I have the sneaking suspicion that this started out as four books before Pollan decided there wasn’t enough material to sustain each (or, in the case of the Dutch tulip mania, too little undiscovered ground to cover) and smushed them all together into one okay book by deciding the unifying theme with each plant he wanted to write about was that they all evolved to be appreciated by humans for different reasons.
Well, yeah. That’s more or less what evolution is – what is of use to the species in question is naturally selected, but also what is useful to secondary species, and of course humans not only count, but might be the most active selectors. The argument that Pollan makes is that the tulip reflects our desire for beauty, having cultivated it for the differing shapes, striations, or colors that appeal to each of the cultures that have propagated them; apples for sweetness (I had kind of forgotten that Granny Smith apples are an outlier in their tartness, I prefer a tarter apple but they are somewhat hard to come by in terms of variety), potatoes for nutritional simplicity and how that ended up damning the Irish when the potato famine eradicated a monoculture crop, and marijuana for intoxication (hilarious, because humans haven’t found a single edible thing they haven’t tried to distill into alcohol. Go away mary jane, you ain’t special).
There were interesting tidbits here, but it really seemed more like Pollan had interesting plant stories he wanted to share rather than a book with a central theme that was well executed. Good enough, but back to the goodwill from whence you came, book.