The author’s starting premise in The Botany of Desire has two fascinating parts. First, that plants benefit greatly from domestication, so our relationship with them could just as easily be viewed as them domesticating us. And second, that domesticated plants have evolved to meet some basic human desire, making plants of the past a great way to learn about what previous civilizations valued. The bulk of the book is devoted to stories of particular plants that illustrate this point. Although I expected more of a history of the plants in question (the apple, the tulip, marijuana, and the potato), I very much enjoyed the collection of anecdotes presented instead.
The Botany of Desire was definitely not what I expected or what I expect non-fiction in general to be like. The author isn’t especially objective and the history of the plants is anything but comprehensive. Despite those differences, this was one of the most enjoyable non-fiction books I’ve read all year. What the book most reminded me of was The Lives of a Cell, because a large part of the appeal was the author’s fascinating philosophical commentary on his personal observations. The writing was extremely well done; sometimes funny, often beautiful, and always enthusiastic.
As I mentioned, this wasn’t at all the comprehensive history I expected. What the author did instead was much more entertaining. The anecdotes he shared were all fascinating or funny or both and the number of fun facts I found to write down was overwhelming. Unfortunately, there were some sex analogies to explain plant behavior and a very pro-marijuana tone that would prevent me from handing this to a very young reader. Otherwise, it’s easy to read and a great introduction to the wonder of the natural world. With that one caveat, I would recommend this book to anyone, because I think the interesting anecdotes about plants familiar to everyone give it an almost universal appeal.This review first published on Doing Dewey.