|The Botany of Desire: A Plant's-Eye View of the World
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Working in his garden one day, Michael Pollan hit pay dirt in the form of an idea: do plants, he wondered, use humans as much as we use them? While the question is not entirely original, the way Pollan examines this complex coevolution by looking at the natural world from the perspective of plants is unique. The result is a fascinating and engaging look at the true nature of domestication.
In making his point, Pollan focuses on the relationship between humans and four specific plants: apples, tulips, marijuana, and potatoes. He uses the history of John Chapman (Johnny Appleseed) to illustrate how both the apple's sweetness and its role in the production of alcoholic cider made it appealing to settlers moving west, thus greatly expanding the plant's range. He also explains how human manipulation of the plant has weakened it, so that "modern apples require more pesticide than any other food crop." The tulipomania of 17th-century Holland is a backdrop for his examination of the role the tulip's beauty played in wildly influencing human behavior to both the benefit and detriment of the plant (the markings that made the tulip so attractive to the Dutch were actually caused by a virus). His excellent discussion of the potato combines a history of the plant with a prime example of how biotechnology is changing our relationship to nature. As part of his research, Pollan visited the Monsanto company headquarters and planted some of their NewLeaf brand potatoes in his garden--seeds that had been genetically engineered to produce their own insecticide. Though they worked as advertised, he made some startling discoveries, primarily that the NewLeaf plants themselves are registered as a pesticide by the EPA and that federal law prohibits anyone from reaping more than one crop per seed packet. And in a interesting aside, he explains how a global desire for consistently perfect French fries contributes to both damaging monoculture and the genetic engineering necessary to support it.
Pollan has read widely on the subject and elegantly combines literary, historical, philosophical, and scientific references with engaging anecdotes, giving readers much to ponder while weeding their gardens. --Shawn Carkonen
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 — thought 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.
- A fast read, well written, fascinating!
The connections between plants and people are fascinating. Michael Pollan writes so well, I was pulled through the book. This is a view of the web of life that I haven't seen before. Highly recommended. Another book I enjoyed some time back (not by Pollan) is "Biomimicry". ...more info
- Enlightening, entertaining, easy to read...
Excellent book! Do not need a science background to appreciate and understand the author's premise. ...more info
It probably reads better in print. The audio has a juvenile intonation. Not recommended for in- car use if you tend to fall asleep at the wheel....more info
- worth the time
It tends to ramble in the philosophical arena, but I found his writing well researched and the questions thoughtful and thought provoking. I would recommend it for a book club or philosphy group....more info
- The Dance of Dionysius and Apollo
"The Botany of Desire: A Plant's-Eye View of the World" ($13.95 in paperback from Random House) is by Michael Pollan, an instructor at the Graduate School of Journalism at UC Berkeley.
Pollan writes that "the seeds of this book were first planted in my garden. ... I happened to be sowing rows in the neighborhood of a flowering apple tree that was fairly vibrating with bees. And what I found myself thinking about was this: What existential difference is there between the human being's role in this (or any) garden and the bumblebee's?"
What follows are four long essays about co-evolution, in which "both parties act on each other to advance their individual interests but wind up trading favors: food for the bee, transportation for the apple genes." Agriculture is about human-plant co-evolution, Pollan says; "it makes just as much sense to think of agriculture as something the grasses did to people as a way to conquer the trees."
Each of the essays is about some kind of human desire. The apple represents sweetness (not very abundant in the Old West); the tulip is beauty (feeding tulipomania in Holland from 1635-1637); marijuana feeds the human desire for intoxication; and the potato is a symbol of the human desire to control the natural world.
The apple chapter focuses on John Chapman, "Johnny Appleseed," who "understood he was working for the apples as much as they were working for him." Pollan writes that until Prohibition, "apples were something people drank. ... Johnny Appleseed was bringing the gift of alcohol to the frontier." And that brings up a key theme in the book, the interplay between "Apollo" (reason) and "Dionysius" (ecstasy), between the garden and the wilderness.
The author samples high grade cannabis in Amsterdam and muses on the nature of the "high," something, he says, that melts away short term memory and explains "the sense that time has slowed or even stopped. For it is only by forgetting that we ... approach the experience of living in the present moment."
The potato is about biotechnology. Pollan writes of a Monsanto patent on the NewLeaf potato (since, apparently, withdrawn from market) which is bioengineered to contain a natural pesticide. That would cut down on the need for chemical sprays to protect potatoes, but it would also mean, unless great care were taken, that bugs would more quickly adapt to the NewLeaf variety (since spraying is only periodic but the potatoes them-selves are around for the entire season).
This is the dance of co-evolution. "The survival of the sweetest, the most beautiful, or the most intoxicating proceeds according to a dialectical process, a give-and-take between human desire and the universe of all plant possibility. It takes two, but it doesn't take intention, or consciousness." When it comes to plant and human, we are "in this boat together."...more info
- A Great Read
If you are at all interested in evolution and biology, and man's relationship with the natural world, this is a must-read. Pollan presents the material in a way that makes it digestible to individuals with only a lay-person's knowledge of science. ...more info
- Such a good read for us beginners!
This was a gift,and what a great gift! I hear botanists say it is not a substantive book, but I am not a botanist! I loved it, everyone I loaned it to loved it. Made me look at my tulips and apples differently, and the birds and the bees and everything -- and as an organic gardener and cook it made me appreciate the natural thoughtfulness behind the varieties we grow and enjoy! Buy, read, and gift his book -- from 16 to 85 have enjoyed it!...more info
- one of the best books I've ever read
I can't say enough about this book. A history of four things that grow presented originally, thoughtfully, and thoroughly - as well as how they have influenced the culture of humanity (and the writing itself is excellent). Profound in many ways, this is a book that you will not be able to put down. Thank you, Michael Pollan....more info
- Readable copy and interesting hypothesis.
A long book on botany if you are up to it. For a more compact and lively study try The Story of the Apple....more info
- Reworked 'Selfish-gene' theory
This book came to me highly recommended, and the title has some sizzle. Unfortunately, it wasn't the sort of meditation on botany that I enjoy. Despite my reaction, it is obviously satisfying many readers. I find this more interesting than the text.
My problems begin on paragraph 3:
"A bumblebee would probably consider himself as a subject in the garden and the bloom he's plundering for its drop of nectar as an object. But we know that this is just a failure of his imagination. The truth of the matter is that the flower has cleverly manipulated the bee into hauling its pollen from blossom to blossom."
This is a twist on Dawkins' famous 'selfish gene' argument. Dawkins argues that you and I represent vehicles our genes have created to insure their 'survival'. Our genes have provided us with plenty of mindless passions which insure the gene's survival, not ours. We, the vehicles, emerge, reproduce and die. The genetic matter is passed on from generation to generation. The gene is immortal.
When Pollan elevates the flower to 'conscious subject', capable of tricking the bumblebee into heavy labor, he does for the flower what Dawkins did for the gene. The site of conscious control transfers from the active to the passive, from the traditional to the surprising, from you and I to 'it'. This metaphorical trick uses a familiar metaphorical allusion which suggests 'consciousness' has physical location, and within that location resides a 'little man' (much like you or I), who watches something of a TV show presented by the senses, before deciding what actions to take.
For idol worshipers, like the ancient Greeks, the 'little man' Dionysus might reside in the statue. For Descartes, the 'little man' was in the pineal gland. For Mary Shelly, he was in the brain Dr. Frankenstein stitched into the monster's head. For Dawkins he is in the gene. For Pollan, he is in the flower. The common thread here is the shift of responsibility from 'me' to the 'little man'. It is comforting, as long as we don't look too closely at the notion. When we look closely, the little man argument becomes silly. A 'little man' must have his own 'little man', which in turn must have his own 'little man', ad infinitum. Nothing about the nature of responsibility is addressed.
Pollan follows this format. We are told about the powerful genetic (little man) creativity of the original apple grove in Kazakhstan. We are informed of Johnny Appleseed's link to the Dionysian god-head. We learn about profiteer efforts to contain the life force (little men) of tulips of fixed shape, size and color. The `little men' in marijuana plants allow their growers to out-fox the government agents. So, Pollan is really doing nothing but offering comforting nostrums and hoping no one looks very closely. ...more info
- The Botnay of Desire
This is a book for gardeners and people interested in history of our country.
