The Botany of Desire

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

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A farmer cultivates genetically modified potatoes so that a customer at McDonald's half a world away can enjoy a long, golden french fry. A gardener plants tulip bulbs in the autumn and in the spring has a riotous patch of colour to admire. Two simple examples of how humans act on nature to get what we want. Or are they? What if those potatoes and tulips have evolved to gratify certain human desires so that humans will help them multiply? What if, in other words, these plants are using us just as we use them? In blending history, memoir and superb science writing, Pollan tells the story of four domesticated species - the apple, the tulip, marijuana and the potato. All four plants are integral to our everyday lives and Pollan demonstrates how each has thrived by satisfying one of humankind's most basic desires. Weaving fascinating anecdote and accessible science, Pollan takes the reader on an absorbing journey through the landscape of botany and desire. It is a journey that will change the way we think about our place in natureshow more

Product details

  • Paperback | 320 pages
  • 122 x 196 x 22mm | 258.55g
  • Bloomsbury Publishing PLC
  • London, United Kingdom
  • English
  • New edition
  • New edition
  • 0747563004
  • 9780747563006
  • 26,239

Review quote

"Pollan's stories sparkle with curious facts and bold superstitions ... His aim is to encourage us to reconsider our place in the natural world" Sunday Telegraph "Beautifully written, as compelling as a detective thriller" Penelope Hobhouse 'An immensely readable and thought-provoking book' The Independent 'Pollen's stories sparkle with curious facts and bold superstitions ... His aim is to encourage us to reconsider our place in the natural world' Anne Chisholm Sunday Telegraphshow more

About Michael Pollan

Michael Pollan is the author of two prize-winning books, SECOND NATURE and A PLACE OF MY OWN. A contributing writer for The New York Times Magazine, Pollan was recently awarded the first Reuters-World Conservation Union Global Award for Excellence in Environmental Journalism. He lives in Connecticut with his wife and more

Review Text

Michael Pollan's book is based on one very simple, elegant and initially unsettling idea: instead of thinking of human beings as subjects, who act on the natural world to make it respond to our wishes, we should think of the natural world as acting equally on us. In the same way that flowers and bees have a mutually advantageous arrangement, so do humans and the plants we cultivate: we may think that we have chosen to farm potatoes but they have also chosen us as a way of propagating themselves. It sounds fey, but it's not - Pollan isn't talking about conscious intent but evolutionary strategies. He develops his argument through four examples: the apple, the tulip, the marijuana plant and the potato. The key to each is the desire human beings have for a particular quality - sweetness, beauty, intoxication and control. Pollan is never less than engrossing as he traces the history of our relationship with each species. All have been domesticated by humans, but all have also flourished as a result of our desire for them. Arguably, the book isn't really about botany at all - Pollan's remit allows him to talk about biochemistry, genetic engineering, evolution, the nature of consciousness, our historical and legal attitudes towards drugs, and much else. The chapter on marijuana is particularly compelling. Pollan shows that the US clampdown on the drug in the 1980s and 1990s forced marijuana growers to cultivate the plant indoors, under artificial light, with the unexpected consequence that the marijuana grown under those conditions flowered earlier and with a vastly increased potency. His account of how the drug mimics the brain's own chemicals that enable us to forget - and why forgetting is an important function of the brain - is startling. The chapter on the potato, unpromising as it sounds, contains probably one of the best accounts of genetic modification, its potential benefits and, more importantly, its potential hazards, that you will find. As with the rest of the book, Pollan's explanation is beautifully clear and never less than engaging. Unusually for a science book, this is a rattling good read: well-informed, intelligent and original, without ever being dry or patronizing. Quite an achievement. (Kirkus UK)show more

Rating details

37,304 ratings
4.05 out of 5 stars
5 36% (13,342)
4 40% (14,926)
3 19% (7,100)
2 4% (1,501)
1 1% (435)
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