DNF: The Botany of Desire

The Botany of Desire: A Plant's-eye View of the WorldThe Botany of Desire: A Plant's-eye View of the World
by Michael Pollan
Publication Date: January 1, 2001
Pages: 273
Genre: Natural Science, Non-fiction, Science
Publisher: Random House

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 -- though 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. The sweetness of apples, for example, induced the early Americans to spread the species, giving the tree a whole new continent in which to blossom. So who is really domesticating whom?

Weaving fascinating anecdotes and accessible science into gorgeous prose, Pollan takes us on an absorbing journey that will change the way we think about our place in nature.


Nopity nope, nope, nope.  Couldn’t do it.  Way too much meandering about and I was just bored.  Plus, I have problems with authors trying to explain evolution as though it were a sentient process, and while I agree with the premise that plants have likely evolved to appeal to humans, thus ensuring their own survival, I draw the line at the conceit, through bad use of language, that the plants made a rational choice to do so.  It makes me imagine a room full of plants, sitting around a table, plotting out the structure of their own DNA in order to better market themselves to humans.

No, no, no, no, no.

3 thoughts on “DNF: The Botany of Desire”

  1. “It makes me imagine a room full of plants, sitting around a table, plotting out the structure of their own DNA in order to better market themselves to humans.” – To be fair, that would make a fantastic SciFi film. I’d watch it.

    It’s a hard pass on the book, tho.

  2. I’m with BrokenTune–fodder for a great flick. I’m thinking Pixar or DreamWorks animation, tho.

    Is this the pro-psychedelics Michael Pollan? It’s probably too easy to assume there’s some sort of link between that and his approach to evolution, as appealing as that idea is.

    1. Yes, based on his other titles, and the enthusiasm he shared in the first few pages of the marijuana chapter, one and the same.

      I wish I could have made it through the rest of the chapter on marijuana, but he got so side-tracked by a discussion of drug laws – and it was a long digression – that I was too irritated to continue. I’ve never DNF’d a science book before, but, yeah, I’d say based on the lack of cohesive narrative in this book, either Pollan, his editor, or the both of them are a little too pro-psychedelics.

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