There are four plants that changed the world. An easy read with much information. Your ideas on Johnny Appleseed will change and very pleasantly. Also on the potato. Do read this and share with friends. I have given this as a gift many times....more info
- The secret conspiracies of plants
You don't have to be a biologist or a gardener to find this an entertaining and fascinating read. It's one of my book club's all-time favorites. It's world history told from the perspective of five plants that changed the world. If you don't know what kind of flower was once worth more than a mansion, or what Johnny Appleseed was really up to (hint: think hard cider), run out and get this book....more info
- A mind-expanding change of perspective
The easy and subtle way this book allows readers to view life on earth from an entirely different perspective is unprecedented (at least I've never read anything like it.) Pollan's style is so smooth, so full of humor and humanity, it's impossible not to become totally captivated. Even for someone like myself who doesn't read a lot of non-fiction, this is a true page-turner. Pollan's hilarious and inspiring dissection of Johnny Appleseed, reality versus myth, is in itself worth the price of admission....more info
- Being part of this world
A fundamental trait of humans is how we satisfy our desires by changing the natural world around us. Nowhere is this more true than in the crops we grow and how we grow them. Humans have a long history of creating new species of plants and animals by selective breeding. This book by Michael Pollan takes a complementary but diametrically different view; that these crops we change are also affecting us; that our desire for certain characteristics in food items somehow coevolved with these very food items. This book advances this argument by examining the history of four plants: the apple, the potato, the tulip, and marijuana, and how their place in human societies have evolved with time.
In modern times, this evolution has been one-upped by man, who now uses genetic engineering to achieve what was once impossible. In prior times, the coevolution of crops and man mitigated man's desire to strive for uniformity in crops. Geographical isolation of many societies meant that each human society would select different variants of each crop; hence preserving biodiversity over the entire world. Nowadays, with modern modes of travel and the presence of multinational corporations, this has been changed. Man can now insert genes from one species to another that would have never mixed in the course of natural evolution. This book examines such recent phenomena, their manifestations in various countries and corporate labs, and how farmers are reacting to it.
All in all, a great book to read about agriculture, genetics, evolution, and the role of humans on this planet of ours....more info
i knew nothing on the subject before picking up this book, and now i feel conversant, and inspired to keep delving into a field that held little interest to me until i came across "Botany of Desire"...more info
- Funny, gentle and world changing
It is a rare science book that evokes such an emotional response in me. "Beak of the Finch" by Jonathan Weiner is one, and "The Botany of Desire" is another. Pollan's discussion of four archetypal plants (apple, tulip, marijuana and potato) and our shared history with them makes for some wonderfully interesting reading. He has a great gift for allegory and metaphor, and these plants became real characters that I cared about deeply. Sprinkled with just the kind of details that I love most, the book reads like a daydream of a letter from home. Here are some examples of what I mean: the fact that without flowers there would be no mammals, which is likely the reason we human beings are partial to flowers, the overpowering smell of a marijuana hothouse in Amsterdam, the trick the French king used to encourage his starving people to eat the feared novel food from the new world: potatoes (he posted armed guards around his potato garden, but only during the day), that the beauty of a highly prized variegated tulip (worth the price of a house in today's terms) is due to viral infection, and a very chilling, yet compassionate description of industrial farming and the men who run these farms.
I bored my husband silly while I read this book, because it was just one of those books that is so fascinating you kind of can't stop yourself from saying stuff like, "HEY! Did you know marijuana growers expose their crops to 24 hours of light for the first few weeks and that they can bring a crop to maturity in 8 weeks?"
Eventually, Pollan reveals the full impact of our actions on the plant society. Not in a pedantic way, but with a brand of kindness and hope that we will understand the stewardship role that we have always had in our relationship with the plant world. The last lines of this book put it too beautifully for me to paraphrase, when he cites again the charming eccentric Johnny 'Appleseed' Chapman, and his voyage that encouraged and sustained so many of America's young cities. "I'm thinking specifically of the way he rigged up his canoe...the two hulls side by side, so that the weight of the appleseeds balanced the weight of the man, each helping to keep the other steady on the river. Laughable as an example of naval architecture, perhaps, but seaworthy as a metaphor, surely. Chapman's craft, his example, invites us to imagine a very different kind of story about man and nature: one that shrinks the distance between the two so that we might again begin to see them for what they are, and in spite of everything, will always be, which is in this boat together."
Like flowering plants, this book is beautiful, gentle, and, if people listen, world changing.
Don't miss this book. ...more info
- Interested in horticulture? You'll love this book
A fascinating look at the evolution of plants and mankind's impact on that. It left me with a deeper and more complex appreciation for nature. ...more info
- Who wouldn't love this book?
You'll notice that a huge majority of readers found this book to be informative, thought provoking, and even enjoyable. It's the type of reading material that sticks with you, and changes your view of the world. It has changed my eating habits and gardening routines. A very few people felt the book was worthless. Hmmmmmmm. Once you read the book you'll probably be able to figure out who those people are. Gee, I don't know... maybe anyone connected with the Monsanto Corporation? Or other greedy monoagriculturalists? Anyone who doesn't care one bit about the future of the planet, or the health of its people? Yup, there is surely a population out there that would take exception to the facts presented in this eye-opening book. ...more info
- Entertaining, Well-Written, and Informative, the holy trio of non-fiction
This is one of the more interesting non-fiction books I've read in a while. It sounds simple enough, but has very complex ramifications. The purpose of this book is to examine man's relationship with plants, specifically plants that humans have domesticated for our own reasons. The four plants he examines are apples, tulips, cannabis, and potatos. However, Pollan looks at this relationship in a new light. He looks at it from the point of view of what the plant gets out of it and why they would allow themselves to be domesticated. Most people tend to think that we settle on a plant and decide to make it into something we find useful. What they don't realize is that plants will only follow the course of more reproductive success. This is why humans have never successfully domesticated acorns, even though they have tried for thousands of years. The plants have to get something out of it too.
Pollan explains the true nature of apples in the first section of the book, and tells the true story of Johnny Chapman, aka Johnny Appleseed. One thing that Pollan explains is that apple trees do not "come true" from their parents. Only a vanishingly small percentage of wild apples are edible, and all the edible apples that we know and love come from clones of a very small number of trees. Johnny Appleseed wasn't planting trees for eating; he was planting trees ahead of settlers so that they could make cider when they caught up to him. If you wonder what it is that apples have gotten out of their relationship with humans, consider this: all apples are descended from a few trees that grew in what is now Kazakhstan. And yet this is the world's number one fruit! Amazing.
I won't provide a synopsis of each section, save that each one gives similar eye-opening revelations about each plant that we thought we knew. Cannabis is an especially interesting case. Since I don't really keep up on the subject of drugs, it surprised me to hear that the brain already has receptors for THC (or a THC-like compound), the active ingredient in marijuana. The question is: why? Evidently it controls the responses of other brain chemicals which are necessary for our health. This is not any argument for marijuana, by the way. It mucks up the natural workings of the brain. The point is that this highlights the functioning of the brain in ways we were not aware of before, including the fact that our ability to remember is directly related to our ability to be in the now (and our degree of perception).
The last chapter, on Monsanto's New Leaf potatos is especially enlightening, and somewhat frightening. If you've taken my earlier suggestions and read Fast Food Nation and Don't Eat This Book, you know that this potato has a pesticide built into it (and is classified as a pesticide by the FDA). The ramifications of direct genetic modification of plants goes far beyond what you might suspect.
I find it hard to describe much about this book, but the premise alone should sell you on it. It's well-written and well-researched, and the topic is just plain interesting anyway. I suggest that if you're looking for some light (as in, you don't need a dictionary or an encyclopedia to understand it) non-fiction, you pick up this book....more info
- Style over Substance
The writing style and amount of information in this book bring it down. That is unfortunate because the topics are and should be very interesting and easy to write about. As other reviewers have said, the author talks about 4 plant species: the apple, marijuana, the tulip, and the potato. The information on the does not run that deep - at times it seems like he did some Google searches and cobbled together the facts into a story written at a middle or high school level. To make matters worse, interspersed within the information on these topics Pollan has inserted many annoying personal thoughts. I eventually found myself identifying and skipping these paragraphs. It is as if he didn't think the plants themselves are interesting enough on their own....more info
- Short, Sweet, Insightful
I was continuously amused and enlightened about many things in this book; suffice it to say I dog-eared quite a few pages as I wanted to go back to re-read certain passages for the perspective, perhaps for the phrasing, or for the knowledge.
Humans certainly have the desire and the ability to bend nature, but a good lesson learned in this book is to let nature be itself, even as you make it do your bidding!...more info
- Informative, great read!
For anyone who interested about the way that humans are changing plants and agriculture to "better meet our desire" this is the book to read. For a term paper I wrote on GMOs, I was especially inspired by Pollan's chapter on the Potato. It is a great book, very interesting, and very fun to read!...more info
- Fascinating reading
I have had this book since 2003 and loaned or recommended it to all my friends. It is a great story that I zipped right though.
Pollan's writing is informative and pleasurable. Second Nature & Botany of Desire provide an interesting perspective on our relationship with other living things in the garden and larger natural world. His insightful observations about nature and biology will ring true for many, especially organic gardeners.
- If words were notes...
If words were notes, and Michael Pollan a composer, this would be a Symphony. This might seem high praise for a book about plants, but it is true. The book is not only interesting and informative, but well-written. I read - alot and mainly fiction - and this is by far one of my top 5 most recommended books. Mr. Pollan, in my opinion, could write about dirt or excrement, and make the topic come alive with interest. Truly, the beauty of this book is in its style as much as in its topic....more info
- Botany of Desire
Wonderfully written book. Just scholarly enough to be serious as well as a good read....more info
- Plants are cool
I picked up this book while on holiday in New York, finished it and took it home to the UK and read it again. A fast and easy read; a fascinating idea, clearly true to the extent that our use of plants has boosted their numbers and kinds. But forget the details - this is a stimulating book, full of touchy-feely stuff about plants and the world. A great antidote to the mind-numbing syllabus in text books and schools. If I hadn't been a keen gardener in my childhood and handled plants I would never have survived to end up a professor of botany! If you think botany is boring, and especially if you have already found bits of interest in plants, have a read of this book. ...more info
- Great Idea, Horrible Result
Mr Pollan had a great idea for a book--evolution of 4 different species of well know plants from the plant's perspective as influenced by humans. There's about 30 pages of good information to this end. The rest is horribly long and painful unrelated tangents that he clearly enjoys writing about, but have absolutely nothing to do with the subject. For instance, in covering apples he talks for freggen ever about John Chapaman, aka Johnny Appleseed. Who cares about Appleseed's sexual frustrations with a potential 10 year old bride??? Who cares about his love of sleeping in hollowed out logs, or on the snow if sleeping in the log would disturb some insects??? If you're ridiculously bored and don't mind reading about random garbage you might like this book. If you're looking for enlightenment on this subject or like a well executed book, don't even think about this one....more info
- Makes Botony Very Interesting
This is a great book, that goes very well with the other books Michael Pollan has written (In Defense of Food and The Omnivores Dilemma). A little different style from those two, as it takes the view from the plant, rather than our view of the plant. Great look at how the plants listed in the book (apples, tulips, marijuana, and potatoes) actually have a hold on us, as opposed to the other way around.
Great book, and I would recommend it to anyone with an interest in botany, gardening, organic food, or anything else related to that.
- Coevolution with Plants
This book was thought provoking as it encourages you to reevaluate man's place in nature, from one of dominance to a picture of coevolution despite our insistence that we have "domesticated" plants for our uses. This is a great companion piece to Guns, Germs, and Steel. ...more info
- An engaging piece of practical history
Michael Pollan's charaming and erudite book is the story of the development of the culture of four different plants: the apple, potato, tulip and marijuana. `Culture' is to be understood in two different ways. First there's the effect of the plants in question on human cultures and second the demands the plants place on people for their culture or care.
Don't be distracted by Pollan's provocative hypothesis. We and our favorite plants have `co-evolved'. That is, they have used us as much as we have used them. The apple has snared us with its sweetness and so has manipulated us into spreading it throughout the world. The same could be said for the beauty of the tulip, the reliability and simplicity of the potato and the magic power of marijuana. Sure. Let's remember that we're the ones with the consciousness here and file that co-evolution business away in the metaphor drawer and get on with Pollan's main business.
The business in question is an examination of where our stewardship of plants' destinies is leading us. The genetically-altered potato is his best case. The frightening possibility is that a potato that uses a `natural' gene to fight off pests runs the risk of fostering resistant strains of the pest. Once that happens, an entire natural defense against pests disappears. Unfortunately, the losers in the process are not just the farmers who used the genetically-altered crop but everyone whose crop is endangered by the new resistant pest.
So this should make it a snap decision: genetically-modified, bug-resistant potatoes are bad. But then Pollan tells us about the dreadful diet of chemicals that are used now to fight pests. The recital of the potatoes' dosages would be enough to turn anyone off to french fries forever.
Notice that this is no longer a matter of co-evolution. This is a question of human direction of evolution (the potato seems to have no opinion on the matter). The outcomes are not trivial-genetic alterations remain in the environment and reproduce themselves in a way that chemical spills, for instance, do not.
In fact, it's possible that the matter may already be out of our hands. The chemically nurtured potato exists because big food-processing companies demand it. They demand those potatoes because McDonald's (for one) demands it. And the big junk-food chains demand it because we do.
So in the end, there are three partners in the evolutionary rowboat. There are the plants, there's us and there's this new `organism' called the industrial food business. Pollan's thoughtful book leaves me wondering if all three of us make it .
Lynn Hoffman, author of The New Short Course in Wine and bang-BANG, the forthcoming novel of sex and gunplay from kunati press. ...more info
- The best
In style and substance this is one of the best books I've read in recent years, as well as one of the most enjoyable. It also broadened my perspective in several areas. I highly recommend....more info
- A Three Hundred Page Sleeping Pill
I was given three months to read this book, and each time I picked it up I threw it down in disgust. Between the none-stop Johnny Appleseed referances to the Collegian's Guide to Growing Pot, it is amazing I got through it. I am convinced he was once a Columbian drug lord....more info
- All things considered
A great one. Michael Pollan inquires with the intention of finding clarity and sharing it with us. Once alighting on the answers, he succeeds at putting it all together in a book and making it friendly to all. Never claiming to find divine truth or undeniable fact, only shedding light and provoking thought. Leaving plenty of room for the reader to agree or disagree. Although his meaning is anything but ambiguous. He writes with clarity that comes from turning all the stones and delving into the myths, the hysteria, the impact and the undeniable co-existence of humans (our desires), and the world in which we all live. We are very fortunate to have a mind like Pollan's, working with us, shedding light on the apple, the tulip, the potato and marajuana, for those who dont have the time. ...more info
- The Coevolution of Human Cultures and Domesticated Plants.
In "The Botany of Desire", author and gardener Michael Pollan turns the tables on our view of domesticated species by presenting a would-be "plant's eye view of the world". His premise is that humans may have a more reciprocal relationship with domesticated plants than we like to believe. Perhaps the plants use us to propagate themselves as we use them to satisfy our desires. To explore this idea, Pollan recounts the horticultural histories and the human desires that created them for 4 domesticated plant species: the apple, which satisfies our desire for sweetness, the tulip, cultivated for its beauty, marijuana, for intoxication, and the potato, which gives us control. A fruit, a flower, a drug, and a staple food.
Pollan dedicates a section of the book to each of the 4 plants. The histories of the species are not comprehensive but focus on key events which affected its "artificial selection" and made the plants what they are today. For example, the history of the apple focuses on the introduction of seedlings onto the American frontier by Johnny "Appleseed" Chapman in the early 19th century, spawning an explosion of edible species from what were originally trees planted to make applejack. The section on the tulip predictably talks about "Tulipmania" in 1630s Holland, usually cited as the first "bubble" of the modern global economy, but also addresses the "Tulip Era" in Constantinople, funny and failed attempts to make the tulip useful, and the unending quest for a black tulip.
Likewise, the section on marijuana focuses on the tremendous advances in horticulture spawned by the War on Drugs that forced growers indoors in the 1980s. The discussion of the potato is particularly timely, as it talks about the genetically modified NewLeaf potato, which includes genes from Bt bacterium whose toxin is lethal to the Colorado potato beetle. This potato is designed to rescue the agricultural industry from its toxic and unsustainable strategy of pesticides and fertilizers. It's also designed to prolong the viability of monoculture, around which much of the agricultural industry in built but which is historically and currently problematic.
An interesting aspect of the evolution of these domesticated species is that three of four of them are cloned species, not planted from seeds or allowed to reproduce sexually. They're in trouble for lack of genetic diversity. They've been over-domesticated. So we shall see if Michael Pollan's thesis that the plants have put us in their service as much as we have them holds up. It seems we've made them quite vulnerable. But that premise provides an interesting entry into the subject of horticulture. Michael Pollan is opinionated, and everyone will not agree with his view of marijuana or NewLeaf potatoes, but I do think readers will see his point. "The Botany of Desire" is thought-provoking and timely....more info
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