This Is Your Mind on Plants
by Michael Pollan
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Pub Date 06 Jul 2021 | Archive Date Not set
PENGUIN GROUP The Penguin Press, Penguin Press
“Expert storytelling . . . [Pollan] masterfully elevates a series of big questions about drugs, plants and humans that are likely to leave readers thinking in new ways.” —New York Times Book Review
From #1 New York Times bestselling author Michael Pollan, a radical challenge to how we think about drugs, and an exploration into the powerful human attraction to psychoactive plants—and the equally powerful taboos.
Of all the things humans rely on plants for—sustenance, beauty, medicine, fragrance, flavor, fiber—surely the most curious is our use of them to change consciousness: to stimulate or calm, fiddle with or completely alter, the qualities of our mental experience. Take coffee and tea: People around the world rely on caffeine to sharpen their minds. But we do not usually think of caffeine as a drug, or our daily use as an addiction, because it is legal and socially acceptable. So, then, what is a “drug”? And why, for example, is making tea from the leaves of a tea plant acceptable, but making tea from a seed head of an opium poppy a federal crime?
In This Is Your Mind on Plants, Michael Pollan dives deep into three plant drugs—opium, caffeine, and mescaline—and throws the fundamental strangeness, and arbitrariness, of our thinking about them into sharp relief. Exploring and participating in the cultures that have grown up around these drugs while consuming (or, in the case of caffeine, trying not to consume) them, Pollan reckons with the powerful human attraction to psychoactive plants. Why do we go to such great lengths to seek these shifts in consciousness, and then why do we fence that universal desire with laws and customs and fraught feelings?
In this unique blend of history, science, and memoir, as well as participatory journalism, Pollan examines and experiences these plants from several very different angles and contexts, and shines a fresh light on a subject that is all too often treated reductively—as a drug, whether licit or illicit. But that is one of the least interesting things you can say about these plants, Pollan shows, for when we take them into our bodies and let them change our minds, we are engaging with nature in one of the most profound ways we can. Based in part on an essay published almost twenty-five years ago, this groundbreaking and singular consideration of psychoactive plants, and our attraction to them through time, holds up a mirror to our fundamental human needs and aspirations, the operations of our minds, and our entanglement with the natural world.
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Average rating from 11 members
As like most of Pollan’s works there is more autobiography than science. His books are personal exploration of plants. The focus in this book is on three substances. The first with his experience of obtaining and growing poppy plants, particularly the type from which opium is derived. Next is about caffeine, with a bit more science added, and the last about peyote, or mescaline. The last also discusses the religious ceremonies of Native Americans and his own wife’s experience during a ceremony they both took part in.
Some of the material in this book is a re-release, with a long essay partially published as a journal article in the mid-1990s and most of the caffeine section being released as an Audible original audio last year.
This is a good book for Pollan fans, continuing on his journey of plants and experiences. For a science-based look at these plants, or even a wider social account of what these mean, this book is a good supplement.
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