SHROOM by Andy Letcher


A Cultural History of the Magic Mushroom
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An exuberant, approving account of psilocybin and its kin for those of us living in what debut author Letcher calls “the Mushroom Age.”

Others would put that magical time back a few decades to the period when Timothy Leary was running around with madcap subjects of the Psilocybin Project, among them Allen Ginsberg, who found in a good dose of magic ’shrooms authorization to become the Messiah. (“He intended to walk the streets of Cambridge instructing people to stop hating one another. Careful redirection persuaded him against this somewhat inadvisable course of action.”) Still, Letcher ably charts the maiden voyages and great space-trucking expeditions of “myconauts” such as Gordon Wasson, the banker who took profound interest in the effects of mushroom consumption on history and ventured strange theories about Jesus, the Russians and suchlike topics in the course of his fungal odyssey, which began in the late 1920s. Wasson had heirs, of a sort, in Leary (who never met a weird idea he didn’t like) and in the poet Robert Graves, who enjoyed sleeping with whatever hippie chicks crossed his path in the ’60s even though he didn’t much enjoy the drug himself. (Graves advocated mushroom tripping at key moments such as the onset of puberty and the approach of death, but added, “Not that I should care to enroll myself in any such cult.”) Profiling with enthusiasm such relatively recent myconauts as the late Terence McKenna, who wedded psychedelia to cyberia during the 1980s and ’90s, Letcher laments that there’s no big, Leary-like figure to lead the mushroom charge today. He makes it clear, though, that many devotees around the world still enjoy the “chemical jiggery-pokery” of replacing alpha waves with beta waves, knocking down serotonin feedback loops and otherwise short-circuiting their heads in the interest of finding what lies beyond.

Just the thing for a budding myconaut. A few copies will doubtless make the rounds at the DEA, too.

Pub Date: March 1st, 2007
ISBN: 0-06-082828-5
Page count: 384pp
Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1st, 2006