Synopses & Reviews
An award-winning ecology writer goes looking for the wilderness we’ve forgotten
Many people believe that only an ecological catastrophe will change humanity’s troubled relationship with the natural world. In fact, as J.B. MacKinnon argues in this unorthodox look at the disappearing wilderness, we are living in the midst of a disaster thousands of years in the making—and we hardly notice it. We have forgotten what nature can be and adapted to a diminished world of our own making.
In The Once and Future World, MacKinnon invites us to remember nature as it was, to reconnect to nature in a meaningful way, and to remake a wilder world everywhere. He goes looking for landscapes untouched by human hands. He revisits a globe exuberant with life, where lions roam North America and ten times more whales swim in the sea. He shows us that the vestiges of lost nature surround us every day: buy an avocado at the grocery store and you have a seed designed to pass through the digestive tracts of huge animals that have been driven extinct.
The Once and Future World is a call for an “age of rewilding,” from planting milkweed for butterflies in our own backyards to restoring animal migration routes that span entire continents. We choose the natural world that we live in—a choice that also decides the kind of people we are.
"I find this book to be inspirational — curiosity and gentleness of spirit forming genius." Richard Ford
"Michael Pollan is a sensualist and a wonderful, funny storyteller. He is so engaging that his profound environmental messages are effortlessly communicated. He makes you fall in love with Nature." Alice Waters
"This book is as crisp as an October apple, as juicy as an August tomato, as long-awaited as the first flower of spring. Michael Pollan has conceived a new and powerful understanding of who we are, and how we stand in relation to everything else and the stories he tells to prove the point make the world seem a richer place." Bill McKibben, author of Long Distance and The End of Nature
"No one else writes about the human environment quite like Michael Pollan: we can be grateful indeed that one of our wittiest writers about nature is also one of our wisest. In The Botany of Desire, Pollan makes a persuasive case that the plants we might be tempted to see as having been most domesticated by humanity are in fact also those that have been most effective in domesticating us. It is a stunning insight, and no one will come away from this book without having their ideas of nature stretched and challenged."
William Cronon, editor of Uncommon Ground: Rethinking the Human Place in Nature
"A fascinating and disturbing account of man's strange relationship with plants and plant science. Michael Pollan inspires one to rethink basic attitudes. Beautifully written, it is as compelling as a detective thriller." Penelope Hobhouse, author of On Gardening
"Like Tracy Kidder, Michael Pollan is a writer to immerse in. He's informed and amusing, with a natural sort of voice that spools on inventively beyond expectations into a controlled but productive and intriguing obsessiveness (whether on Johnny Appleseed or marijuana). A fine book." Edward Hoagland, author of Compass Points
"Anyone who has ever made personal contact with an apple, spud, tulip, or marijuana bud should read this book and be astonished at the eternal tango of men and plants, choreographed with wit, daring, and humanity by this botanist of desire who knows equally the power of plants and of words." Betty Fussell, author of My Kitchen Wars
"Not since Jonathan Weiner's The Beak of the Finch have I been held so spellbound by a book. Using only four plants, The Botany of Desire succeeds in illuminating the radiant force of evolution. Remarkable." Daniel J. Hinkley, author of The Explorer's Garden
"It is a rare pleasure to read a book of ideas so graceful and witty that it makes you smile at times even laugh out loud with delight as it challenges you to rethink important issues." Mark Kurlansky, author of The Basque History of the World
"A graceful volume reminiscent of Annie Dillard's classic Teaching a Stone to Talk. It's a beautifully written meditation on natural history and memory, full of new revelations about familiar landscapes and species." —The New York Times Book Review "[MacKinnon's] goal here is to break down distinctions of nature as something apart from us, and his case is buttressed not only by a wealth of scientific investigation but also by some of the best writing about the outdoors that youll find anywhere." —The Daily Beast "Ultimately empowering…There is still the potential for an ethical relationship with the nonhuman world—a new appreciation for the ‘novel ecosystems we mistake for nature." —Gizmodo "An urgent meditation on the alternately symbiotic and confounding relationship of humanity and the natural world…That understanding of human life as vulnerable and intertwined with the planet may not be a practiced one for many, but MacKinnon makes a passionate case for its necessity." —Chicago Tribune "A re-enchantment with the natural world may be a necessary prerequisite to the changes we must make to keep that natural world more