The Botany of Desire

Have  I mentioned maybe a million times how much I love that I have friends who read and then give me recommendations? Because I do. I love it so much. My friends are the best and the smartest and are never wrong about what I’ll like to read. Which brings us to The Botany of Desire by Michael Pollan. I’ve been diving deep into the world of non-fiction and the main struggle has been getting really into nonfiction books and sticking with them. Michael Pollan certainly did his research on desire and utilized it because once I started this book I just couldn’t stop.

the botany of desire

In The Botany of Desire Michael Pollan explores the idea that plants have evolved to manipulate humans desires, sweetness, beauty, intoxication, and control, through the lens of the apple, the tulip, marijuana, and the potato. You may recognize the significance of some of those at a glance. The human history behind the potato for instance is fascinating by itself. I’ve learned about the Irish potato famine in history classes and botany classes. It’s not exactly a secret that people rely heavily on agriculture. What Michael Pollan discusses, in a really conversational and fascinating way, is not how plants have been used by us, but how we have been used by plants. As humans our most basic desires have been maybe some of the most consistent things about us; why wouldn’t plants start to take advantage?

The book is spit up into four short chapter, each one dedicated to one plant, which each go along with one basic desire (sweetness with the apple, beauty with the tulip, intoxication with Marijuana, and control with the potato). It came as no surprise to me that these shorter chapters made it easier for me to read a nonfiction book. I have no problem reading long form articles from various news sources. For some reason the book length non fiction format trips me up. When the information is packaged in bitesized slices it just feels less intimidating. I also think it gives me less time to think about where the story and characters are, this seems silly, but I really think when the information is packaged in smaller bits my brain doesn’t have as much time to start looking for a familiar fiction package. All this would have been besides the point anyway if it weren’t for the fact that Michael Pollan is genuinely a good and captivating narrator. His writing welcomes in the casual reader rather than building a science language barrier. I worry sometimes going into non fiction that, perhaps, the author will have a specific scientist audience in mind. I don’t think Michael Pollan talks down the reader, by any means, but the vibe of the book is less of a lecture and more of a friend telling you about something that absolutely fascinates them over a beer.

This was the first of Michael Pollan’s that I’ve read, although I know he’s been around an writing for quite some time now and I know this won’t be the last. If anyone is ever looking for a good nonfiction book to read I won’t hesitate to point them towards The Botany of Desire.

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