J, Diamond. (1999). Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies. New York: W.W. Norton and Company. p. 109-125 .
M, Pollan. (2001). The Botany of Desire: A Plant’s-Eye View of the World. Toronto: Random House. p. xiii-xxv .
“Indeed, even the wild now depends on civilization for its survival,” (p. xxiii).
I have to admit – when I first glanced at the readings for this week I was quite intimidated – Guns, Germs, and Steel has how many pages? 498. Alas, those worries vanished as I began to read. As a journalist and as a scientist, Michael Pollan and Jared Diamond manage to bring two very different perspectives to the table; the concept of domestication, all while exploring the complicated and intriguing historical and present-day relationships that exist between plants and animals, is explored; the idea of co-evolution is also incorporated in The Botany of Desire. In this post I will be discussing the Introduction from Michael Pollan’s Book, The Botany of Desire, and Chapter 7 from Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond.
‘How are these books so similar – yet so different at the same time?’ I thought to myself. Pollan and Diamond both discuss similar topics, although each of their portrayals on the subjects are so distinct. While reading Pollan’s work, I found that I could easily transition from page to page; he has the ability to phrase scientific concepts and ideas and ideas in a way that a person with no science background could easily follow and enjoy. He describes the abilities of chemical plants, for example, by stating that they’re “designed, by natural selection, to compel other creatures to leave them alone: deadly poisons, foul flavours, toxins to confound the minds of predators,” (p.xx). Fantastic. Diamond’s writing, on the other hand, was quite difficult for me to get through; I felt as though I was reading a textbook at times because of the amount of detail that he was using and I felt no personal connection to him, unlike Pollan.
One thing that I have really enjoyed so far in The Botany of Desire is Pollan’s storytelling abilities. After I finished the assigned reading for the week, I found myself wanting to read further! Pollan discusses the idea of co-evolution and explains his thoughts of how plants have induced animals like us humans to spread their genes. This, to me, was really interesting; I loved how Pollan appears to have been induced by a potato having said that “it was the tasty-sounding buttery yellow flesh that did it,” (p.xv). I can relate. Another aspect of The Botany of Desire that is so different from anything I’ve read (which we haven’t quite reached in much detail, as of yet!) is how Pollan describes the desires that are sweetness, intoxication, beauty, and control, all of which plants ‘use’ to attract humans in order to pass on their genes to the next generation.
Guns, Germs, and Steel does hold really interesting information, although I found the language that Diamond uses not as reader-friendly, or more scholarly you could say, than Pollan. One thing that I liked was the history of how wild plants were domesticated (sometimes unintentionally) in order to rid of their undesired qualities; Diamond uses the wild almond seed as an example by explaining that the “nonbitter almond seeds are the only ones that ancient farmers would have planted, at first unintentionally in their garbage heaps and later intentionally in their orchards,” (p. 113). Never the less, I did enjoy reading this chapter, just not as much as The Botany of Desire.
The readings this week were overall really interesting, and contained a lot of information that I didn’t know, or hadn’t even thought of before. I’m really excited to read more of The Botany of Desire, and see how the plants are “remaking us,” (p.xvii).