or less intact. This is deep and lovely thinking and writing." —Bill McKibben, author of Oil and Honey: The Education of an Unlikely Activist "This book should make your blood run cold; or boil with furious rage against the despoilers of our planet. But perhaps all is not yet lost. MacKinnon tells us that the crisis in the natural world is not yet fatal…but its waiting. And then he tells us most convincingly what we can and must do to stop the rot. This is a handbook for those who hope to see the Earth, and Man, remain alive together." —Farley Mowat, author of Never Cry Wolf "MacKinnon pinpoints a necessary shift in our reckoning with nature, writing eloquently of the need for a more authentic interaction between human beings and the natural world." —Bernd Heinrich, author of Winter World, Mind of the Raven, and Life Everlasting "In The Once and Future World, J. B. MacKinnon shows us that while wilderness as we know it may be gone forever, wildness can still be recovered, and it is time to get to work." —George Dyson, author of Turings Cathedral: The Origins of the Digital Universe "MacKinnon is an eloquent guide through landscapes wild and tame. He takes the reader backwards through evolutionary time and forward into a delicate and unknown future. I devoured this book in a day and closed its covers marveling at our planet's incredible abundance. Natural history at its best." —Charlotte Gill, author of Eating Dirt "This book is a delight. MacKinnon shows us afresh the world we thought we knew through a kaleidoscopic lens of startling facts, illuminating insight and flat-out wonderful writing." —John Vaillant, author of The Tiger "Remarkable, beautifully written and important…[MacKinnon] doesnt pull any punches about the current state of the planet." —National Post "One of those rare reading experiences that can change the way you see everything around you, recommended for anyone interested in anything that lives and breathes…In essence, [The Once and Future World] is a love story, maybe the oldest one: between humankind, conscious and curious, and the stuff that grows around us, invoking and sustaining our desires, informing our ideas of who we are." —The Globe and Mail "The Once and Future World is vital reading." —Toronto Star
In 1637, one Dutchman paid as much for a single tulip bulb as the going price of a town house in Amsterdam. Three and a half centuries later, Amsterdam is once again the mecca for people who care passionately about one particular plant -- though this time the obsessions revolves around the intoxicating effects of marijuana rather than the visual beauty of the tulip. How could flowers, of all things, become such objects of desire that they can drive men to financial ruin?
In The Botany of Desire, Michael Pollan argues that the answer lies at the heart of the intimately reciprocal relationship between people and plants. In telling the stories of four familiar plant species that are deeply woven into the fabric of our lives, Pollan illustrates how they evolved to satisfy humankinds's most basic yearnings -- and by doing so made themselves indispensable. For, just as we've benefited from these plants, the plants, in the grand co-evolutionary scheme that Pollan evokes so brilliantly, have done well by us. The sweetness of apples, for example, induced the early Americans to spread the species, giving the tree a whole new continent in which to blossom. So who is really domesticating whom?
Weaving fascinating anecdotes and accessible science into gorgeous prose, Pollan takes us on an absorbing journey that will change the way we think about our place in nature.
Every schoolchild learns about the mutually beneficial dance of honeybees and flowers: The bee collects nectar and pollen to make honey and, in the process, spreads the flowers’ genes far and wide. 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. And just as we’ve benefited from these plants, we have also done well by them. So who is really domesticating whom?
In this original narrative about man and nature, a bestselling author masterfully links four fundamental human desires--sweetness, beauty, intoxication, and control--with the fascinating stories of four plants that embody them: the apple, the tulip, marijuana, and the potato.
An award-winning ecology writer goes looking for the wilderness we've lost, providing an eye-opening account of the true relationship between humans and nature.
About the Author
Michael Pollan is a contributing writer for The New York Times Magazine as well as a contributing editor at Harper’s magazine. He is the author of two prizewinning books: Second Nature: A Gardener’s Education and A Place of My Own: The Education of an Amateur Builder. Pollan lives in Connecticut with his wife and son.
Table of Contents
The Nature of the Problem 1
1. Illusions of Nature 3
2. Knowledge Extinction 16
3. A 10 Percent World 33
4. The Opposite of Apocalypse 47
The Nature of Nature 67
5. A Beautiful World 69
6. Ghost Acres 81
7. Uncertain Nature 96
8. What Nature Looks Like 112
Human Nature 127
9. The Maker and the Made 129
10. The Age of Rewilding 142
11. Double Disappearance 163
12. The Lost Island 182
Selected Bibliography 217