The Botany of Desire, by Michael Pollan

Second paragraph of third chapter:

Living things have always had to make their way in a wild garden of flowers and vines, of leaves and trees and fungi that hold out not only nourishing things to eat but deadly poisons, too. Nothing is more important to a creature's survival than knowing which is which, yet drawing a bright line through the middle of the garden, as the God of Genesis found, doesn't always work. The difficulty is that there are plants that do other, more curious things than simply sustain or extinguish life. Some heal; others rouse or calm or quiet the body's pain. But most remarkable of all, there are plants in the garden that manufacture molecules with the power to change the subjective experience of reality we call consciousness.

A great little book looking at four plants and how they have affected us humans as well as vice versa. The plants are the apple, the tulip, marijuana and the potato, and their respective desires a sweetness, beauty, intoxication and control. The best chapter is probably the third, on marijuana, which looks at how the War On Drugs has actually forced producers to innovate genetically and geographically, to the point that the marijuana now available is way stronger than you could get before the government started to crack down on its possession. But I found myself flicking to Wikipedia to check all kinds of other facts, such as the Kazakh origin of the apple tree, and the lack of genetic diversity among domesticated potatoes (which made the Irish population of the 1840s so vulnerable to a single fungus). Lots of tasty sweet stuff. Recommended. You can get it here.

This was my top unread book acquired last year (one of Anne's Christmas presents) and my top unread non-fiction book. Next on those lists respectively are The Paying Guests, by Sarah Waters, and Becoming, by Michelle Obama.

One thought on “The Botany of Desire, by Michael Pollan

  1. I’ve read Snow. Really liked the first third or so and then just got really bogged down and found that it dragged.

    I’m not saying it wasn’t a good book, just that it wasn’t the right book for me.

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