Second Nature – A Book Review

This
seems to be my year for reading books by Michael Pollan. I had just finished
reading his latest book,

 In Defense of Food, when I delved back into Second Nature, published in 1991.Secondnature2_2 This was the  selection for the February/March edition of the Garden Bloggers’ Book Club, a bimonthly reading
group hosted by Carol at May Dreams Gardens.

 

In
Second Nature, Michael Pollan chronicles his experiences from
a newly-minted and idealistic gardener to a battle-seasoned one. This book does not tell us how to garden specifically, but rather is a series of essays on
subjects that most gardeners think about inevitably at some point in their
gardening lives.


Through topics as diverse as compost, rose growing, tree
planting, seed catalogues and weeds, I felt as if I had embarked on an eye-opening journey of discovery with Mr. Pollan.  There’s drama in this book
too, just as there is in our gardens. From his first mention of woodchucks,
I wanted to read on and discover how ultimately Pollan makes peace with them. Or
does he? Who among us hasn’t planted a garden only to discover some critters
or night-time insects happily feasting on our gardens?

 

In
several essays, Pollan challenges the romantic ideals and assumptions that held
sway in his mind before he began gardening in earnest. As he discovered, 

I
assumed that I could make a garden and at the same time remain on warm terms
with the local flora and fauna. The process of overcoming my failures taught me
how much harder it is to get along with nature as an active participant than as
a distant admirer. (123)
 

Pollan talks at length about what he sees as the competing and conflicting forces between nature and culture that have long been part of our North American heritage. It makes me want to delve further into the perennial discussion over how much human intervention is acceptable in our role as stewards of this planet. Pollan’s take on this issue makes for interesting, although outdated, reading. In 1991, when this book was published, environmental issues hadn’t quite reached the general public’s consciousness to the same degree as they have now.


There
are many interesting insights into the history of gardening as well. One of my favourite parts was reading Pollan description of how
Americans (and Canadians too, for that matter) came to plant lawns across the US, no matter
the climatic conditions.

 

He writes with such wit and candour
that I suspect most every reader will be chuckling or nodding in sympathy or understanding. A
discussion of seed catalogues has become a classic in garden reading and, if you don’t read any other section of Second Nature, this is one that shouldn’t be missed.

If you haven’t already done so, I encourage you to read Second Nature. At the same time, you might enjoy reading Michael Pollan’s guest blogging posts on his book at Amazon.com.


33 thoughts on “Second Nature – A Book Review

  1. Carol, May Dreams Gardens says:

    Thanks for joining us for the book club. Okay, I am convinced that I need to read the chapter on seed catalogs!
    And thanks for adding the link to his blog on Amazon, I didn’t know about that.
    (You’ve been added to the meeting post).
    Hi Carol, Thank you! I enjoyed this book and am looking forward to participating in next month’s book club as well!

  2. Selma says:

    It sounds like a worthwhile read. I am very interested in the ‘stewardship’ side of things. Excellent review, by the way. I am definitely going to check it out!
    Hi Selma – this is a fairly old book, but well worth reading still. The issues haven’t changed much at all.

  3. PG says:

    Ooh it is constant war as far as I am concerned…the night of the great snail masacre will go down in history…but I did feel a little bad. Just a little. I know people who avoid killings slugs etc, then get upset when their plants are devoured…
    Hi Gretel, the great snail massacre sounded like an epic battle. Scissors rule!

  4. Caroline Crayon says:

    Kate
    You have built a beautiful new space! I’ve heard that TypePad is infinitgely more image-friendly than Bad Boy Blogger.
    This sounds like a fun book to read. I have just started the omnivore book by Pollan.
    Hi Caroline, Thank you for stopping by! I find Typepad must better to use – at least so far. ‘Second Nature’ was a good read. I enjoyed Pollan’s latest book better than the ‘Omnivore’s Dilemma’ – I got bogged down in the corn section – it seemed endless.

  5. Wildlife Gardener says:

    That sounds like a very interesting read, Kate. I am very familiar with the previous author and bought her book seventeen years ago as her idea of gardening and mine coincide perfectly.
    Hi Wildlife Gardener, Both books are good reads. I think they complement each other…

  6. kerri says:

    So far I’ve only read yours and Annie’s revues and both of you make this book sound very interesting.
    I like an author who writes with humour.
    Thanks for this great review, Kate. I’m going to add the book to my list.
    A short while ago it looked like spring outside, but now it looks like we might get some more rain. Temps are warmer today though and the air feels wonderful!
    Hi Kerri, This was a good read – the author had me chuckling often. It also gives us food for thought.
    It is definitely spring-like here today – it was yesterday too. The snow is fast melting.

