There is a lifeform so strange and wondrous that it forces us to rethink how life works…
Neither plant nor animal, it is found throughout the earth, the air and our bodies. It can be microscopic, yet also accounts for the largest organisms ever recorded, living for millennia and weighing tens of thousands of tonnes. Its ability to digest rock enabled the first life on land, it can survive unprotected in space, and thrives amidst nuclear radiation.
In this captivating adventure, Merlin Sheldrake explores the spectacular and neglected world of fungi: endlessly surprising organisms that sustain nearly all living systems. They can solve problems without a brain, stretching traditional definitions of ‘intelligence’, and can manipulate animal behaviour with devastating precision. In giving us bread, alcohol and life-saving medicines, fungi have shaped human history, and their psychedelic properties, which have influenced societies since antiquity, have recently been shown to alleviate a number of mental illnesses. The ability of fungi to digest plastic, explosives, pesticides and crude oil is being harnessed in break-through technologies, and the discovery that they connect plants in underground networks, the ‘Wood Wide Web’, is transforming the way we understand ecosystems. Yet they live their lives largely out of sight, and over ninety percent of their species remain undocumented.
Entangled Life is a mind-altering journey into this hidden kingdom of life, and shows that fungi are key to understanding the planet on which we live, and the ways we think, feel and behave. The more we learn about fungi, the less makes sense without them.
Merlin is the author of Entangled Life: How Fungi Make Our Worlds, Change Our Minds, and Shape Our Futures. Merlin received a Ph.D. in tropical ecology from Cambridge University for his work on underground fungal networks in tropical forests in Panama, where he was a predoctoral research fellow of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. He is a research associate of the Vrije University, Amsterdam, and sits on the advisory board of the Fungi Foundation and the Society for the Protection of Underground Networks.
Entangled Life is an international bestseller, winner of the Wainwright Prize 2021, and has been nominated for a host of other prizes, including the British Book Awards Book of the Year 2021 for Narrative Non-Fiction and the Rathbones Folio Prize 2021. Entangled Life was also featured as Radio 4’s Book of the Week and selected as a Book of the Year in The Times, Daily Telegraph, Sunday Times, New Statesman and Time, among others. It has been translated into twenty languages.
Okay, before I even get into this review, how perfect is this guy's name? Not only does he study mushrooms, he has a name like a professor in one of the Harry Potter books. Which is perfect, since mushrooms do have a bit of a reputation for being mysterious, sinister, and even kind of spooky. Which, if you read this book, you'll find out is a reputation that they totally deserve.
ENTANGLED LIFE is all about fungi (because they're fun, guys!), written by an author for whom this is clearly a passion project. It's like a non-stupid version of Goop Lab, only completely mushroom-oriented... or like Bill Nye for a higher grade level. In his quest to study the wild shroom, Sheldrake does all kinds of things like tromping through the rainforest to count flowers for a mushroom network, experiencing a "fermentation bath" (rotting wood and mushrooms-- ahh, relaxing!), or tripping out on LSD in a controlled lab environment... for SCIENCE!
I learned so much from this book that I didn't even know, like how cordyceps mushrooms (zombie fungi) take over carpenter ants, march them to their place of death mafia-style, only to consume the ant and sprout a mushroom out of its head when they're finished like they're some sort of hideous nightmare Pikmin creature! Or that mushrooms are actually more closely related to animals than plants. Mushrooms even have sort of a "hive mind" dynamic, because if you measure the electrical output of mushrooms while exposing one of them to a flame or chemical stimulus, several other mushrooms in the network will give a jolt of electricity. The author also quotes a scientist who refers to lichen as "a sensational romance...[an] unnatural union between a captive Algal damsel and a tyrant Fungal master."
OH MY GOSH you guys. I knew there was a reason I thought lichen was cool! It's basically the scientific equivalent of a medieval bodice ripper. SIGN ME UP.
Also, I learned about a really cool plant called "ghost pipes," which would be an excellent name for a Goth rock band. Ghost pipes are basically albino vampire plants that look like mushrooms and don't need to photosynthesize because of the presence of... FUNGUS. (Yaaaass!)
