Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The Botany of Desire

Having read and thoroughly enjoyed both of Michael Pollan's newer books, The Omnivore's Dilemma and In Defence of Food: An Eater's Manifesto, I was eager to delve into Pollan's past to discover his many other insights into the wonderful world of food. I was not disappointed.

The Botany of Desire is the historical recounting of four plants that for Pollan represent mankind's greatest desires: sweetness, beauty, intoxication, and control. However, rather than use the four corresponding plants (the apple, tulip, cannabis (aka marijuana), and potato) merely as symbols of desire, Pollan takes us on a journey to discover how our desires compliment and compete with those of these four plants on an evolutionary scale; in other words, how we have co-evolved.

How easy to assume that mankind has manipulated nature throughout his history, yet Pollan hypothesizes that these plants have taken their turn in manipulating us throughout the millennia as well. Could it be true that are but a pawn in the evolutionary scheme to spread the seed of living things that have existed far longer than we? Pollan remarks that although we are in awe of the wolf, it is the "domesticated" dog that has it's every need met by man. Have we domesticated the canine, or have they domesticated us?

Perhaps his deepest insight was the idea of perception. Deeming ourselves the grand masters of the universe, we falsely assume we manipulate it at will, choosing for ourselves which forms of life are valuable and which are not. But stepping back into the larger picture, we must ask ourselves if this is fact or simply our perception, which can be greatly misguided as we see but our own egotistical interpretations of what is and is not. How beautiful though that for some 250 pages, we can delve deep into the world we so rarely consider, what Pollan refers to as "the plant's-eye view of the world;" a world that is far more vast, wonderful, and inspiring when we "imagine a very different kind of story about Man and Nature, one that shrinks the distance between the two of us, 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."

Recommended: for the environmental philosopher in all of us.
Rated: 4 out of 5 stars.

7 comments:

Farmer's Daughter said...

Thanks for the review! This one's on my list for summer.

Heather @ SGF said...

Hope you enjoy it!

BerryBird said...

I'm glad to see this book reviewed here, as I absolutely adored it, but read it too many years ago to write my own review without re-reading it. Which I would love to do, but there are way too many new books calling my name.

Heather @ SGF said...

BerryBird - I know what you mean. So many books, so little time...

Electronic Goose said...

I enjoyed this book, too.

kale for sale said...

After reading Omnivore's Dilemma it seemed that corn dominated the world and not man but I didn't realize that thread was first developed in Botany of Desire. Thanks for the review because I've yet to be able to read this. I'll have to pick it up again.

Heather @ SGF said...

Kale for Sale - Out of all the books Pollan has written, "Omnivore" is still my favorite, but this was a beautiful read. Definitely worth checking out.