Mushrooms hold a peculiar place in our culture: we love them and despise them, fear them and misunderstand them. They can be downright delicious or deadly poisonous, cute as buttons or utterly grotesque. These strange organisms hold great symbolism in our myths and legends. In Mushrooms: A Natural and Cultural History, Nicholas P. Money tells the utterly fascinating story of mushrooms and the ways we have interacted with these fungi throughout history. Whether they have populated the landscapes of fairytales, lent splendid umami to our dishes, or steered us into deep hallucinations, mushrooms have affected humanity from the earliest beginnings of our species.
As Money explains, mushrooms are not self-contained organisms like animals and plants. Rather, they are the fruiting bodies of large – sometimes extremely large – colonies of mycelial threads that spread underground and permeate rotting vegetation. Because these colonies decompose organic matter, they are of extraordinary ecological value and have a huge effect on the health of the environment. From sustaining plant growth and spinning the carbon cycle to causing hay fever and affecting the weather, mushrooms affect just about everything we do. Money tells the stories of the eccentric pioneers of mycology, delights in culinary powerhouses like porcini and morels, and considers the value of medicinal mushrooms. Mushrooms: A Natural and Cultural History takes us on a tour of the cultural and scientific importance of mushrooms, from the enchanted forests of folklore to the role of these fungi in sustaining life of earth.
Nicholas P. Money is Professor of Biology and Western Program Director at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. He is the author of popular science books on fungi and other microorganisms including, The Amoeba in the Room: Lives of the Microbes (2014), Mushrooms: A Natural and Cultural History (Reaktion, 2017) and The Selfish Ape: Human Nature and Our Path to Extinction (Reaktion, 2019).
"In Mushrooms, one gets an introduction into this fascinating world of fungi and a few highlights of the personalities of those who study them. The text is well organized for readers with little or no biology background, and it is also well written [...] Overall, it is a how-to guide for the beginner studying mushrooms, and presents basic information on the biology and construction of fungi. This is enhanced by good illustrations using both modern photographs and also those derived from classic works [...] Recommended."
"A well written, authoritative and beautifully illustrated account of mushroom life and lore, leavened with humour. An ideal introduction to the most beautiful members of natures least understood kingdom."
– Richard Fortey FRS, author of Life: An Unauthorised Biography
"A fascinating tour around the weird world of mushrooms and of the people who study them. As a botanist I learnt a lot about the natural world from the different perspective of these familiar yet obscure organisms."
– Professor Roland Ennos, University of Hull
"Nicholas Money has done it again! Mushrooms is a masterful overview of mycology, written with clarity, wit, and affection. There simply is no better review of the subject out there. Mycophiles and gardeners really, anyone who seeks to understand nature in a deeper way will appreciate this excellent book. I know I do."
– Eugenia Bone, author of Mycophilia: Revelations From the Weird World of Mushrooms