My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Definitely my favorite of the three Michael Pollan books I’ve read so far, The Botany of Desire is a relaxed, often thought-provoking and occasionally laugh-out-loud funny look at the complicated relationship between plants and humans. Pollan traces the human desire for sweetness, beauty, intoxication and control through historical, cultural and digestive reflections on the apple, the tulip, the marijuana plant and the potato.
As the title suggests, The Botany of Desire is a little bit sexier than either The Omnivore’s Dilemma or In Defense of Food, Pollan’s obvious, passionate love for gardening, his pot-inspired (although he claims not literally) and often wandering musings and his liberal use of mythology and poetry as framing narratives for the biological make the book a lush and rich read. As in his other books, Pollan may stay on any given topic for a beat or two longer than is strictly necessary to make his point but if you enjoy the distinct quality of his voice as a writer and are happy to move lazily along this winding path through orchard, garden, hydroponic closet and laboratory the book definitely doesn’t disappoint.
Pollan’s reflection on “Darwin’s Ever-Expanding Garden of Artificial Selection,”–on the socio-biological history of the relationship between human and plant desires–lays a clear groundwork for his later books and his ongoing outspoken concern about how radical human intervention has the potential to destabilize the relationship in ways that have biological, environmental and health ramifications that we haven’t even begun to understand.