What a Mushroom Lives For pushes today's mushroom renaissance in compelling new directions. For centuries, Western science has promoted a human- and animal-centric framework of what counts as action, agency, movement, and behaviour. But, as Michael Hathaway shows, the world-making capacities of mushrooms radically challenge this orthodoxy by revealing the lively dynamism of all forms of life.
The book tells the fascinating story of one particularly prized species, the matsutake, and the astonishing ways it is silently yet powerfully shaping worlds, from the Tibetan plateau to the mushrooms' final destination in Japan. Many Tibetan and Yi people have dedicated their lives to picking and selling this mushroom – a delicacy that drives a multibillion-dollar global trade network and that still grows only in the wild, despite scientists' intensive efforts to cultivate it in urban labs. But this is far from a simple story of humans exploiting a passive, edible commodity. Rather, the book reveals the complex, symbiotic ways that mushrooms, plants, humans, and other animals interact. It explores how the world looks to the mushrooms, as well as to the people who have grown rich harvesting them.
A surprise-filled journey into science and human culture, this exciting and provocative book shows how fungi shape our planet and our lives in strange, diverse, and often unimaginable ways.
Michael J. Hathaway is a professor of anthropology at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, Canada, and the author of the award-winning Environmental Winds: Making the Global in Southwest China. He is a member of the Matsutake Worlds Research Group.
"I found this book delightful. It is a poetic story of fungi and some of the ways in which they are beautiful, fascinating, and endowed with stories that entangle humans yet remain all their own."
– Rob Dunn, author of A Natural History of the Future
"Move over, Paul Stamets and Michael Pollan! Reading Michael Hathaway is like having someone gently turn the living world inside out and upside down for you. In stunning prose, What a Mushroom Lives For celebrates the liveliness and dynamic intelligence of these essential workers who dwell in a hidden biocultural landscape at our feet. Eloquent, erudite, and at times darkly funny, Hathaway's narrative sheds fresh light on the mushrooms all around us."
– Gary Paul Nabhan, author of Food from the Radical Center