was coming from Allegheny County in western Pennsylvania, to which he returned each year to collect apple seeds, separating them out from the fragrant mounds of pomace that rose by the back door of every cider mill. A single bushel of apple seeds would have been enough to plant more than three hundred thousand trees; there ' s no way of telling how many bushels of seed Chapman had in tow that day, but it ' s safe to say his catamaran was bearing several whole orchards into the wilderness.
The image of John Chapman and his heap of apple seeds riding together down the Ohio has stayed with me since I first came across it a few years ago in an out-of-print biography. The scene, for me, has the resonance of myth ' a myth about how plants and people learned to use each other, each doing for the other things they could not do for themselves, in the bargain changing each other and improving their common lot.
Henry David Thoreau once wrote that ' it is remarkable how closely the history of the apple tree is connected with that of man, ' and much of the American chapter of that story can be teased out of Chapman ' s story. It ' s the story of how pioneers like him helped domesticate the frontier by seeding it with Old World plants. ' Exotics, ' we ' re apt to call these species today in disparagement, yet without them the American wilderness might never have become a home. What did the apple get in return A golden age: untold new varieties and half a world of new habitat.