The Botany of Desire Polan, Michael Random House Trade Paperbacks; 1 edition (May 28, 2002)
This book is simply the best nonfiction book I ever read and maybe even the best book period. I find that I often run out of steam reading nonfiction. By the time I get 25% or so into it, it starts to lose the luster it had on page one. The promise of delivery of something amazing is just not often fully delivered. This book smashes that pattern to bits.
He writes about the 4 plants that had the greatest impact on human civilization:
The Tulip and
The science behind his book is solid, sure enough, but what makes this book so much more than just another rant on an authors favorite historical or scientific subject is that it reads like an adventure story. He starts with the premise that we are not really in charge, but rather the plants are. We are merely very complex and arguably very smart bees. The plants bend us to their will so that we can give the plants legs. The things the plants deliver to us and how they manipulate us to extract the treasures they offer create 4 tales of inter-species and inter-kingdom intrigue that kept me glues to this book through 3 readings, one of which was non-stop.
His treatment of Johnny Appleseed is NOTHING like Disney’s.
The utter deviousness of plants like marijuana to give us something we want in the most outrageous fashion is mind bending. It is as if that simple weed solved a puzzle of neurology that should have required a fortune 500 company’s best brains, and yet they don’t even have one. Or do they?
The tulip gave us the worlds first commodities futures market (in the 16th century!) and brought the entire European continent to it financial knees. And it was actually a viral plant disease that caused all the fuss.
And the potato, a poisonous tuber, evolved under our care (or the plants devious manipulation of us) into something that nourished Ireland in labor saving fashion and without the need for good soil. It saved a nation and then brutally destroyed it in a manner that rivaled the worst anti-heroes of human civilization.
I cannot speak highly enough of this book. If you aren’t totally blown away by this book, you need to seek help. You may not have a brain in there after all!