Narrator: Scott Brick
Rating: 4 out of 10
Publisher: Audio Evolution
Length: 8 hours, 54 minutes
Pages: 271 (print version)
Challenges: 2012 Audio Book Challenge
Synopsis (from the Book Description): In The Botany of Desire, Michael Pollan ingeniously demonstrates how people and domesticated plants have formed a similarly reciprocal relationship. He masterfully links four fundamental human desires—sweetness, beauty, intoxication, and control—with the plants that satisfy them: the apple, the tulip, marijuana, and the potato. In telling the stories of four familiar species, Pollan illustrates how the plants have evolved to satisfy humankind’s most basic yearnings.
Overall Impression: I think it’s interesting that a lot of the reviews I read said that Pollan didn’t really push too hard — but all I could think as I was listening was “agenda! agenda! agenda!” And thought it’s an agenda that I agree with, for the most part, I still thought The Botany of Desire was way too preachy. I think this might be, in part, to the narration. It was a combination of preachy plus pretentious narration that did this book in for me. There was something about the writing (and narration) that made it seem like Pollan thought he was better than everyone else and that he had this secret knowledge and we were just so darn lucky to be able to hear it, and now that we’ve heard it we can’t help but agree with everything.
Were the chapters interesting? Yes and no. Some of the stories and facts were very interesting — Johnny Appleseed, Tulipmania, the Irish Potato Famine. I guess I enjoyed the history. But when it came to the science, the botany, and the agenda behind them — I found myself bored and rolling my eyes and wishing the book was over. Also, somehow everything became sexy, even though I didn’t think it was needed — Dionysus and bacchanalia and all that. Meh.
Which is too bad — I really liked Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma and downright loved In Defense of Food. Perhaps this was just a miss for me from an author that usually connects.
Positives: Some interesting historical content and theories about how people and plants have co-evolved.
Negatives: Pretentious agenda. Is that a thing?
Narration: I’ve liked Scott Brick in the past, but this was far too exaggerated and sanctimonious for me.
Other books I’ve read by Michael Pollan: The Omnivore’s Dilemma (review), In Defense of Food (no review)
Other books I’ve listened to narrated by Scott Brick: The Invisible Man (review)
Other blogger opinions:
Adventures in Reading: “ One of the perfections of Pollan’s book is that he is not necessarily trying to prove anything.”
The Dogear Diary: “Not terribly scientific, but for someone like me who doesn’t know much about the natural history of plants, quite readable and very interesting.”
Devourer of Books: “He is also fantastic at showing the impact of plants, food, and the topics surrounding them on the lives of normal people, without getting ‘preachy.’”