04 April 2010

The Botany of Desire, by Michael Pollan

As with The Omnivore's Dilemma, what makes this book worth reading isn't the prose, but the ideas. Although the introduction sets up an idea of considering the world from a plant's point of view, and there are recurring themes that run throughout the book, the whole reads more like 4 interconnnected essays. The first is about apples (really, about Johnny Appleseed), the second about tulips, the third marijuana, and the fourth, potatoes (particularly genetically engineered ones). It feels somewhat hastily connected, or maybe as though Pollan freely allowed himself to be overrun by tangents. Which is fine - as I said already, the ideas are fascinating. The book is also fantastically well researched (I was really pleased to see that he cited Catherine Gallagher's essay about the potato) and generally very interesting.

It's not, however, as good a book as Omnivore's Dilemma, for several reasons. One, that the material just isn't quite as interesting. And at moments, it really drags. But another is that the writing is clumsier - there's a lot of repetition, or just self-indulgence. I found myself wishing that he had a better editor.

Still, it IS an interesting book. The apple and marijuana sections are where it really shines - the potato is somewhat interesting, but covers a lot of the same material as OD, and the tulip section is pretty forgettable. Not a bad book, but not one I'd really wholeheartedly recommend.

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