NPJ Book Review: The Botany of Desire by Michael Pollan

The Botany of Desire by Michael l Pollan (2001)

A Plant’s Eye View of the World

I never cared to write the traditional book review though occasionally I succumb. Though not in this instance. A humanist and poetic view of this work – it sat on my shelf for years, and when I wanted to glimpse into the musings of Botany, an ancient plant science, and Desire, the wanting of something, and the link between the two, I perused this as I would a book of poetry. 

The author’s poetic wandering into relationships between people and plants and their desires…from apples to tulips, potatoes, and marijuana. This book for me was a musing not strictly scientific though a measure of science is there to accentuate the author’s thoughtful leanings.

It’s an easily accessible and sensual read. The author points to scientific theories such as natural selection, and how human sought for example, flowers like tulips scattered about in the physical landscape of their nomadic existence…suggesting nearby edible plants and soil that could be cultivated as a source of food including healing plants…for this reader the author writes from a common-sense angle of survival – whatever works in the relationships between plant species and humans. His style is somewhat lyrical:  “I do wonder if it is significant that our experience with flowers is so deeply drenched in our sense of time. Maybe there’s good reason we find their fleetingness so piercing, can scarcely look at a flower in bloom without thinking ahead, whether in hope or regret.”

And again, he writes of the forbidden plant from fruits to cannabis looking back to ancient landscapes that offered insights in the human condition as if one were stranded as an expatriate in a foreign place – marijuana for years was deemed a cautionary “metaphysical” tale in certain countries, most of the reasoning was/is tied to money and profit and not its potential healing quality. This work asks us to think creatively in how we contemplate our world.

So between writing this review and cooking some vegetables, while sipping green tea I surmise at past famines and the food basics and why I prefer my pescatarian diet, along with taking in the fragrance of flowers…perhaps its scripted into my genes from ancient ancestors.