Essays on the apple, the tulip, cannabis and the potato explore how these plants provide a mechanism for their survival by fulfilling man's desires for sweetness, beauty, intoxication and control. The essay on the apple describes its genetics, the role of Johnny Appleseed's orchards and the use of the apple in pioneer society. In the dreary Calvinist Netherlands, the desire to own beautiful and unusual tulips led to financial speculation. When the day came that no one bought a future shipment of bulbs, the financial bubble of the 18th century burst. The third essay on cannabis gives scientific facts and historical information on the role of intoxicants in society. The book concludes with the bioengineered potato as an example of man's desire for control.
Michael Pollan's musings on man and his life in the world of plants is entertaining and educational. The Botany of Desire provides a wide range of historical and scientific information at a level accessible to the average reader. The author's most recent books include The Omnivore's Dilemma: A History of Four Foods (2006) and In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto (2007).
Reviewed by ds, 03/08. Other reviews by ds.