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28 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Plants and Humans Influence Each Other for Mutual Benefit!
"What existential difference is there between the human being's role in this (or any) garden and the bumblebees?" "Did I choose to plant these potatoes, or did the potato make me do it? With profound questions like these, Michael Pollan pollinates your mind with a new world view of our relationships with plants, one in which humans are not at the center. The book focuses...
Published on 10 May 2004 by Donald Mitchell

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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting enough, but don't expect any shattering insights
This book presents an interesting conundrum, how can a book with a relatively weak central premise still be a good read. Pollan's thesis is that plants, by acting upon our desire, can ensure themselves immortality more certainly than they ever could through purely "natural" selection. Unfortunately his argument doesn't quite hold water as his narrative is...
Published on 2 July 2001


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28 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Plants and Humans Influence Each Other for Mutual Benefit!, 10 May 2004
By 
Donald Mitchell "Jesus Loves You!" (Thanks for Providing My Reviews over 124,000 Helpful Votes Globally) - See all my reviews
(HALL OF FAME REVIEWER)    (TOP 500 REVIEWER)    (VINE VOICE)   
This review is from: The Botany of Desire: A Plant's-eye View of the World (Paperback)
"What existential difference is there between the human being's role in this (or any) garden and the bumblebees?" "Did I choose to plant these potatoes, or did the potato make me do it? With profound questions like these, Michael Pollan pollinates your mind with a new world view of our relationships with plants, one in which humans are not at the center. The book focuses on four primary examples of how plants provide benefits to humans that lead humans to benefit the plants (apples for sweetness, tulips for beauty, marijuana for intoxication, and the potato for control over nature's food supply). You will learn many new facts in the process that will fascinate you. The book's main value is that you will learn that we need to be more thoughtful in how we assist in the evolution of plant species.
The book builds on Darwin's original observations about how artificial evolution occurs (evolution directed by human efforts). So-called domesticated species thrive while the wild ones we admire often do not. Compare dogs to wolves as an example. Mr. Pollan challenges the mental separation we make between wild and domesticated species successfully in the book.
The apple section was my favorite. You will learn that John Chapman (Johnny Appleseed) was a rather odd fellow who was actually in the business of raising and selling apple trees. He planted a few seeds at the homes where he stayed overnight on his travels. Mr. Chapman had apple tree nurseries all over Ohio and Indiana, which he started 2-3 years before he expected an influx of settlers. Homesteading laws required these settlers to plant 50 apple or pears trees in order to take title to the land. And these apples were for making hard apple cider, not eating apples. He was the "American Dionysus" in Mr. Pollan's view. Apple trees need to be grafted to make good eating apples. Chapman's trees produced many genetic variations, which are good for the species. Apple trees became more narrow in their genes after other sources for alcohol and sweetness became available (from cane sugar). Now, the ancient genes of apple trees are being kept in living form from Kazakhstan, before they are lost due to economic development.
Tulips were the source of the famous Tulipmania in Holland. Rare colors occurred due to viruses. Those became extremely valuable during the tulip boom market in the 17th century. Now, growers try to keep the viruses out and we have much more dull, consistent species. We have probably lost much beauty in favor of order in the process.
The intoxicants in marijuana are probably caused by toxins that the plants make to kill off insects. Because the plant is a weed, it grows very rapidly. There is a hilarious story about the author's experiences in growing two plants that you will love. As the antidrug war progressed, marijuana became a hothouse plant and was bred and developed to grow much more rapidly under humid, high-light conditions indoors. You will read about modern commercial farms in Holland.
The potato story is the most complex. The Irish potato famine related to monoculture. The Incas had always planted a variety of potatoes to avoid the risk of disease. Now, biotechnology has added an insecticide to the leaves of potato plants, taking monoculture one step further. Interestingly, the insects are already becoming resistant to the insecticide. Are we building a new risk to famine with this approach? How will genetically altered potatoes affect humans? Is having consistent french fries at fast food places enough of an incentive to take this risk? These are the kinds of questions raised by this chapter.
Mr. Pollan has described a "dance of human and plant desire that left neither the plants nor the people . . . unchanged."
His key point is that we should be sure to include strong biodiversity in our approaches. Nature can create more variation faster than fledgling biotechnology industry can. Time has proven that biodiversity has many advantages for humans while monoculture has usually proven to have at least one major drawback. In reality, we can probably have both.
If you are like me, you will find Mr. Pollan's personal experiences with the plants and his investigations of the historical figures to be fascinating. He is a good story teller, and a fine writer.
After you read this book, take a walk through a park or a garden and think about Mr. Pollan's argument. Then consider how these principles can be applied to help ideas change, improve, and grow in more valuable ways.
Look at life from many different perspectives . . . and live more intelligently and beneficially!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars humility is a fine thing, 11 July 2010
This review is from: The Botany of Desire: A Plant's-eye View of the World (Paperback)
We humans tend to be so isolated in our arrogant superiority. That a plant might be equally intelligent in a much different way is a refreshing, if somewhat disconcerting, notion. well written... an adventure of spirit... thoroughly enjoyable. More please!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars plants are not just pretty faces, 4 Sep 2009
This review is from: The Botany of Desire: A Plant's-eye View of the World (Paperback)
I'm so glad that this book has flourished and become popular. I first picked up a copy while on holiday in the USA and shortly afterwards was warned not to be seen with it at immigration because it would mark me out as a non-conformist, a free-thinker and a possible danger to right-thinking society. Because it talked about Cannabis without demonising it, and using apples for cider - gosh, how naughty!