  7. gail says:

    As was said before, this book sounds like it has some good fun chapters to read.
    I found a very old garden publication produced by a state extension center that discussed fumigating roses and when and how to plant Kudzu… it all gave me a chuckle. There were also some very sound recommendations; so one can find the relevant next to the irrelevant, the out of fashion next to the always in fashion; looks like you found the relevant, the funny and the thought provoking. Even out of date, Mr. Pollan’s book can still be a good read. I might give it a try.
    thank you, for taking the time to read it and writing this review.
    gail
    Hi Gail, This book is a good read. I enjoyed it as I have reading the various reviews by other bloggers. Some of the old garden books are amazing to read for what they recommend. My parents have a book though from the 1940s and I was really struck by how much is still good, basic information.

  8. kris says:

    I haven’t read any of his books yet – but this sounds like a great one to pick up. Thanks for the review!
    Hi Kris, This is a good read – I like this author’s style. He has a great sense of humour!

  9. teeni says:

    I never realized there were so many interesting-sounding books with gardening as a general theme. You certainly keep me learning, Kate. And learning keeps me young. Thanks, Kate. 🙂
    Hi Teeni, That’s one of the joys of gardening – there are lots of wonderful books. I don’t think I will ever tire of reading them!

  10. Cheryl says:

    Hi Kate
    I have just read a post on dragonfly corner on the same book. It was good to get two views on this, made very interesting reading.
    Must be a popular author.
    Hi Cheryl, I’ll stop by your blog & leave the link for t he Garden Bloggers’ Book Club. This was our selection for February/March. The author is a popular one.

  11. bindi says:

    hi Kate! I like the new blog look. What was the inspiration for the change (forgive me if you have already written on this, I’ve been in nyc and only just getting back into routine at home). Bindi xx
    Hi Bindi, when I was on Facebook the other day, I saw some of your NYC pics. I made the blog change just a short while ago – there’s an earlier post about it below. I imagine your family is happy to see you back home!

  12. Abby Creek Art says:

    Sounds like a great book to get my friend for her b-day this year. She’s a master gardener and loves nothing more than to be in her garden. I think she’s like you in many ways…a real lovely person.
    Give that Lytton boy a kissie for me. Tell him that Maisie wishes he could come with her to the dog park now. It’s her “new thing” and she is lovin’ it! xox
    Hi Linda, Your friend would enjoy this book I think. It is well written and entertaining. Thank you! Lytton wishes that Maisie could chase around the dog park with him. They’d get themselves into lots of trouble, I’m sure!

  13. eliz says:

    Love the new look. As for Pollan, I started out SN loving it, really loving it.
    But by the end, there was something … I felt that Pollan always wanted to draw a lesson from his experiences.
    I think my favorite garden writers are the ones who simply describe–well–their experiences with plants and gardening. Like Lloyd I guess. Pollan would never be satisfied with that.
    Hi ELiz, That’s an interesting point. I hadn’t thought of his book in quite this way, although I think his was a unique voice for his time. 1991 seems like yesterday to me though, so it’s hard to get my head around thinking of the year from an historical perspective.

  14. Dee/reddirtramblings says:

    Kate, great review. It always amazes me how we each see the book differently. Do you have a new web design? What’s up with Twitter?~~Dee
    Hi Dee, That’s what I enjoy about reading our reviews Everyone has a different perspective and it makes me think in a new way. I like that.
    You can sign up at http://www.twitter.com and enjoy sharing snippets of whatever you like with the people who you are following or are following you. Now that more gardeners are using it, it’s great fun. Colleen at Inthegardenonline.com wrote a post recently about Twitter.

  15. Amy says:

    Every time I read I review of this book I think, “I’ve got to read that.”
    Hi Amy, It is a good read – I enjoyed it. I like his writing style.

  16. Annie in Austin says:

    I enjoyed your review, Kate – it was fun to reread this book. We bought The Botany of Desire when it first came out – I’d like to reread that one, too, but I think my husband passed it along to one of our kids.
    Annie at the Transplantable Rose
    Hi Annie, I got the Botany of Desire out of the library last year and thought it was another good read. Pollan definitely does his research and often through hands-on experiences.

  17. kelly says:

    It’s one of my favorite gardening books, so full of light and life and good humor.
    Hi Kelly, That’s what I liked about this book – it was lighthearted and humourous…. Pollan has such an engaging writing style.

  18. Gotta Garden says:

    Hi Kate: In Defense of Food is in my stack! I must get to it, especially after reading his blog via the link you so thoughtfully provided. So, are you going to write about it? Hmmm, Omnivore’s Dilemma is sitting in the same stack…maybe I shouldn’t bother?
    Always appreciate your perspective on things! I’m glad you’re writing! Enjoyed your review!
    Hi GG, I am thinking of it – as usual, am disorganised and trying to do too many things at once! Omnivore’s Dilemma is worth reading, although I eventually skimmed through some of the middle chapters. In Defense of Food, on the other hand, was a thoroughly captivating read from start to finish!

