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The Botany of Desire: A Plant's-Eye View of the World (Anglais) Broché – 28 mai 2002

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Chapter 1
Desire: Sweetness
Plant: The Apple

(Malus domestica)

If you happened to find yourself on the banks of the Ohio River on a particular afternoon in the spring of 1806—somewhere just to the north of Wheeling, West Virginia, say—you would probably have noticed a strange makeshift craft drifting lazily down the river. At the time, this particular stretch of the Ohio, wide and brown and bounded on both sides by steep shoulders of land thick with oaks and hickories, fairly boiled with river traffic, as a ramshackle armada of keelboats and barges ferried settlers from the comparative civilization of Pennsylvania to the wilderness of the Northwest Territory.

The peculiar craft you’d have caught sight of that afternoon consisted of a pair of hollowed-out logs that had been lashed together to form a rough catamaran, a sort of canoe plus sidecar. In one of the dugouts lounged the figure of a skinny man of about thirty, who may or may not have been wearing a burlap coffee sack for a shirt and a tin pot for a hat. According to the man in Jefferson County who deemed the scene worth recording, the fellow in the canoe appeared to be snoozing without a care in the world, evidently trusting in the river to take him wherever it was he wanted to go. The other hull, his sidecar, was riding low in the water under the weight of a small mountain of seeds that had been carefully blanketed with moss and mud to keep them from drying out in the sun.

The fellow snoozing in the canoe was John Chapman, already well known to people in Ohio by his nickname: Johnny Appleseed. He was on his way to Marietta, where the Muskingum River pokes a big hole into the Ohio’s northern bank, pointing straight into the heart of the Northwest Territory. Chapman’s plan was to plant a tree nursery along one of that river’s as-yet-unsettled tributaries, which drain the fertile, thickly forested hills of central Ohio as far north as Mansfield. In all likelihood, Chapman was coming from Allegheny County in western Pennsylvania, to which he returned each year to collect apple seeds, separating them out from the fragrant mounds of pomace that rose by the back door of every cider mill. A single bushel of apple seeds would have been enough to plant more than three hundred thousand trees; there’s no way of telling how many bushels of seed Chapman had in tow that day, but it’s safe to say his catamaran was bearing several whole orchards into the wilderness.

The image of John Chapman and his heap of apple seeds riding together down the Ohio has stayed with me since I first came across it a few years ago in an out-of-print biography. The scene, for me, has the resonance of myth—a myth about how plants and people learned to use each other, each doing for the other things they could not do for themselves, in the bargain changing each other and improving their common lot.

Henry David Thoreau once wrote that “it is remarkable how closely the history of the apple tree is connected with that of man,” and much of the American chapter of that story can be teased out of Chapman’s story. It’s the story of how pioneers like him helped domesticate the frontier by seeding it with Old World plants. “Exotics,” we’re apt to call these species today in disparagement, yet without them the American wilderness might never have become a home. What did the apple get in return? A golden age: untold new varieties and half a world of new habitat.

As an emblem of the marriage between people and plants, the design of Chapman’s peculiar craft strikes me as just right, implying as it does a relation of parity and reciprocal exchange between its two passengers. More than most of us do, Chapman seems to have had a knack for looking at the world from the plants’ point of view—“pomocentrically,” you might say. He understood he was working for the apples as much as they were working for him. Perhaps that’s why he sometimes likened himself to a bumblebee, and why he would rig up his boat the way he did. Instead of towing his shipment of seeds behind him, Chapman lashed the two hulls together so they would travel down the river side by side.

We give ourselves altogether too much credit in our dealings with other species. Even the power over nature that domestication supposedly represents is overstated. It takes two to perform that particular dance, after all, and plenty of plants and animals have elected to sit it out. Try as they might, people have never been able to domesticate the oak tree, whose highly nutritious acorns remain far too bitter for humans to eat. Evidently the oak has such a satisfactory arrangement with the squirrel—which obligingly forgets where it has buried every fourth acorn or so (admittedly, the estimate is Beatrix Potter’s)—that the tree has never needed to enter into any kind of formal arrangement with us.

The apple has been far more eager to do business with humans, and perhaps nowhere more so than in America. Like generations of other immigrants before and after, the apple has made itself at home here. In fact, the apple did such a convincing job of this that most of us wrongly assume the plant is a native. (Even Ralph Waldo Emerson, who knew a thing or two about natural history, called it “the American fruit.”) Yet there is a sense—a biological, not just metaphorical sense—in which this is, or has become, true, for the apple transformed itself when it came to America. Bringing boatloads of seed onto the frontier, Johnny Appleseed had a lot to do with that process, but so did the apple itself. No mere passenger or dependent, the apple is the hero of its own story.

