36 pages 1 hour read

Michael Pollan

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

Nonfiction | Book | Adult | Published in 2001

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Introduction-Chapter 1Chapter Summaries & Analyses

Introduction Summary: “The Human Bumblebee”

One day while working in his garden, Pollan began to wonder how different he was than a bumblebee. While he believed he had the prerogative to choose the plants he wanted, he was, perhaps, more like the bumblebee, whose co-evolution with the flower serves them both. Perhaps this is demonstrated in the relationship between humans and the potato, for example, in that humans have selected "the size and taste" of the potato they prefer "over countless generations" (xiv). The fact that we are aware of our selections, while the bumblebee operates out of instinct, does not matter. Both plants in question—the flower and the potato—have the goal of making more copies of themselves. To do so, they motivate other creatures to disseminate their genes. On that day, Pollan realized that the plants that were the objects of his desire were also subjects, getting him to do their bidding.

Pollan decided to write this book from what he calls an “upside-down perspective” (xvi)—from the perspective of the plants. He uses four plants to tell the story. These are “domesticated species” (xvi), a term that Pollan says implies that humans control them, but plants and animals have also used us to achieve their own goals by clothing, feeding, healing, or delighting humans.