Michael Pollan's favorite books

  • Sexual Personae

    Sexual Personae

    Camille Paglia
    Art and Decadence from Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson
    Literary Criticism

    Offers a unified theory of Western culture, identifying major patterns that have endured over the centuries

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    A crazy and brilliant survey of Western literature.

    Dec 4, 2015 — Source

  • Home Economics

    Home Economics

    Wendell Berry
    Fourteen Essays
    Literary Collections

    Explores what it means to make oneself 'responsibly at home'. The very title reminds us that the root of economics is stewardship, household management. Mr Berry speaks of the necessary coherence of the 'great economy', as he argues for clarity in our lives, our conceptions and our communications. Whether as critic or as champion, Wendell Berry offers careful insights into personal and national situations in a prose that is both ringing and clear.

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    I've learned more from Berry than anyone else about how best to engage with nature, and how to write a sturdy and pleasing English sentence.

    Dec 4, 2015 — Source

  • The Gift of Good Land

    The Gift of Good Land

    Wendell Berry
    Further Essays Cultural and Agricultural
    Literary Collections

    The essays in The Gift of Good Land are as true today as when they were first published in 1981; the problems addressed here are still with us and the solutions no nearer to hand. One of the insistent themes of this book is the interdependence, the wholeness, the oneness of people, the land, weather, animals, and family. To touch one is to tamper with them all. We live in one functioning organism whose separate parts are artificially isolated by our culture. The twenty-four essays in this collection cover a variety of subjects; the author's journeys to the Peruvian Andes, to the desert of southern Arizona, and to Amish country to study the evolution of ancient native agricultural practices. In Solving for Pattern,” Mr. Berry lists fourteen critical standards for solving agricultural problems that can just as easily be used as standards for solving personal and family problems. In the title essay, the author examines our Judeo-Christian heritage to discover parallels with the Buddhist doctrine of right livelihood” or right occupation.” He develops the compelling argument that the gift” of good land has strings attached. We have it only on loan and only for as long as we practice good stewardship.

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    I've learned more from Berry than anyone else about how best to engage with nature, and how to write a sturdy and pleasing English sentence.

    Dec 4, 2015 — Source

  • The Odyssey

    And not just because there are so many great barbecue scenes. (Henry Fielding called The Odyssey Homers wonderful book about eating, and wasnt too far off.) But theres lots to learn about story structure too, and why its often a good idea to begin in the middle.

    Dec 4, 2015 — Source

  • Walden

    Walden

    Henry David Thoreau
    Fiction

    Presents Thoreau's reflections on his experience living alone in the woods surrounding Walden Pond as well as his philosophy concerning man's need to reevaluate life and commune with nature.

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    For its bracing prose as much as anything else. I've been arguing with Thoreau for most of my career. When he abandoned his beanfield because he couldnt stand making invidious distinctions between his beans and the weeds, he gave up on agriculture and opted for wilderness a tremendous mistake in my view.

    Dec 4, 2015 — Source

  • The Jungle

    The Jungle

    Upton Sinclair
    Fiction

    'He was of no consequence - he was flung aside, like a bit of trash, the carcass of some animal. It was horrible, horrible!'Upton Sinclair's searing novel follows the fortunes of Jurgis Rudkus, a young Lithuanian who comes to America with his fiancée and family in search of a better life. What he finds in the stockyards of turn-of-the-century Chicago is a ruthless system that degrades and impoverishes him, and an industry whose filthy practices contaminate the meat it processes. From the stench of the killing-beds to the horrors of the fertilizer-works, the appalling conditions in which Jurgis works aredescribed in documentary detail by an author intent on social reform. So powerful was the book's effect that it led to changes to the food hygiene laws in the United States. Despite this success, the issues of immigrant exploitation and food adulteration addressed by the novel are still very much in evidencetoday. This new edition considers The Jungle's impact, and its disputed status as propaganda or literature.

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    A powerful piece of journalism disguised as a novel.

    Dec 4, 2015 — Source

  • On Drugs

    Little known, but the smartest book on drugs I know of.

