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Good Reads  Mycology

Fungipedia A Brief Compendium of Mushroom Lore

Popular Science
Series: Pedia Books
By: Lawrence Millman(Author), Amy Jean Porter(Illustrator)
184 pages, 51 b/w illustrations
A delightful little mushroom miscellany that enlightens and entertains in equal measure.
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Average customer review
  • Fungipedia ISBN: 9780691194721 Hardback Sep 2019 Not in stock: Usually dispatched within 6 days
Price: £10.99
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About this book

Fungipedia presents a delightful A–Z treasury of mushroom lore. With more than 180 entries – on topics as varied as Alice in Wonderland, chestnut blight, medicinal mushrooms, poisonings, Santa Claus, and waxy caps – this collection will transport both general readers and specialists into the remarkable universe of fungi.

Combining ecological, ethnographic, historical, and contemporary knowledge, author-mycologist Lawrence Millman discusses how mushrooms are much more closely related to humans than to plants, how they engage in sex, how insects farm them, and how certain species happily dine on leftover radiation, cockroach antennae, and dung. He explores the lives of individuals like African American scientist George Washington Carver, who specialized in crop diseases caused by fungi; Beatrix Potter, creator of Peter Rabbit, who was prevented from becoming a professional mycologist because she was a woman; and J. P. Morgan vice-president Gordon Wasson, who almost single-handedly introduced the world to magic mushrooms. Millman considers why fungi are among the most significant organisms on our planet and how they are currently being affected by destructive human behavior as well as by climate change.

With charming drawings by artist and illustrator Amy Jean Porter, Fungipedia offers a treasure trove of scientific and cultural information. The world of mushrooms lies right at your door – be amazed!

Customer Reviews (1)

  • A delightful little mushroom miscellany
    By Leon (NHBS Catalogue Editor) 4 Nov 2019 Written for Hardback

    Fungi have been eaten, worshipped, reviled, and studied for centuries. Neither animal nor plant (though originally classified as such), they occur pretty much everywhere, from the frigid icy wastes of Antarctica to between your toes. And yet I, like many others, know surprisingly little about them. With part of their life happening underground and on a microscopic scale, they easily evade our attention. With Fungipedia, mycologist Lawrence Millman provides a delightful little introduction to the world of fungi.

    Princeton University Press has gone mycology-mad this season. At one end of the spectrum, they have just published the massive 2-volume set Fungi of Temperate Europe: over 1700 pages of photographic goodness for the serious mycologist. At the other end of the spectrum, there is this: a whimsical 184-page A-Z miscellany that could be slipped into your back pocket.

    The approach to this book is straightforward – Millman has written approximately 180 short entries on the biology, ethnography, history, and students of fungi. Line drawings from the hand of Amy Jean Porter are scattered throughout, further lightening up the text.

    Fungipedia provides plenty of interesting tidbits of information, but it is not all factoids. In fact, it concisely defines some of the major taxonomic fungus groups: ascomycetes, basidiomycetes, boletes, coral fungi, corticioid fungi, and yeasts to name but a few. Even a group such as slime moulds – technically not fungi – are described. Similarly, it explains some of the biological basics. Don’t know the difference between endo- and ectomycorrhizal fungi? Fungipedia has got you covered. Can’t point out the gills, stem, cap, or veil on a drawing of a mushroom fruiting body? Millman explains what they are and what they look like.

    Beyond the basics, Fungipedia lifts the lid on some of the more outlandish biological particularities of fungi. Such as their tolerance for, and sometimes dependence on, extreme cold (psychrophiles) or dryness (xerophiles). And what of the mycelium, that underground network of thread-like hyphae invisible to the naked eye? Peter Wohlleben has been making waves with his book The Hidden Life of Trees, popularising the finding that trees can communicate with each other via fungi, something dubbed the “wood wide web”. We can expect more on this from the fungi’s perspective in Merlin Sheldrake’s upcoming book Entangled Life.

    I personally found the entries on the people some of the most fascinating reading. I never knew that Beatrix Potter was first and foremost a mycologist, but only turned to illustrating because, as a woman, her scientific work was ignored at the time. A similar sign of the times was that it was a reverend, the clergyman Miles Berkeley, who coined the term mycology in 1837. From the pioneers (Carolus Clusius, a mycologist some 300 years ahead of his time), to the eccentric (Sam Ristich, who taught at the New York Botanical Garden with, apparently, characteristic enthusiasm), or the crestfallen (John Allegro, whose academic career took a nosedive after publishing The Sacred Mushroom and the Cross), Millman gives short, informative biographies of some notable figures.