Just as great paintings, architecture and literature are accepted as 'good' things to have around us because they educate our thinking and broaden our minds, so the complexity of plants and their long history of interacting with us humans can shake up our ideas. We now know that we get pleasure from Cannabis because of the long shared evolution of our animal ancestors and plant ancestors. We share a common journey. And the book unravels our long relationship with other plants.

So three cheers for books that bring this to our notice, to enrich our world and our curiosity-fuelled intellect. Plants are not lilies of the field put in our world to delight the eye but an immensely interesting part of our heritage. Do read this book!
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A quartette of posies, 2 Oct 2005
By 
Stephen A. Haines (Ottawa, Ontario Canada) - See all my reviews
(HALL OF FAME REVIEWER)    (REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Botany of Desire: A Plant's-eye View of the World (Paperback)
Right. Let's get the one fault out of the way quickly. This book isn't "a plant's-eye view of the world." It could be better subtitled "A Botanical Biography." No matter. This well-researched and wonderfully written group of essays examines the world of four mundane plants, the apple, tulip, hemp and potatoe. Pollan describes how each have played major roles in human affairs.
In America, "Johnny Appleseed" is a giant figure in the mythology of the Ohio Valley. Pollan describes the life of his real-life counterpart, John Chapman. Apart from repeats of the Disney film of this character, it would be interesting to know how many remember the migratory apple orchardist of the early 19th Century today. In reviving Chapman's memory [I'd never heard of him - there is no Canadian counterpart.], Pollan takes us on a well-developed history of this valuable fruit. An emigrant from ancient Kazakhstan, it may have been brought to the West along the famous silk road, according to Pollan. Along with the silk came the process of grafting, invented by the Chinese. Pollan's reminds us that an apple's taste, which we usually consider a human reaction, was attractive to many animals, leading to its wide propagation.
Pollan moves from fruit to flower. The tulip, that quintessential symbol of the Netherlands, was the first flower to influence major economic activity. He describes the frantic "tulipomania" that swept that country in the 17th Century. Beautiful flowers are desired by most people, but to insects, Pollan notes, it means pollen and nectar. Flowers need insects to ensure pollination - no insects, no more flowers. Pollan suggests our own view of "beauty" derives from these evolutionary roots.
Pollan's choice of hemp, in its use as marijuana, will have raised a few eyebrows. As a symbol of "intoxication," he opens the essay with a description of plant toxins. Toxins, Pollan reminds us, are capable of rendering the victim dead, or at least incapacitated. Since plants and animals have a history of coevolution, deadly toxins are often counterproductive. Besides, making them ties up much of the plant's resources. Evolution led many plants to produce toxins that merely confuse or disable the predator. Enter the human. Plant chemistry is the basis of nearly all pharmaceuticals. Pollan notes the properties of nicotine and caffeine on animals. Marijuana's effects, as he notes, have a potential that goes beyond body chemistry. His account of "mary jane" plants behind his barn is easily the most
entertaining episode in the book.
Returning to edible [for humans] plants, Pollan re-introduces us to the potato - often overlooked, but of immense value. He views the potato as the ideal symbol for the rise of agriculture. "Agriculture is, by its very nature, brutally reductive, simplifying nature's incredibly complexity so something humanly manageable." This simplification has made the crop potato susceptible to blights, as the Irish learned to their dismay. Pollan, a consummate gardener, examines the possibilities of the Monsanto genetically-engineered NewLeaf potato. It has its own insecticide locked in its DNA. The experiment leads him to visit potato farmers for some enlightening exchanges of ideas and opinion.
This book seizes your attention from the first pager. Pollan's polished style and easy wit holds your interest throughout. Whether you've ever gardened for fruits, vegetables or flowers, you will be captivated by these offerings. It's a difficult book to put down, and taking it up again may offer missed rewards later. [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars riveting from the off!, 4 Nov 2011
This review is from: The Botany of Desire: A Plant's-eye View of the World (Paperback)
This was a gift from a very close friend who knows my penchant for escape into amateur garden-dabbling and secret geekishness.

