Adventures in Reading

The Botany of Desire by Michael Pollan
April 1, 2008, 7:16 am
Filed under: book reviews, nonfiction
“What existential difference is there between the human being’s role in this … garden and the bumblebee’s?”

To kick off spring 2008 I delved into an older Michael Pollan book: The Botany of Desire. With a new book out right as the excitement for The Omnivore’s Dilemma dissipates, I turned to this much suggested book that now lives rather quietly on the shelves. Michael Pollan is an amazing writer and his books on plants and food range from garden essays to biology to sociology and then some. I first hear of The Botany of Desire my sophomore year in college from my sister but failed to pick it up, but I figured it was better late than never.

The Botany of Desire reads as an interesting train of thought if it happened to occur with a team of research librarians readily available. Within the introduction Pollan even informs the reader that the idea of the book flitted into his mind while idly planting in his garden. And this idea? People choose the plants they want to cultivate. Right? But, what if like bees drawn to the brightest flower plants have somehow duped us into choosing them? What’s really the object and what’s really the subject?

Pollan’s consideration and research regarding the desire between plants and people unfold in four sections exploring the desire of sweetness in apples, the desire of beauty in tulips, the desire of intoxication in marijuana, and the desire of control in the potato. One of the perfections of Pollan’s book is that he is not necessarily trying to prove anything. Rather, as he explains in his introduction, Pollan merely wants the reader to leave the book reconsidering human’s relationship of desire and control. After concluding the book I can say he has done this quite successfully for me.

The Botany of Desire is engaging, informative, and well-written. Perhaps what’s best of all is that the books is also appealing. Recently at work we were notified that one of the schools in the area was reading Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring. A long held classic in nature and ecology writing, I am perfectly comfortable saying that I believe Pollan has surpassed this. Don’t get me wrong, Carson and Pollan have very different agendas within their books, but Pollan’s eco-narrative is catching and before I had even finished the section on tulips I was requesting any book on Tulipomania my library had.

This is a definite must read.


[…] on student reading lists if only because the book is outdated and other more contemporary books, Michael Pollan’s Botany of Desire comes to mind, are […]

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I actually just finished reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma — I’m a little behind the times, I know. You’re right: Michael Pollan is a fantastic writer! It was fascinating — and a very hard read, too, in some ways. I definitely find myself re-evaluating what I eat. And I’ve been annoying my family by reading lists of food ingredients: corn, corn, corn, corn…

On a completely unrelated note, I noticed that you still have a link to my old blog on your sidebar. Would you mind changing the link to ? I recently moved to my own domain, and now am trying to chase down backlinks … Thanks :)

Comment by Christine

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