Monday, November 21, 2011

what I thought about "the botany of desire"


Pardon. That is an overly simplistic summation of my feelings. I began this book with excitement to learn more about how humans and plants have co-evolved over the centuries, but my excitement was squelched almost instantly. I don't know why this is. I think I'm safe saying that I'm a big Michael Pollan fan, since I loved The Omnivore's Dilemma and In Defense of Food, but this one left me cold.

Here are some interesting things I learned:

Apples don't come true from seed, so a tree you grow from a seed will most likely be nothing like the tree the apple came from.

The bi-colored tulips that fueled the Dutch tulip craze were that way because of a virus, and as soon as the Dutch growers figured that out, they pulled any infected tulip they found.

Modern marijuana is a hybrid of two different Cannabis strains, supposed to give you a better buzz with fewer side effects.

The potato that all the Irish were growing before the blight was called the Lumper.

Here are some things that irritated me:

I didn't like the way he interpreted John Chapman's motives as though he had any idea what he was thinking. That makes him just as bad as the effusive John Chapman fanboy he meets and superciliously dismisses in the book.

I didn't like that he didn't tell me if modern bi-colored tulips are also infected with the tulip breaking virus. I had to go to Wikipedia to find out that that is not necessarily the case. This feels like lazy research.

The marijuana section was not nearly as interesting as I thought it would be. I got sort of bored when he started being all navel-gazey about the effect of hallucinogens on the great thinkers of the past, and on himself.

The potato section was fascinating and I have no complaints about it. Excepting the potato section, the book was boring and felt sort of amateurish and cursorily researched. The apple section was hard to get through; I had to stop reading the tulip section for a while and go straight to the potatoes; I forced myself to finish the tulips with great difficulty; I couldn't be bothered to finish the marijuana section.

Not a fan of this book. But since it was one of his earlier works, I think it shows that he has improved with age.


Tori said...

I got bored with the fungus section of Omnivore's Dilemma and never finished it. Michael Pollan strikes me as the type of guy that you would be really interested in talking to at a party, but after 15 minutes or so you would start frantically searching for an out.

g. lo said...

I skimmed it at the bookstore and thought "meh" Glad I didn't buy it. He couldn't make marijuana interesting?