Two short quotes below from book reviews of The Botany of Desire by Michael Pollan, state succinctly the theme and content of this engaging and insightful book published in 2001.
1. “Pollan intertwines history, anecdote, and revelation as he investigates the connection between four plants that have thrived under human care…. Pollan’s dynamic, intelligent, and intrepid parsing of the wondrous dialogue between plants and humans is positively paradigm-altering.”
2. “Until I read Michael Pollan’s original, provocative and charming The Botany of Desire, I had never managed to get inside the soul of a plant. Mr. Pollan, an accomplished gardener and garden writer, presents a plant’s-eve view of the world that challenged some of my most basic assumptions about gardening, particularly the one about whether I control my lilies or they control me.” – The Wall Street Journal
In four chapters, Chapter 1-Desire: Sweetness/Plant: The Apple
Chapter 2-Desire: Beauty/Plant: The Tulip
Chapter 3-Desire: Intoxication/Plant: Marijuana and
Chapter 4-Desire: Control/Plant: The Potato,
Mr. Pollan describes how humans and plants are partners in a coevolutionary relationship since the birth of agriculture thousands of years ago. These four plant species illustrate that the best way for plants to continue their existence is to induce animals including bees, insects and people to desire them and thereby spread their genes. That humans are aware of their desires, be it sweetness, taste, size, shape or nutritional value of the apple or potato is of no consequence to the plants.
Included in these four plants’ stories is a wealth of historical information such as the facts about the life of John Chapman, “Johnny Appleseed,” the story of Tulip speculation in Holland in the 1600s, the cultivation of the marijuana plant to rival alcohol as one of the most common human intoxicators, and the terrible tale of the potato famine in Ireland in 1845.
In addition to the historical aspect of the story, Mr. Pollan touches on several current issues concerning humankind’s relationship and control over plants: maintaining diversity in plants; preserving our wild and native species of plants; and the positives and negatives of man’s technical ability to copy and alter the genetic makeup of nature.