This is an enjoyable book that wanders back and forth through the subjects of botany, history, and literary philosophy. An example of the later is quoted below:"For look into a flower, and what do you see? Into the very heart of nature's double nature--that is, the contending energies of creation and dissolution, the spring toward complex form and the tidal pull away from it. Apollo and Dionysus were names the Greeks gave to these two faces of nature, and nowhere in nature is their contest as plain or as poignant as it is in the beauty of a flower and its rapid passing. There, the achievement of order against all odds and its blithe abandonment. There, the perfection of art and the blind flux of nature. There, somehow, both transcendence and necessity. Could that be it--right there, in a flower--the meaning of life?"
By the time a reader has finished this book they'll know more about apples, tulips, marijuana, and potatoes than ever before. And along the way perhaps the reader will have picked up a slightly enhanced understanding the interaction of humans and plant life. And as indicated in the quote above, they will be introduced to the author's possible insight into the meaning of life. Every topic in this book was subjected to the Apollo vs. Dionysus analysis somewhere along the line.
In the section on marijuana the author provides a detailed description of what it means in terms of neurochemistry to be high on marijuana. This information was new to me. I got the impression this subject has not been fully researched and there still remains some speculation in the descriptions. He did make the definitive statement that nobody has ever died from an overdose of THC (active ingredient in marijuana). That certainly cannot be said for alcohol. So why is alcohol legal and marijuana outlawed? They both can pose a danger to society if misused, but one is publicly advertised with the caveat, "Please drink responsibly." The other is a crime to possess or use. Surely there's no rational basis for this difference.
The last section on the potato came down pretty hard on genetically engineered plants. I am not as emotionally opposed to this science as some appear to be. I'm in favor of asking questions and looking for problems that may arise. But I'm willing to eat genetically engineered food in the meantime. I figure that if we wait to be absolutely sure of no adverse consequences before using advances in science, all scientific and technological advances will cease.
My hat is off to Michael Pollan for being able to write an interesting narrative around rather ordinary topics. He has the skills of a talented story teller to combine historical and scientific facts with tales of his own personal adventures and interviews with other people. I had to give the book five stars because, quite frankly, I found it to be an enjoyable and interesting book.
Here's a short review of this book from my PageADay Book Lover's Calendar:
THE APPLE TREE’S DILEMMA
“Without flowers, the reptiles, which had gotten along fine in a leafy, fruitless world, would probably still rule. Without flowers, we would not be,” writes Michael Pollan in his absolutely engaging book on the way plants and humans have lived and evolved together. His method is similar to that in The Omnivore’s Dilemma, in that he takes four plants—apples, tulips, marijuana, and potatoes—and gives us their perspective on the complex relationship between plants and humans. Delicious and nutritious reading.
THE BOTANY OF DESIRE: A PLANT’S-EYE VIEW OF THE WORLD, by Michael Pollan (Random House, 2002)