Neither plant nor animal, it is found throughout the earth, the air and our bodies. It can be microscopic, yet also accounts for the largest organism ever recorded – covering ten square kilometres, weighing 35,000 tons and estimated to be over 2,000 years old. Its ability to digest rock enabled the first life on land, and for 40 million years its towering structures dominated earth's landscape. It can survive unprotected in space, and thrives amidst nuclear radiation.
It can solve problems without a brain, stretching traditional definitions of 'intelligence', and can manipulate animal behaviour in astonishing and often unsettling ways that we struggle to explain. The discovery that it connects plants in large collaborative networks, the 'Wood Wide Web', is transforming our understanding of how non-animal life works. In giving humans bread, alcohol and life-saving medicines, it has changed our species' history, while its ability to digest plastic, explosives, pesticides and crude oil is being harnessed in break-through technologies. Its psychedelic properties, which have shaped cultures since antiquity, have recently been shown to alleviate a number of mental illnesses. And yet most of its millions of species remain undocumented.
In this mind-altering adventure, Merlin Sheldrake introduces the spectacular and neglected world of fungi: endlessly surprising organisms that have made our world, and continue to shape our futures.
Merlin Sheldrake is a fungal biologist and a writer. He received a PhD in Tropical Ecology from Cambridge University for his work on underground fungal networks in tropical forests in Panama, based at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. In 2016, he was profiled in the New Yorker by Robert Macfarlane for an article about the Wood Wide Web. He is a musician and keen fermenter. Entangled Life is his first book.
"[...] This is Sheldrake’s first book, and, while his expertise means that the readers should feel that they are in safe hands from the off, in truth the experience is more like being whisked down a burrow by a white rabbit, or on a tour of Willy Wonka’s research facility: a trippy, astonishing, and completely exhilarating ride. Wonders come thick and fast. [...] Again and again we glimpse vistas of wonder that border on pseudoscience, and every time we are pulled back on to more empirical rails, wide-eyed and breathless, experiencing a kind of biological vertigo where not only humankind, but all of animal-kind is ancillary to the big picture. These insights and questions are backed up with 80 pages of notes and references, making the book a feat of collation and synthesis as well as a masterpiece of exposition and enlightenment – all the more extraordinary given that Sheldrake has just turned 33. I lost count of the times I exclaimed out loud, drew and puffed a long breath, reread passages to make sure that I was not imagining too much. Once I got up and danced. This book is likely to change the way you see everything, without having to eat a single magic ‘shroom. Go on, it cannot hurt to try a little bite."
– Amy-Jane Beer, British Wildlife volume 32(2), November 2012
"A dazzling, vibrant, vision-changing book. Sentence after sentence stopped me short. I ended it wonderstruck at the fungal world – the secrets of which modern science is only now beginning to fathom – and the earth-shaking, hierarchy-breaking implications of Sheldrake's argument. A remarkable work by a remarkable writer"
– Robert MacFarlane, author of Underland
"One of those rare books that can truly change the way you see the world around you, Entangled Life is a mercurial, revelatory, impassioned, urgent, astounding, and necessary read. It's fearless in scope, analytically astute, and brimming with infectious joy"
– Helen MacDonald, author of H is for Hawk
"A true masterpiece, a thrilling and fascinating insight into the living world, beautifully written, entertaining, funny and inspiring, while representing the science carefully and responsibly. I hope and trust that it will become an instant classic"
– George Monbiot
"I fell in love with this book. Merlin is a scientist with the imagination of a poet and a beautiful writer [...] This is a book that, by virtue of the power of its writing, shifts your sense of the human [...] It will inspire a generation to enter mycology"
– Michael Pollan (Bay Area Book Festival, 2020)
"Wondrous [...] an astonishing book that could alter our perceptions of fungi for ever. It seems somehow to tip the natural world upside down"
– Rachel Cooke, Observer
"Reads like an adventure story [...] wondrous [...] beguilingly weaves together lived experience and scientific research"
– John Carey, Sunday Times
"After this book, nothing will seem the same again [...] beautifully written and illustrated [...] dazzling [...] reveals a world that's both more extraordinary and more delicate than could be imagined"
– Mail on Sunday
"The lives of fungi alone are fascinating, but the questions and wider implications that Sheldrake teases out from them are often truly astounding [...] an engrossing, captivating journey [...] rigorous, comprehensive, perspective-altering [...] if this book is any indication, [Sheldrake] has an exciting career in not only science but also literature ahead of him"
"Brilliant [...] entrancing [...] when we look closely [at fungi], we meet large, unsettling questions [...] Merlin Sheldrake [...] carries us easily into these questions with ebullience and precision [...] challenging some of our deepest assumptions [...] A 'door-opener' book is one with a specialist subject in which it finds pathways leading everywhere [...] Sheldrake's book is a very fine example"
"Mind-boggling [...] [Sheldrake] is nothing if not a participatory researcher into his subject and one with a winning sense of humour [...] it might be a good time to give thanks for this humble lifeform's effect on our lives [...] It's tempting [...] to see fungi as the biological model for a better world"
– Telegraph *****