I have been riveted from the start, and love the authors style. My 'secret geekishness' is born from a desire to understand the glorious science behind everything, but I lack the time and attention span (and possibly don't have that kind of brain) to really get in there with the science majors.

What this book does for me is offer some fascinating hypotheses, and an extra smattering of knowledge and excitement about plants, and us. It is also thought provoking - is monoculture such a glorious thing or a huge own goal, the eradication of the wild things, our view of being 'outside' nature, the controllers of it (what a notion!), and the ever present question of balance in nature and all things ... to mention but a few. Now I want to grow things even more - so much is possible! It's fun to read too.

Thanks for this book - to both my friend who gifted it to me and the author - it's been an insightful and entertaining distraction from the mundanity of the humdrum and a brief, tantalising glimpse into the inner workings of the unspeakably complex clock that makes all things tick.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Desire for beauty, sustenance, and intoxication - a meditation on plants and man,, 20 Jun 2010
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This review is from: The Botany of Desire: A Plant's-eye View of the World (Paperback)
This is the second book by Michael Pollan that I've read within a week (the excellent In Defence of Food: The Myth of Nutrition and the Pleasures of Eating: An Eater's Manifesto being the other)

He has the most magical, open mind; the ability to take the everyday and look at it like a true artist - thus forcing the reader to look anew at his/her own everyday.

Here, he looks at four plant species whose development and spread has been closely linked with Homo sapiens - the apple, the tulip, the cannabis plant and the potato, and considers the evolutionary advantage from the plant perspective. The book uncovers history, folk-law, economics, politics and much more.

Pollan delivers much fascinating information and has the lightest and most passionately engaged of writing styles. He is a wonderful raconteur. I read this book with a wider and wider smile, thoroughly delighted and enchanted.

This book reminded me in many ways of Anatomy of a Rose: The Secret Life of Flowers by Sharman Apt Russell. Both authors have the ability to be fascinatingly informative whilst simultanously managing charm, entertainment, profound thought and beauty.

Both effortlessly illustrate Blake's:

To see a world in a grain of sand
And A heaven In a Wild Flower
Hold Infinity In the Palm of Your Hand
And eternity in an hour

They are writers who can take the mundane, and open it to deep meaning, philosophical complexity and education

