Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The Botany of Desire

by Michael Pollan
In The Botany of Desire, Michael Pollan looks at four domesticated plants: the apple, the tulip, marijuana, and the potato, and through them examines how they co-evolved with us to meet our desires: sweetness, beauty, intoxication, and control. Examples of co-evolution abound in nature; isn't it natural that our species, and our various human cultures, have co-evolved with other species? This wide-angle view allows Pollan to look deep into American (and world) history, as well as the history of science and agriculture, revealing as much about humanity as about the four plants in question. Though Pollan's writing can be a bit over-the-top at times, for the most part, The Botany of Desire is a fascinating, eye-opening journey.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008


by Geraldine Brooks
Letter-writing is a lost art. Even those who write letters regularly can find it a struggle, especially when writing to someone one loves and admires, and especially when one's own circumstances are less than admirable. What is there to say when the truth seems too ugly to recount? This is a problem faced repeatedly by the idealistic Civil War chaplain, Peter March, who is obliged to regularly send charming reassurances home to his wife, Marmee, and his four "little women." March is a good man, but his lofty ideals are getting splattered with mud and blood and reality, and, after a year in the war he may not even be sure he deserves to come home.

Brooks faced quite a challenge in creating a "missing" character from a classic novel, making sure he could be as compelling as the familiar faces of "Little Women," but she's succeeded brilliantly. March, based somewhat on Louisa May Alcott's father, Bronson, is a character all his own, and he adds a lot of humanity and imperfection to Alcott's original tale. Highly recommended.