  19. Aiyana says:

    That’s one of his I haven’t read. I just put it on my list of future reads.
    Aiyana
    Hi Aiyana, this is a good read – enjoyable for most gardeners, I’d think!

  20. teeni says:

    I have tagged you for a meme which I think you might enjoy. I hope you can participate, but no pressure, as always. 😉
    Hi Teeni, I’ll be over to check out the meme!

  21. Jean Ann says:

    I love to read…and I spent much of the rainy Pacific North West winter doing just that…Since spring has finally arrived, I will be madly working in the garden (while also madly working my full time job) so I won’t get to this book for a while…but I will add it to my list!
    Hi Jean, I think you’ll enjoy this book. I do the same here during the winter and get lots of reading done.

  22. Paolo Tasini says:

    I love Michael Pollan’s books. Gardening is not only a matter of tips and tricks. Your blog is not only a matter of tips and tricks. Thanks Kate!
    Hi Paolo, I agree with you on this. Thank you!

  23. Diane Schuller says:

    Kate, thanks for the reminder about this book. I’ll bet there have been a half dozen different times I’ve thought I should get this book. When you wrote,”It makes me want to delve further into the perennial discussion over how much human intervention is acceptable in our role as stewards of this planet.” … that really hit home for me too and is something I often think about.
    As for lawns, that’s a touchy subject for me … especially when traveling to the desert (even BCs desert areas) and everyone is wasting precious water to grow lawns — not to mention all the harmful fertilizer they spread on those unnecessary greens. 🙂
    Thanks for such a great review of his book.
    Diane
    Hi Diane, that was one of the parts of the book that I found fascinating – how we’ve planted grass in environments where it is such a poor choice. I find Pollan’s books make for enjoyable, thought-provoking reading.

  24. Alyssa says:

    I’m going to have to look into Mr. Pollan’s books. The way you write about them, I’m really intrigued. Thanks, Kate.

  25. Deborah says:

    Hello. And thank you for your thoughtful review of this book. I too went running back to earlier Pollan books after finishing In Defense of Food. I just can’t seem to get enough. There is something so dear about Second Nature —perhaps because we get to see him coming into some of his now strong and well-known positions on food. I think it is my favorite. But have you read an even earlier one…A Place of My Own? not gardening per se, but lovely nonetheless. Bravo. And a truly lovely site. I’ll be back.

  26. Barbara says:

    Your post reminds me that this book is in my bookshelf too. I bought it some years ago when staying in Boston. Now I have to take and read it again. Thank you for this suggestion and your interesting opinion about this indeed wonderful book.
    Have a good time, Barbara

  27. Mr. McGregor's Daughter says:

    Great review! I also was intrigued by his analysis of the American lawn. I had known its historical antecedents as land that was grazed by sheep on large English estates and how those antecedents have presented difficulties in translation. What was new to me was the discussion of the unstated requirement of an uninterrupted greensward connecting all front lawns into one Great American front lawn.

  28. Clare says:

    Hi Kate! Your new blog is totally
    beautiful and I can’t wait to explore
    it — I updated your link on my blog
    with the new address. Michael Pollan’s
    book sounds very interesting (I really
    like books in essay format, like his)
    and I love the review you wrote — you do fantastic book reviews! Moose and I send
    you and Mr. Lytton big hugs!
    🙂

  29. our friend Ben says:

    Kate, have you read Henry Mitchell? If not, you must. He was not at all PC, used chemicals with abandon, and aggravated the hell out of lifetime organic gardeners like me. Nonetheless, he was the greatest American garden writer of the 20th century. Set your prejudices aside, settle back with a nice pot of tea, read his various collections of essays, and then, after a deep sigh of appreciation, take up your organic arms again and wish he were still alive so you could give him a piece of your mind! There’s a lot I’d like to say to him even now. But he was so far beyond the other garden writers of his time that, were there a Nobel Prize for garden writing, I’d have nominated him. If you already know him, you know what I mean. If you don’t, I envy you the discovery!
    Hi Our Friend Ben, I haven’t read much of Henry Mitchell so this is something to look forward to! Any recommendations?

  30. Heavy Petal says:

    I really enjoyed this book. I must admit, I recognized myself in his descriptions of himself as a well-meaning but naive gardener!
    Hi Andrea, I recognised myself too in this book. I really liked it too.

  31. TJ says:

    Hello. I’m brand new to blogging and stumbled upon your site. Very nice. Pollan is a favorite and while Second Nature may be dated in some ways, mostly it’s still a great call to gardening and responsible stewardship. You are right, Pollan writes with wit and candour and, I think, with increasing import. How did you find his more recent books?

  32. SImon says:

    ‘Avoid the middle of the supermarkets’. Great post for mentioning Pollan, and the garden tie-in was prefect!
    S

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