    Dec 4, 2015 — Source

  • The Essential Writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson

    The Essential Writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson

    Ralph Waldo Emerson
    Philosophy

    Introduction by Mary Oliver Commentary by Henry James, Robert Frost, Matthew Arnold, Oliver Wendell Holmes, and Henry David Thoreau The definitive collection of Emerson’s major speeches, essays, and poetry, The Essential Writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson chronicles the life’s work of a true “American Scholar.” As one of the architects of the transcendentalist movement, Emerson embraced a philosophy that championed the individual, emphasized independent thought, and prized “the splendid labyrinth of one’s own perceptions.” More than any writer of his time, he forged a style distinct from his European predecessors and embodied and defined what it meant to be an American. Matthew Arnold called Emerson’s essays “the most important work done in prose.” INCLUDES A MODERN LIBRARY READING GROUP GUIDE

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    Sentence by sentence, some of the most stimulating thoughts anywhere.

    Dec 4, 2015 — Source

  • Changes in the Land

    Changes in the Land

    William Cronon
    Indians, Colonists, and the Ecology of New England
    History

    Winner of the Francis Parkman Prize Changes in the Land offers an original and persuasive interpretation of the changing circumstances in New England's plant and animal communities that occurred with the shift from Indian to European dominance. With the tools of both historian and ecologist, Cronon constructs an interdisciplinary analysis of how the land and the people influenced one another, and how that complex web of relationships shaped New England's communities.

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    Taught me how to look at a landscape and see not just nature but history as well.

    Dec 4, 2015 — Source

  • Liberty Under Siege

    Liberty Under Siege

    Walter Karp
    American Politics, 1976-1988
    Political Science

    Liberty Under Siege is an extraordinary book. Here, finally, is a reveille for reality, a call to stop this long intoxication with illusion and look at what has been happening to our republic. Walter Karp combines the passion of Tom Paine with the urgency of Paul Revere to sound a patriot's alarm for his country.

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    The most original observer of American politics in the second half of the 20th century.

    Dec 4, 2015 — Source

  • How to Dress an Egg

    The perfect book for this moment when we're all cooking like crazy.

    Apr 6, 2020 — Source

  • The Doors of Perception and Heaven and Hell

    A very famous book about what were not then known as psychedelics

    Mar 21, 2019 — Source

  • Acid Test

    Acid Test

    Tom Shroder
    Lsd, Ecstasy, and the Power to Heal
    History

    “A book that should start a long-overdue national conversation.” —Dave Barry Despite their illegality, many Americans are already familiar with the effects of psychedelic drugs. Yet while LSD and MDMA (better known as Ecstasy) have proven extraordinarily effective in treating anxiety disorders such as PTSD, they remain off-limits to the millions who might benefit from them. Through the stories of three very different men, awardwinning journalist Tom Shroder covers the drugs’ roller-coaster history from their initial reception in the 1950s to the negative stereotypes that persist today. At a moment when popular opinion is rethinking the potential benefits of some illegal drugs, Acid Test is a fascinating and informative must-read.

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    Theres a good book on MDMA therapy called, for some stupid reason

    Mar 21, 2019 — Source

  • Dirt

    Dirt

    David R. Montgomery
    The Erosion of Civilizations
    Nature

    Ranging from ancient times to modern-day environmental threats, a natural and cultural history of soil explains how an elimination of protective vegetation and an exposure to wind and rain causes severe erosion of cultivated soils, how the use and abuse of soil has shaped human history, and the how the rise of organic and no-till farming holds hope for the future.

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    If you're at all interested in cooking, or France, or great prose, you won't want to miss this book

    Jul 22, 2020 — Source

  • Paper Lion

    Paper Lion

    George Plimpton
    Confessions of a Last-String Quarterback
    Sports & Recreation

    The book that made a legend and captured America's sport in detail that's never been matched, now repackaged and featuring a foreword by Nicholas Dawidoff, original letters and manuscript pages, video interviews with the author, audio clips of readings, and more from the Plimpton Archives. George Plimpton was perhaps best known for PAPER LION, the book that set the bar for participatory sports journalism. With his characteristic wit, Plimpton recounts his experiences in talking his way into training camp with the Detroit Lions, practicing with the team, and taking snaps behind center. His breezy style captures the pressures and tensions rookies confront, the hijinks that pervade when sixty high-strung guys live together in close quarters, and a host of football rites and rituals. One of the funniest and most insightful books ever written on football, PAPER LION is a classic look at the gridiron game and a book The Wall Street Journal calls "a continuous feast...The best book ever about football--or anything!"

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    In retrospect, this beautifully written and hilarious narrative made me a journalist or at least, one who put himself in the story in order to see it fresh and build a narrative.

     — Source