The Botany of Desire: A Plant’s-Eye View of the World


Michael Pollan dives into four different species of plants (apple, tulip, cannabis and the potato) - their history, what their respective roles are in our lives, why/how they came to fill those roles and what the future might hold for these plants

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Key Takeaways
  1. Plants have domesticated us as much as we have them
  2. People need to become much more aware that we are not so distinct or distant from every living thing on this planet
What I got out of it
  1. Definitely a deep dive on these four plants, a lot of which was new information to me. I don't think there are too many actionable steps to be taken out of reading this book except becoming more knowledgeable about these plants which have had such an important impact on our lives over generations. The idea of plants domesticating was definitely a novel concept to me and something which I'll think about often
Part 1 - The Apple
  • John Chapman (Johnny Appleseed) spread apples far and wide on the frontier.
  • Apples were in high demand mostly because of their ability to ferment and produce great cider but also because they were one of the very few sweet things people on the frontier had access to
  • I had no idea that there are literally thousands of varieties of apples and how big of an impact Johnny Appleseed had in spreading different varieties to the frontier
Part 2- Tulips
  • Discusses the origin of the tulip and the history of Tulip Mania in 17th century Netherlands. The majority Calvinistic society in the Netherlands tended to live a very simple, humble and dull life and the tulip provided them a break from this dreariness. They (overly) prized the beauty and vibrant color that was very rare to find elsewhere in nature. The mania reached such proportions that tulips at the height of the bubble could fetch a price equal to what a luxurious house in Amsterdam might cost
  • The tulip and rose are some of the most prolific and widespread flowers in the world since they can be altered extremely easily and therefore be conformed to the fads of that epoch
  • Plants are incredible survivors. Since they can't move to reproduce or protect themselves, they've come up with other tactics such as beauty or poison to either attract animals who can spread their seeds or repel animals so they either forget or don't ever want to eat that plant again
Part 3- Cannabis
  • The most successful plants are those that can find synergies with other animals, especially humans. Beauty, fruit, health, getting high, are all excellent means of attracting humans who can best spread their seeds
  • Except for Eskimos, there has not been a society who has not used psychoactive plants. And, once these plants were introduced to Eskimos, they soon began using them too
  • Animals have been known to track down mind altering drugs and use them often
  • There are whole industries devoted to changing our consciousness - scary movies, roller coasters, spicy foods, fumes, etc.
  • Cannabis was one of first plants to be domesticated over 10,000 years ago - fiber, medicinal and "other" purposes
  • THC could have been developed from an evolutionary standpoint to confuse animals and protect the plant from animals that tried to eat it
  • Flow is the closest we ever get to experiencing eternity. Time does not matter once we get lost in the moment
  • The goal of our spiritual striving should be "to hold and possess the whole fullness of life in one moment, here and now, past and present and to come" - Boethius
Part 4 - The Potato
  • Hugely detailed section around potatoes and how they're grown. Conventional vs genetically modified, how pesticides and herbicides destroy the land and that the long-term effects are largely unknown
  • Organic farmers more focused on a process than a product. Use biodiversity, complementing crop rotations, plants which bring beneficial bugs, etc. instead of taking the easy route and simply killing all microbes with herbicides
  • Monoculture can be very dangerous and is something we should strive to avoid. Unfortunately, it is found in some of our staple crops such as apples, potatoes, wheat, pistachios, and bananas

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