From bread to booze to the very fiber of life, the world turns on fungi, and Sheldrake provides a top-notch portrait.



A deep-running mycological inquiry from fungal biologist Sheldrake.

“Fungi provide a key to understanding the planet on which we live, and the ways that we think, feel, and behave,” writes the author in this delightfully granular debut book. “Yet they live their lives largely hidden from view, and over ninety percent of their species remain undocumented.” Fungi are busy everywhere, from the bottom of the sea to the recesses of your nostrils, ranging in size from the microscopic to sprawling networks that are among the largest organisms on Earth. Sheldrake does an excellent job conveying just how essential fungi are to the processes of life—“as regenerators, recyclers, and networkers that stitch worlds together”—despite the fact that so little of their operations is fully understood. Sheldrake shows how fungal lives have made him rethink what he thought he knew about evolution, ecosystems, intelligence, and life. The author engagingly instructs on the symbiotic relationship between fungi and the roots of seed plants. “Today,” he writes, “more than ninety percent of all plant species depend on mycorrhizal fungi,” creating an “intimate partnership…complete with cooperation, conflict, and competition.” Sheldrake also explores the curious lives of truffles and lichen (“A portion of the minerals in your body is likely to have passed through a lichen at some point”), the evolutionary advantages of ingesting psilocybin mushrooms, and the idea that algae made it out of water and onto dry land only with the help of fungi. Certainly one of the most vital and fascinating aspects of fungi has to do with environmental remediation. “Human waste streams are being reimagined in terms of fungal appetites,” writes the author, who notes how mycological solutions have been deployed in the service of corralling oil spills, combating honeybees’ colony collapse disorder, and creating building materials, from sustainable, biodegradable furniture to entire buildings.

From bread to booze to the very fiber of life, the world turns on fungi, and Sheldrake provides a top-notch portrait. (b/w illustrations)

Pub Date: May 12, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-51031-4

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: March 2, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2020

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A lucid (in the sky with diamonds) look at the hows, whys, and occasional demerits of altering one’s mind.

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Building on his lysergically drenched book How to Change Your Mind (2018), Pollan looks at three plant-based drugs and the mental effects they can produce.

The disastrous war on drugs began under Nixon to control two classes of perceived enemies: anti-war protestors and Black citizens. That cynical effort, writes the author, drives home the point that “societies condone the mind-changing drugs that help uphold society’s rule and ban the ones that are seen to undermine it.” One such drug is opium, for which Pollan daringly offers a recipe for home gardeners to make a tea laced with the stuff, producing “a radical and by no means unpleasant sense of passivity.” You can’t overthrow a government when so chilled out, and the real crisis is the manufacture of synthetic opioids, which the author roundly condemns. Pollan delivers a compelling backstory: This section dates to 1997, but he had to leave portions out of the original publication to keep the Drug Enforcement Administration from his door. Caffeine is legal, but it has stronger effects than opium, as the author learned when he tried to quit: “I came to see how integral caffeine is to the daily work of knitting ourselves back together after the fraying of consciousness during sleep.” Still, back in the day, the introduction of caffeine to the marketplace tempered the massive amounts of alcohol people were drinking even though a cup of coffee at noon will keep banging on your brain at midnight. As for the cactus species that “is busy transforming sunlight into mescaline right in my front yard”? Anyone can grow it, it seems, but not everyone will enjoy effects that, in one Pollan experiment, “felt like a kind of madness.” To his credit, the author also wrestles with issues of cultural appropriation, since in some places it’s now easier for a suburbanite to grow San Pedro cacti than for a Native American to use it ceremonially.

A lucid (in the sky with diamonds) look at the hows, whys, and occasional demerits of altering one’s mind.

Pub Date: July 6, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-29690-5

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: April 14, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2021

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A straightforward, carefully detailed presentation of how ``fruit comes from flowers,'' from winter's snow-covered buds through pollination and growth to ripening and harvest. Like the text, the illustrations are admirably clear and attractive, including the larger-than-life depiction of the parts of the flower at different stages. An excellent contribution to the solidly useful ``Let's-Read-and-Find-Out-Science'' series. (Nonfiction/Picture book. 4-9)

Pub Date: Jan. 30, 1992

ISBN: 0-06-020055-3

Page Count: 32

Publisher: HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 1991

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