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THE BOTANY OF DESIRE by Michael Pollan

THE BOTANY OF DESIRE

A Plant’s-Eye View of the World

By Michael Pollan

Pub Date: May 15th, 2001
ISBN: 0-375-50129-0
Publisher: Random House

We’ve cultivated plants since the dawn of time; but all along, the plants have been cultivating us as well.

Pollan (A Place of My Own, 1997) uses four plant species to support his thesis: apples, tulips, cannabis, and potatoes. Each, by offering some quality that we humans find valuable, has managed to propagate itself throughout the world. In the process, each has generated more than its share of fascinating lore. Johnny Appleseed (John Chapman) has become an icon of early American enterprise, creating orchards out of untamed forest. But the apples Chapman planted were meant not for eating, but for cider, the ubiquitous tipple of early America. Only when temperance began to give the apple a bad name did orchardmen switch to the sweet varieties for eating. The tulip boom in early 18th-century Holland saw prize bulbs selling for the price of a fashionable house in Amsterdam. Now, ironically, the plant that commands high prices in Amsterdam is marijuana, over the last few decades the focus of some of the most intense research in the botanical sciences (most of it conducted indoors, away from official eyes). The humble potato, for its part, has come a long way since its origins as an Andean weed: The russet Burbank, for example, which yields perfect fries for the fast-food trade, dominates the US market almost to the exclusion of all other taters, and its cultivation depends heavily on chemicals nastier than anything the cannabis bud secretes. Pollan keeps the reader aware of how the plants induce us to spread their genetic material to new environments—and how the preservation of natural variability is a key to keeping them (and us) healthy.

Lively writing and colorful anecdotes enhance this insightful look at an unexpected side of agriculture.