    Plenty of rots and diseases caused by fungi have found their way onto these pages, as well as edible, medicinal, and psychedelic mushrooms. There is a good deal of deserved scepticism regarding the curative powers of medicinal mushrooms, with Millman noting that anything that claims to cure AIDS and cancer and gout and migraine and etc. etc. is suspect. His treatment of psychedelic mushrooms and other ethnomycological topics is somewhat more agnostic though, and he sees the value of research into the neurochemical properties and effects of fungal compounds (in the process mentioning Michael Pollan’s book How to Change Your Mind).

    But seriousness aside for a moment, amidst all the informative entries enough space remains for witty entertainment and spectacular fungal facts. From berserker mushrooms (supposedly sending Vikings into a fit of rage) and humongous fungus to the delights of fairy rings or zombification by Ophiocordyceps species (see also my review of Plight of the Living Dead). Or what to make of the fungus that goes by the common name of “shit on a stick”? (Because, well, that is what it looks like...).

    The air of mystery that surrounds fungi lends itself particularly well to these kinds of books, with Mycophilia being another good example of a recent book that plays into this. Mycologist Nicholas Money, whose book The Rise of Yeast I reviewed last year, has also tapped into this vat with his books Mushroom and Mushrooms: A Natural and Cultural History. Similarly, Jens H. Petersen, one of the authors of abovementioned Fungi of Temperate Europe, wrote a very accessible introduction with The Kingdom of Fungi. Even so, Fungipedia is a delightful little book to wile away some hours. The neat cloth binding with debossed illustration immediately shouts out “stocking filler!” and this would make a nice little gift for the mycologically curious. But, as Leif Ryvarden (an experienced Norwegian mycologist and author of Poroid Fungi of Europe) also mentions, even seasoned mycologists will here find things to entertain and enlighten them.
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Lawrence Millman, mycologist and writer, is the author of numerous books, including Our Like Will Not Be There Again, Last Places, Fascinating Fungi of New England, and At the End of the World. He has done mycological work in places as diverse as Greenland, Honduras, Iceland, Panama, the Canadian Arctic, Bermuda, and Fresh Pond in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where he has documented 321 different species.

Amy Jean Porter is an artist, illustrator, and naturalist. Her illustrated books include Of Lamb and The Artists’ and Writers’ Cookbook, and her artwork has appeared in such publications as McSweeney’s and The Awl.

Popular Science
Series: Pedia Books
By: Lawrence Millman(Author), Amy Jean Porter(Illustrator)
184 pages, 51 b/w illustrations
A delightful little mushroom miscellany that enlightens and entertains in equal measure.
Media reviews

"A delightful collection of notes on a wide variety of mycologically related topics [...] This is a book you can pick up for a few minutes, or get hooked into for an hour."
– Susan Kayser, Fungus Friends

"With whimsy, wisdom, and deep knowledge, abetted by Amy Porter's thoroughly charming drawings, Lawrence Millman has conjured the most interesting, readable, and useful fungus book ever. His introduction, full of art and mirth, is the best essay I have read on this mysterious kingdom."
– Robert Michael Pyle, author of Mariposa Road and Magdalena Mountain

"Having relished Millman's previous books on mushrooms, places, and people, I eagerly anticipated the advent of Fungipedia. However, I did not expect this masterpiece. It contains wisdom and knowledge (taxonomic and ethnomycological), and combines a rare didactic ability with a cheerful chutzpah that travels effortlessly between the simple and profound. It totally fulfills its purpose as a mini-encyclopedia. This useful and entertaining book will delight all who will read it."
– Elio Schaechter, author of In the Company of Mushrooms

"Who knew? What a charming introduction into a kingdom most of us ignore."
– Bill McKibben, author of Falter

"Fungi may be rarely noticed, but they play major roles in ecosystems. This informative and entertaining book makes them unforgettable."
– Bernd Heinrich, author of A Naturalist at Large

"Tar spots! Stinkhorns! Beech aphid poop fungus! What fun to read Lawrence Millman's witty, wry, and wonky compendium of all things fungal."
– Eugenia Bone, author of Mycophilia

"Lawrence Millman is a consummate storyteller and the fungi that fill this book run the gamut from the overlooked to the incredible. A marvelous distillation of Millman's obsessions, Fungipedia is peopled with his mycological mentors and heroes, and brims with science, lore, literature, art, music, cinema, and religion – all inexorably bound to fungi. Fungipedia is the next best thing to being on a walk with its author."
– Tom Bigelow, president of the New York Mycological Society

"Fungipedia is a most unusual, humorous, and enjoyable book. A true pleasure to read, it covers practically all aspects of fungi and elegantly explains mycology's mysteries. Even seasoned mycologists will find it enlightening."
– Leif Ryvarden, University of Oslo

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