A small factual teaser from the tulip section - the most prized and valuable tulips were those variegated by fine filagrees of crimson patterning upon the primary colour base. But this was caused by the presence of a virus, so over time, plants grown from bulblets broken off from the 'parent' bulb would grow weaker and weaker - so increasing the rarity and fabulous cost of the prized variety. The evolutionary gainer from mans' 'meddling', not the tulip, but the virus, which we disseminated!
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting enough, but don't expect any shattering insights, 2 July 2001
By A Customer
This book presents an interesting conundrum, how can a book with a relatively weak central premise still be a good read. Pollan's thesis is that plants, by acting upon our desire, can ensure themselves immortality more certainly than they ever could through purely "natural" selection. Unfortunately his argument doesn't quite hold water as his narrative is littered with subspecies that disappear once man's fickle interest shifts elsewhere.
However, even though the book's concept is flawed (or at least the argument used to forward the argument is flawed), the book is an interesting read. Pollan is quite entertaining as he meanders around the history of each of his examples (apple, potato, marijuana and tulip). Granted sometimes he wanders too far from his subjects, but there are plenty of little pearls that make the exercise worthwhile.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating, 7 Nov 2009
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This review is from: The Botany of Desire: A Plant's-eye View of the World (Paperback)
I found this book captivating and very easy to read. Michael Pollen has a great style, witty but very informative, I know quite a bit about plants but he had really done his research. The book is divided into his 4 plants of choice, apple, tulip, cannabis and potato, all have a great story and significance to humans, but they in turn have used us for their own ends..
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5.0 out of 5 stars The Botany Of Desire - How we co-exist with nature, 9 Oct 2009
By 
John Eric Leach (Cork, Ireland) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Botany of Desire: A Plant's-eye View of the World (Paperback)
Fascinating book discussing man's interaction with flora and fauna. Entertaining at times with some amazing co-existence examples. Not as heavy as the title would suggest to read and I enjoyed the book immensely.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Plants and Humans Influence Each Other for Mutual Benefit!, 24 July 2004
By 
Donald Mitchell "Jesus Loves You!" (Thanks for Providing My Reviews over 124,000 Helpful Votes Globally) - See all my reviews
(HALL OF FAME REVIEWER)    (TOP 500 REVIEWER)    (VINE VOICE)   
With profound questions looking at people from a plant's perspective, Michael Pollan pollinates your mind with a new world view of our relationships with plants, one in which humans are not at the center. The book focuses on four primary examples of how plants provide benefits to humans that lead humans to benefit the plants (apples for sweetness, tulips for beauty, marijuana for intoxication, and the potato for control over nature's food supply). You will learn many new facts in the process that will fascinate you. The book's main value is that you will learn that we need to be more thoughtful in how we assist in the evolution of plant species.
The book builds on Darwin's original observations about how artificial evolution occurs (evolution directed by human efforts). So-called domesticated species thrive while the wild ones we admire often do not. Compare dogs to wolves as an example. Mr. Pollan challenges the mental separation we make between wild and domesticated species successfully in the book.
The apple section was my favorite. You will learn that John Chapman (Johnny Appleseed) was a rather odd fellow who was actually in the business of raising and selling apple trees. He planted a few seeds at the homes where he stayed overnight on his travels. Mr. Chapman had apple tree nurseries all over Ohio and Indiana, which he started 2-3 years before he expected an influx of settlers. Homesteading laws required these settlers to plant 50 apple or pears trees in order to take title to the land. And these apples were for making hard apple cider, not eating apples. He was the "American Dionysus" in Mr. Pollan's view. Apple trees need to be grafted to make good eating apples. Chapman's trees produced many genetic variations, which are good for the species. Apple trees became more narrow in their genes after other sources for alcohol and sweetness became available (from cane sugar). Now, the ancient genes of apple trees are being kept in living form from Kazakhstan, before they are lost due to economic development.
Tulips were the source of the famous Tulipmania in Holland. Rare colors occurred due to viruses. Those became extremely valuable during the tulip boom market in the 17th century. Now, growers try to keep the viruses out and we have much more dull, consistent species. We have probably lost much beauty in favor of order in the process.
The intoxicants in marijuana are probably caused by toxins that the plants make to kill off insects. Because the plant is a weed, it grows very rapidly. There is a hilarious story about the author's experiences in growing two plants that you will love. As the antidrug war progressed, marijuana became a hothouse plant and was bred and developed to grow much more rapidly under humid, high-light conditions indoors. You will read about modern commercial farms in Holland.
The potato story is the most complex. The Irish potato famine related to monoculture. The Incas had always planted a variety of potatoes to avoid the risk of disease. Now, biotechnology has added an insecticide to the leaves of potato plants, taking monoculture one step further. Interestingly, the insects are already becoming resistant to the insecticide. Are we building a new risk to famine with this approach? How will genetically altered potatoes affect humans? Is having consistent french fries at fast food places enough of an incentive to take this risk? These are the kinds of questions raised by this chapter.
Mr. Pollan has described a "dance of human and plant desire that left neither the plants nor the people . . . unchanged."
His key point is that we should be sure to include strong biodiversity in our approaches. Nature can create more variation faster than fledgling biotechnology industry can. Time has proven that biodiversity has many advantages for humans while monoculture has usually proven to have at least one major drawback. In reality, we can probably have both.
If you are like me, you will find Mr. Pollan's personal experiences with the plants and his investigations of the historical figures to be fascinating. He is a good story teller, and a fine writer.
After you read this book, take a walk through a park or a garden and think about Mr. Pollan's argument. Then consider how these principles can be applied to help ideas change, improve, and grow in more valuable ways.
Look at life from many different perspectives . . . and live more intelligently and beneficially!
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The Botany of Desire: A Plant's-eye View of the World
The Botany of Desire: A Plant's-eye View of the World by Michael Pollan (Paperback - 3 Mar 2002)
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