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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The Co-evolution of Plants and Humans

This book takes an interesting approach. It is not just about the way in which humans affect the evolution of certain plants but the way in which the plants also affect humans. Pollan takes what might be called a “plant-centric” view to explain the way the apple, tulip, marijuana plant, and potato have evolved over time. He makes the plants actors in this drama.

His contention is that as much as we act on plants, they also act on us, though not consciously, of course. For example, people’s desire for sweetness and for cider in the days before mass-produced junk food made settlers want to sow apple seeds on the frontier, giving rise to a new breed of tree. Therefore, we evolved along with the apples, and they affected human development as we affected them. Pollan’s conception of evolution is that it is not only human directed or directed only by natural selection but is a complex process in which we and the plants both act on each other. By turning the lens around to focus on the plants’ point of view, he is changing the way we look at evolution.