Revue de presse

“Pollan shines a light on our own nature as well as on our implication in the natural world.”
—The New York Times

“[Pollan] has a wide-ranging intellect, an eager grasp of evolutionary biology and a subversive streak that helps him to root out some wonderfully counterintuitive points. His prose both shimmers and snaps, and he has a knack for finding perfect quotes in the oddest places.... Best of all, Pollan really loves plants.”
—The New York Times Book Review

“A wry, informed pastoral.”
—The New Yorker

“We can give no higher praise to the work of this superb science writer/ reporter than to say that his new book is as exciting as any you’ll read.”
—Entertainment Weekly

“A whimsical, literary romp through man’s perpetually frustrating and always unpredictable relationship with nature.”
—Los Angeles Times

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état parfait et mine d'or pour un jardinier philosophique dixit mon époux .C'est une sorte de bible pour jardinier averti ou non averti
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Commentaires client les plus utiles sur Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 4.5 étoiles sur 5 429 commentaires
3 internautes sur 3 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 This is not just a botany book. It is a food book and book about money, about drugs and it's a mystical experience all in one! 31 août 2014
Par Pamela S. Wagner - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Broché Achat vérifié
This is my all-time favorite plant book, even though it concerns only four plants: apples, tulips, potatoes and of all things, marijuana.Nevertheless, the details that author Pollan shares with the reader about these four plants and their histories is both fascinating and indispensable knowledge for anyone even slightly interested in botany. And i must say that if you so much as eat apples or potatoes ( read: french fries?) or enjoy spring tulips or happened to ever have savored MaryJanes aroma, whether you "inhaled" or not, you will find something in this book that will rivet your attention. Just for an example, take Johnny Appleseed spreading those millions of apple trees. Who knew that those apples that came from those trees would never be fit for eating, because as Pollan tells us, apples don't come true from seed. Thus his conclusion is that Johnny Appleseed spread apples for one purpose only: the making of hard apple cider, which was the drink of choice in early America!

This is only one amazing tidbit from The Botany of Desire but it was such a great read and so jam-packed with information that i literally read it five times over the years since its publication. I highly recommend it to everyone.
5.0 étoiles sur 5 Fascinating! 11 décembre 2009
Par BusyMom - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Broché Achat vérifié
I am as far removed from the sciences as anyone can be ... I am pretty hazy to what botany is and all that. I picked this book up because a friend of mine was going to watch the show and since I would rather read, I got this book. It may not be the "science" book of my youth, but I learned more in this slim volume than I ever did back in my school days. It is an eye-opener especially for this lay-person.

For a lot of the reviewers, the basic concept of plants "manipulating" the desires of humans is not a new one. For me, it is a new thought. I am not a gardener, though I do like my houseplants and have dreams of having my own garden someday. I am very new to the idea of botany and this book was enlightening for me in that respect.

Since I live in Ohio, the story of Johnny the Appleseed Man is a familiar legend in my youth and my sons just heard about him for the first time in their field trips this past fall. But Pollan made him come alive as he sketched a more thorough biography of the man who introduced the apple to the wilderness. Then Pollan combines the genetic aspect of pollination and cross-pollination with the legend of the man ... and made history and science very fascinating for this reader. He continues to do that with the tulips, the cannabis (marijuana) and finally, the potato (my absolute favorite veggie). In each section of the book, Pollan introduces thoughts and ideas to the layperson who may have just a little bit of knowledge of botany. If you're not familar with botany, this book is perfect for you. He doesn't write condescendingly like a lot of other writers do when they're talking about subjects that the average reader may not be familar with. He shares his excitement, thoughts and what he has learned with the reader and not only that, he made it fun.

Since there are a lot of reviews on this book, I will keep it short. However, the one thing that he wrote that stood out for me is: "With the exception of John Chapman, who had the imagination to identify with the bees, all these other botanists of desire went about their work from a straightforward and, it seems to me, blinkered humanist perspective. They took it for granted that domestication was something people did to plants, never the other way around." (Page 243)

That is what I thought orginally until I read this book and now ... with a different twist on perspectives, I will not be looking at plants the same way again.

1 internautes sur 1 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 Great read. 9 septembre 2016
Par J. Hernandez - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Broché Achat vérifié
fabulous book talking about the history of the apple, tulip, cannabis, and the potato. Every chapter was more interesting than the last. The potato chapter is now out of date, given what we know about the relative harmlessness of GMOs.
4.0 étoiles sur 5 I just finished the book. I learned a lot ... 14 mars 2017
Par Older Point-of-view - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Broché Achat vérifié
I just finished the book. I learned a lot. Not just because it sometimes looks at the relationship from the plants point of view but also the effect that we humans have on these plants. It also brings forth the problems that we create for ourselves in our manipulations and selections of plants.
1 internautes sur 1 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 It will leave you wanting more. 10 juin 2015
Par fatal_degree - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Broché Achat vérifié
A story of four plants and four human motivations, Pollan draws them together with wit. I consumed this book in a short time, taking to work to read in my spare moments. I don't often get wrapped up so deeply in books, but this one grabbed me. There are source citations for a great many of his assertions, which was also fantastic. If you are interested in evolution, plants, human nature, marijuana, flowers, industrial food, organic gardening; there will be something to carry you through this story and speak to your interest. The writing is engaging and flows with ease from one subject to the next. It refers back to previous chapters and thoughts expressed, without wandering aimlessly in thought.

A great little read that will provoke thought and discussion. It will leave you wanting more.
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