Oh, to be young and eligible to enroll in Professor George Hudler's "Plant Pathology 101" class at Cornell! For those of us who aren't, this book is the next best thing--a hugely entertaining introduction to spore lore. Not only does he bring us up to speed on the fungus science, he relates the amazing impact of his branch of science on human history. The Eleusinian Mysteries that so inspired Plato and Sophocles were probably caused by ergot, which Tim Leary and the CIA put to scarier use in its refined form, LSD. Other fungal products are more upbeat: penicillin (Hudler tells a good story about British scientists who put its spores on their clothes in 1940, to preserve their research in case Germany invaded), cyclosporins, which permit such organ recipients as David Crosby not to reject their healthy new livers, and Beano, a derivative of alpha-d-galactosidase that suppresses flatulence in humans. Want to commit the perfect murder? Try aflatoxin, as a Graham Greene character does in The Human Factor
. Do you dare to recreate the hallucinations of the Salem witches? Ergot's just the thing, as characters discover to their misfortune in Robin Cook's thriller Acceptable Risk
. Hudler packs plenty of intriguing stories into a brief, readable book: exploding artillery fungus, spores spread by earthquakes that can cause anorexia, a 35-acre spread of 1,500-year-old identical mushrooms in Michigan that may be the oldest, biggest living thing on Earth. No question about it--Dr. Hudler is one fun guy. --Tim Appelo
From Publishers Weekly
While most people might not think mushrooms and molds to be fascinating creatures, Hudler, professor of plant pathology at Cornell University, does a remarkable job proving them wrong. In this thoroughly entertaining book, he demonstrates that fungi are much more than slimy, disgusting, disease-causing organisms; in fact, they have dramatically influenced the course of human history. With chapters on yeasts used to make bread and to brew alcoholic beverages, on the medicinal uses of fungi from penicillin to possible treatments for AIDS, on edible mushrooms like the common button mushroom and the more exotic truffle, and on hallucinogenic mushrooms, Hudler takes readers on an enthralling and informative tour of this much maligned kingdom. Fungi do have a downside and Hudler doesn't gloss over their ill effects, discussing the havoc arising from the failure of the Irish potato crop (caused by Phytophthora infestans) and the misery and starvation attributable to ergot (Claviceps purpurea) contamination of grains, including, likely, the events associated with the Salem witch trials. He also covers a host of fungi-involved human diseases, from athlete's foot to yeast infections and histoplasmosis. Hudler even explains that chemicals in ergot, when ingested, can lead to formication, or "a sensation of ants crawling over the body." With a chapter providing advice for those interested in collecting wild mushrooms, there's something in this wonderful volume for just about every taste. Illustrations not seen by PW.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.