A prescient warning about the mysterious and deadly world of fungi – and how to avert further loss across species, including our own.
Fungi are everywhere. Most are harmless; some are helpful. A few are killers. Collectively, infectious fungi are the most devastating agents of disease on earth, and a fungus that can persist in the environment without its host is here to stay. In Blight, Emily Monosson documents how trade, travel, and a changing climate are making us all more vulnerable to invasion. Populations of bats, frogs, and salamanders face extinction. In the Northwest, America's beloved national parks are covered with the spindly corpses of whitebark pines. Food crops are under siege, threatening our coffee, bananas, and wheat – and, more broadly, our global food security. Candida auris, drug-resistant and resilient, infects hospital patients and those with weakened immune systems. Coccidioides, which lives in drier dusty regions, may cause infection in apparently healthy people. The horrors go on.
Yet prevention is not impossible. Tracing the history of fungal spread and the most recent discoveries in the field, Monosson meets scientists who are working tirelessly to protect species under threat, and whose innovative approaches to fungal invasion have the potential to save human lives. Delving into case studies at once fascinating, sobering, and hopeful, Blight serves as a wake-up call, a reminder of the delicate interconnectedness of the natural world, and a lesson in seeing life on our planet with renewed humility and awe.
Emily Monosson is the author of Natural Defense, Unnatural Selection, and Evolution in a Toxic World. She is a member of the Ronin Institute for Independent Scholarship and an adjunct faculty member at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. She lives in Montague, Massachusetts.
"A book this endlessly fascinating, by an author whose astonishing zeal for detail makes her knowledge feel bottomless, is the crystal clear kind of science writing we need to face the changes we've wrought on this planet."
– Alan Weisman, author of The World Without Us and Countdown
"The spores are coming for us. But is blight our plight? Not if Emily Monosson has something to say about it. She shows us that solutions to this vexing problem lie with us. Our iconic human endeavors, from agriculture and gardening to globe-trotting, must accommodate nature's needs. Monosson's ideas can bear the needed fruit – a way of life that is better and safer for people and the many plants and animals on which we depend."
– Anne Biklé, coauthor of What Your Food Ate and The Hidden Half of Nature
"Monosson brings eloquence and clarity to her enigmatic subject: the often invisible existence of fungi and the incredible ways it influences and impacts our lives. In turn fascinating and frightening, Blight will alarm readers in the best possible way – by changing how they look at the world around them."
– M. R. O'Connor, author of Wayfinding: The Science and Mystery of How Humans Navigate the World
"Time and again, our habits of global travel and commerce have let loose fungal pathogens with devastating effect, as Monosson shows in gripping stories of harmful fungi decimating frogs, bats, bananas, American chestnuts, white pines, and other species. These past fights add up to an indelible cautionary tale, making Blight required reading for the post-COVID age."
– Susan Freinkel, author of Plastic: A Toxic Love Story
"Monosson commendably serves as a medical Paul Revere by persuasively warning us that dangerous fungi are already causing havoc [...] Neglecting these emerging organisms is truly hazardous to health."
– Booklist (starred review)
"Monosson is a skilled writer, capable of translating complicated scientific topics into compelling layperson's terms [...] She crafts a thrilling narrative."
– Kirkus (starred review)
"Unsettling [...] Blight emphasizes the decidedly unsalutary things that fungi can do."
– Jennifer Szalai, New York Times
"[Blight] is a short, crisp introduction to the possibility of being devoured by fungi."
– Heather Smith, Sierra