The Botany of Desire by Michael Pollan
People that garden will enjoy the plant’s eye view of the world. We like to think that we are in control of what we grow, but what about the plant’s influence on us to cultivate it? Michael Pollan chose four plants to reveal how these botanical wonders link their destinies to our desires, and as a result have grown and multiplied along with humankind. This narrative blends history, memoir, and science to tell the story of the apple, the tulip, cannabis, and the potato with interesting insights that gardeners will appreciate. The author playfully puts us into the plant’s mind of how to perpetuate its species by manipulating our desires.
Our desire for beauty is demonstrated through the story of the tulip and how it had a profound economic effect in Europe during the 1550’s. Pollan paints a picture akin to the Tech Bubble speculation affecting our contemporary economy in the late 1990’s.
Because we desire sweetness, the apple made its way from Kazakhstan to all corners of the world. There’s more to the story of Johnny Appleseed than you were taught in school and a wonderful case for biodiversity!
Written in 2001, Pollan’s take on the cultivation of marijuana is a bit dated due to recent changes in laws and attitudes, but the world-wide human desire for intoxication remains constant. Why in each society are some plants vilified while others are revered?
The desire to control nature is exemplified through our pursuit of the perfect French fry. Monoculture and GMO are compared and contrasted with organic potato farming practices. Questions for the future of food like biogenetics and seeds as proprietary property are provocatively raised.
The Botany of Desire was recommended to me when I was volunteering in the Yaquina Bay Lighthouse garden. It is definitely worth the read. I’m glad I checked it out from the Newport library because they also have a beautifully visual version on DVD as well!