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Entangled Life: How Fungi Make Our Worlds, Change Our Minds & Shape Our Futures Hardcover – Illustrated, May 12, 2020
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From the Publisher
The book was dampened and inoculated with Pleurotus (oyster mushroom) mycelium. The mycelium then digested the pages - and the words - of the book, and sprouted over the course of seven days. Pleurotus can digest many things - from crude oil to used cigarette butts - and is one of the fungal species that shows the most promise in mycoremediation. It is also delicious when fried lightly with garlic and will make it possible for the author to eat his words.
Photo Credit: DRK Videography
“Fungi are everywhere, and Merlin Sheldrake is an ideal guide to their mysteries. He’s passionate, deeply knowledgeable, and a wonderful writer.”—Elizabeth Kolbert, author of The Sixth Extinction
“Sheldrake’s charm and curiosity make for a book that is delightful to read but also grand and dizzying in how thoroughly it recalibrates our understanding of the natural world and the often overlooked organisms within it.”—Ed Yong, author of I Contain Multitudes
“True to his name, Merlin takes us on a magical journey deep into the roots of Nature—the mycelial universe that exists under every footstep we take in life. Merlin is an expert storyteller, weaving the tale of our co-evolution with fungi into a scientific adventure. Entangled Life is a must-read for citizen scientists hoping to make a positive difference on this sacred planet we share.”—Paul Stamets, author of Mycelium Running: How Mushrooms Can Help Save the World
“Reading this book, I felt surrounded by a web of wonder. The natural world is more fantastic than any fantasy, so long as you have the means to perceive it. This book provides the means.”—Jaron Lanier, author of You Are Not a Gadget
“This engaging book shines light on the hidden fungal connections that link plants, trees, and us. I thought I knew a lot about fungi, but I found much that was new to me, and exciting. Sheldrake is a rare scientist who is not afraid to speculate about the truly profound implications of his work. A very good read.”—Andrew Weil, author of
Spontaneous Healing and Healthy Aging
“Sheldrake awakens the reader to a shapeshifting, mind-altering, animate world that not only surrounds us but intimately involves us as well. A joyful exploration of the most overlooked and enigmatic kingdom of life, and one that expanded my appreciation of what it means to be alive.”—Peter Brannen, author of The Ends of the World
“Entangled Life is an exuberant introduction to the biology, ecology, climatology, and psychopharmacology of the earth’s ‘metabolic wizards.’”—Julian Lucas, Harpers
“Nearly every page of this book contained either an observation so interesting or a turn of phrase so lovely that I was moved to slow down, stop, and reread. . . . This book rocked me into remembering that nature, especially fungal nature, is big and encompassing and creative and destructive. It reminded me that fungi are, like the Universe, sublime.”—Rob Dunn, Science magazine
About the Author
- Item Weight : 1.5 pounds
- Hardcover : 368 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0525510311
- ISBN-13 : 978-0525510314
- Product Dimensions : 6.4 x 1.2 x 9.5 inches
- Publisher : Random House; Illustrated Edition (May 12, 2020)
- Language: : English
- Best Sellers Rank: #3,469 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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Sheldrake has admired a couple of Timothy-Leary-like psilocybin "magic mushroom" proponents his parents introduced him to as a child. He waxes poetical about the potential of psilocybin to cure some mental illness, to diminish the self, and to act as an entheogen, all without ever touching on the heartbreaking mental illnesses it has increased or caused. If you know a few 'shroom users well for long enough, you will encounter the dark side of psilocybin.
Sheldrake also never seems to notice that entheogenic-induced changes in personality may themselves be mental illnesses, both of individuals and societies. Religion is not all good: just ask the Mayans, whose psilocybin-laced religion socialized ritual murder and prepared their society to be conquered. How much of religion do we owe to drug-addled visions, from ergot poisoning if not psilocybin use?
There are many interesting insights in this book, but I would have welcomed a thorough editing job so that it would not have been so much work to pick the mycelium from the chaff.
Sheldrake follows a familiar script for each chapter: title, relevant quote, explanation of a somewhat narrow topic broadened by introducing related topics with the use of multiple examples of others’ research and/or his own experiences. As someone who easily becomes obsessed with subjects (wildflowers, nudibranchs, mushrooms), I loved the level of depth that the author goes into about everything. Nearly every chapter includes something about the evolutionary history of the topic, “This enigmatic group of organisms…were the largest living creatures on dry land for at least forty million years;” massive-scale factoid-trivia, “Fungi produce around fifty megatons of spores each year;” hand-drawn in ink cap ink illustrations; definitions, “The word “radical” derives from the Latin “radix” meaning “root;” researchers and experts (save for a man he’s known since, Paul Stamets, rarely described in any detail whatsoever) and their fungally-relevant findings. The essays cover such subjects as “what it is like to be a fungus,” trufficulture, mycelial networks, lichen, psilocybin, mycorrhizal fungi, the problems with existing models for fungal networks, mycological remediation and yeasts. It’s all more interesting than it might sound to the non-science-minded, but as someone who loves the stuff, I found it compelling enough to finish up within 24 hours of starting it; The actual text is only about 225 pages. As I head to the trails within the 2,800 acre fungus-filled Douglas Fir forest that lies literally right outside my front door, I’ll consider (and remember) many things that I’ve learned from Entangled Life just as I did when I finished Wohleben’s book (where I concluded that trees are super slow growing humans and won’t let go of its anthropomorphic ideas in spite of evidence to the contrary in the Wood Wide Webs chapter) while being forced to wonder about others.
In the chapter entitled A Lure, I wonder if the author ever ate a truffle. He introduces the Voyria in the introduction and discusses it again in a couple of later chapters, but never goes into great detail, which left me hanging. In Mycelia Minds, he recounts an experiment in which he takes LSD in hopes of helping to solve a problem and then continues on about psychedelic mushroom-related information, but never shares whether or not it actually helped as a problem-solving stimulator. In Wood Wide Webs, he begins with Monotropa uniflora (a plant with which I’m very familiar as it’s somewhat common in nearby Deception Pass State Park) but says little about the exact place he visited and under what circumstances he encountered this super cool plant. I was also left unfulfilled with the author being stingy with possible details about the researchers whose work he includes. What do they look like and what are they LIKE? For the most part, he simply names (sometimes including the type of researcher they are), but save for Staments, does not describes them in the least. In summary, as with the three aforementioned titles, I enjoyed reading in-depth information about fungi, but I felt like in several situations, the author ended his discussion of a specific topic without tying up a few loose ends.
ENTANGLED LIFE is all about fungi (because they're fun, guys!), written by an author for whom this is clearly a passion project. It's like a non-stupid version of Goop Lab, only completely mushroom-oriented... or like Bill Nye for a higher grade level. In his quest to study the wild shroom, Sheldrake does all kinds of things like tromping through the rainforest to count flowers for a mushroom network, experiencing a "fermentation bath" (rotting wood and mushrooms-- ahh, relaxing!), or tripping out on LSD in a controlled lab environment... for SCIENCE!
I learned so much from this book that I didn't even know, like how cordyceps mushrooms (zombie fungi) take over carpenter ants, march them to their place of death mafia-style, only to consume the ant and sprout a mushroom out of its head when they're finished like they're some sort of hideous nightmare Pikmin creature! Or that mushrooms are actually more closely related to animals than plants. Mushrooms even have sort of a "hive mind" dynamic, because if you measure the electrical output of mushrooms while exposing one of them to a flame or chemical stimulus, several other mushrooms in the network will give a jolt of electricity. The author also quotes a scientist who refers to lichen as "a sensational romance...[an] unnatural union between a captive Algal damsel and a tyrant Fungal master."
OH MY GOSH you guys. I knew there was a reason I thought lichen was cool! It's basically the scientific equivalent of a medieval bodice ripper. SIGN ME UP.
Also, I learned about a really cool plant called "ghost pipes," which would be an excellent name for a Goth rock band. Ghost pipes are basically albino vampire plants that look like mushrooms and don't need to photosynthesize because of the presence of... FUNGUS. (Yaaaass!)
The book ends with some of the more practical applications of mushrooms, like how mycelium can be used to make furniture, biodegradable packing materials, and even clothes. Or how the presence of fungus can change the taste of bread, spices, and other foods for the better. And then there's a chapter about yeast and how it is used to create ciders and beers. Whether it's tasty, scary, or poisonous, this book isn't afraid to delve into it, as long as it's mushroom related.
I know we're all quarantined right now but if any of you are ever in San Francisco, there's a stall in the Ferry Building that's entirely mushroom-related and they have all these really exotic edible mushrooms that are hard to find, as well as colorful posters depicting mushroom taxonomies. I thought of that stall several times while reading this book.
ENTANGLED LIFE is definitely a must-read to learn more about the fungus among us.
Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review!
4 to 4.5 out of 5 stars