From Publishers Weekly
Erudite, engaging and highly original, journalist Pollan's fascinating account of four everyday plants and their coevolution with human society challenges traditional views about humans and nature. Using the histories of apples, tulips, potatoes and cannabis to illustrate the complex, reciprocal relationship between humans and the natural world, he shows how these species have successfully exploited human desires to flourish. "It makes just as much sense to think of agriculture as something the grasses did to people as a way to conquer the trees," Pollan writes as he seamlessly weaves little-known facts, historical events and even a few amusing personal anecdotes to tell each species' story. For instance, he describes how the apple's sweetness and the appeal of hard cider enticed settlers to plant orchards throughout the American colonies, vastly expanding the plant's range. He evokes the tulip craze of 17th-century Amsterdam, where the flower's beauty led to a frenzy of speculative trading, and explores the intoxicating appeal of marijuana by talking to scientists, perusing literature and even visiting a modern marijuana garden in Amsterdam. Finally, he considers how the potato plant demonstrates man's age-old desire to control nature, leading to modern agribusiness's experiments with biotechnology. Pollan's clear, elegant style enlivens even his most scientific material, and his wide-ranging references and charming manner do much to support his basic contention that man and nature are and will always be "in this boat together." Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
Pollan has an epiphany in his garden: what if the plant species humankind has nurtured over the last 10,000 years benefit as much from us as we do from them? Do humans choose to plant potatoes, or do potatoes attract humans like a flower lures a bee? Ablaze with this transformational vision, Pollan intertwines history, anecdote, and revelation as he investigates the connection between four plants that have thrived under human care--apples, tulips, marijuana, and potatoes--and the four human desires they satisfy in return: sweetness, beauty, intoxication, and control. In the process, he casts new light on the legend of Johnny Appleseed. Holland's mania for tulips serves as a catalyst for a galvanizing discussion of why we wouldn't exist if flowers hadn't evolved. His refreshingly open-minded consideration of marijuana leads to profound reflections on the workings of the brain and the role psychoactive plants have played in the evolution of religion and culture. And, finally, Pollan ponders the Pandora's box of genetic engineering when he plants a patch of NewLeaf, a beetle-killing potato patented by Monsanto. Pollan's dynamic, intelligent, and intrepid parsing of the wondrous dialogue between plants and humans is positively paradigm-altering. Donna Seaman Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved