Serious readers will delight in these pages.

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THE MUSHROOM AT THE END OF THE WORLD

ON THE POSSIBILITY OF LIFE IN CAPITALIST RUINS

An unusually rewarding meditation on how a wild mushroom can help us see the world’s ruined condition after the advent of modern capitalism.

The matsutake—a beloved species of mushroom that fetches high prices in Japan—is a survivor that grows inches below ground in deeply human-disturbed forests. Difficult to find and impossible to cultivate, it is said to have been the first living thing to emerge from the devastated landscape of Hiroshima. Bursting with ideas and observations, Tsing’s (Anthropology/Univ. of California, Santa Cruz; Friction: An Ethnography of Global Connection, 2004, etc.) highly original ethnographic study follows this spicy-smelling mushroom’s global commodity chain, from the forests of Oregon’s Cascade Mountains and elsewhere to Tokyo auction markets. She recounts her interviews with mushroom pickers, scientists, and entrepreneurs in the United States, Asia, and elsewhere to explore the matsutake’s commerce and ecology. “We are stuck with the problem of living despite economic and ecological ruination,” she writes. “Neither tales of progress nor of ruin tell us how to think about collaborative survival. It is time to pay attention to mushroom picking. Not that this will save us—but it might open our imaginations.” In prose that is both scholarly and deeply personal, Tsing shows how the matsutake, emblematic of survival amid changing circumstances, thrives in transformative collaboration with trees and other species and points the way toward coexisting with environmental disturbance (“the uncontrolled lives of mushrooms are a gift—and a guide—when the controlled world we thought we had fails”). The author covers a staggering array of topics, from freedom, foraging, and forestry to DNA research and the music of John Cage. Consistently fascinating, her story of the picking and selling of this wild mushroom becomes a wonderful window on contemporary life.

Serious readers will delight in these pages.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-691-16275-1

Page Count: 360

Publisher: Princeton Univ.

Review Posted Online: June 30, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2015

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A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular...

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WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR

A neurosurgeon with a passion for literature tragically finds his perfect subject after his diagnosis of terminal lung cancer.

Writing isn’t brain surgery, but it’s rare when someone adept at the latter is also so accomplished at the former. Searching for meaning and purpose in his life, Kalanithi pursued a doctorate in literature and had felt certain that he wouldn’t enter the field of medicine, in which his father and other members of his family excelled. “But I couldn’t let go of the question,” he writes, after realizing that his goals “didn’t quite fit in an English department.” “Where did biology, morality, literature and philosophy intersect?” So he decided to set aside his doctoral dissertation and belatedly prepare for medical school, which “would allow me a chance to find answers that are not in books, to find a different sort of sublime, to forge relationships with the suffering, and to keep following the question of what makes human life meaningful, even in the face of death and decay.” The author’s empathy undoubtedly made him an exceptional doctor, and the precision of his prose—as well as the moral purpose underscoring it—suggests that he could have written a good book on any subject he chose. Part of what makes this book so essential is the fact that it was written under a death sentence following the diagnosis that upended his life, just as he was preparing to end his residency and attract offers at the top of his profession. Kalanithi learned he might have 10 years to live or perhaps five. Should he return to neurosurgery (he could and did), or should he write (he also did)? Should he and his wife have a baby? They did, eight months before he died, which was less than two years after the original diagnosis. “The fact of death is unsettling,” he understates. “Yet there is no other way to live.”

A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular clarity.

Pub Date: Jan. 19, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8129-8840-6

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

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