The book ends with some of the more practical applications of mushrooms, like how mycelium can be used to make furniture, biodegradable packing materials, and even clothes. Or how the presence of fungus can change the taste of bread, spices, and other foods for the better. And then there's a chapter about yeast and how it is used to create ciders and beers. Whether it's tasty, scary, or poisonous, this book isn't afraid to delve into it, as long as it's mushroom related.
I know we're all quarantined right now but if any of you are ever in San Francisco, there's a stall in the Ferry Building that's entirely mushroom-related and they have all these really exotic edible mushrooms that are hard to find, as well as colorful posters depicting mushroom taxonomies. I thought of that stall several times while reading this book.
ENTANGLED LIFE is definitely a must-read to learn more about the fungus among us.
Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review!
I have always found mushrooms magical. The way they suddenly appear overnight after a rainstorm amazes me. Walk down a forest path one day and see nothing. The next morning, suddenly you encounter hundreds of them. Bright or dull, colourful or drab, they are everywhere you look.
But where do they come from and how do they burst through the ground, fully formed, overnight?
What I didn't know before reading this book, aside from how they appear like magic, is that mushrooms are the fruit of fungi. Like an apple which lies on an orchard floor waiting to be eaten and its seeds dispersed through the intestines of a bird, the mushroom is full of spores that need to be distributed farther afield.
Entangled Life: How Fungi Make Our Worlds, Change Our Minds & Shape Our Futures is a fascinating glimpse into the world of all things fungi. A world that is intimately entangled with just about everything else on earth.
I made so many highlights in this book that it would take pages to share with you everything I learned. It is full of the most alluring details about fungi. Life as we know it would not exist if it wasn't for fungi. We have fungi living inside us and all around us. They even seed clouds and stimulate the formation of raindrops or snowflakes!
Fungi inhabited the earth long before plants made their way onto the scene. And it was because of fungi that plants were able to move onto land. Fungi acted as the roots of water plants until they were able to evolve roots of their own, which took some fifty million years.
Fungi continue to have a symbiotic relationship with plants. Of course, there are some species which are detrimental to certain plants, and yet they could not live without the help of fungi. Fungi connect plants and trees through the "world wide wood", providing them nutrients and making their fruits more or less juicier and sweeter.
The mycelial networks in the ground “compute” information encoded in spikes of electrical activity, allowing plants to communicate with each other. When an aphid begins eating the leaves of a plant, it can send out an alarm to others of its kind through the mycelial network, prompting them to put off chemicals that will keep the aphids away.
But it's not just plants whose lives are made possible by fungi. It is also our own. They live in our guts and help us get nutrients from food. Food that wouldn't even exist if it wasn't for fungi! They nourish us with their mushroom "fruit".... as long as we know which to avoid! Eat the wrong mushroom and it's bye bye to you. Psilocybin found in certain "magic mushrooms" help alleviate depression and break addiction.
Merlin Sheldrake (isn't his name the coolest!?) talks about these things and so much more. Bunches and bundles and gobs and heaps of fungi facts!
Here are a few of my highlights:
❇︎ "Like plants, fungi can “see” color across the spectrum using receptors sensitive to blue light and red light—unlike plants, fungi also have opsins, the light-sensitive pigments present in the rods and cones of animal eyes."
❇︎ "Most fungi are able to detect and respond to light (its direction, intensity, or color), temperature, moisture, nutrients, toxins, and electrical fields."
❇︎ Some fungi can be taught to break down radioactive material, cigarette butts, and dirty diapers and use it for their energy.
❇︎ There are between "2.2 and 3.8 million species of fungi in the world—six to ten times the estimated number of plant species", of which over 90% remain undocumented.
❇︎ Fungi are more like animals than plants.
❇︎ Fungi not only give us penicillin, they also give us statins to lower cholesterol and many powerful antiviral and anticancer compounds
(Because certain species of fungi are so good at fighting viruses, I hope that somewhere in the world, a mycologist is in her lab trying to find one which can extirpate Covid19.)
Mr. Sheldrake has so much more information and so many more facts in this book. It's impossible for me to do justice in a review.
This book is very accessible even if one doesn't have a background in biology (which I do not) and is highly readable. I was enrapt through the entirety of the book. How could I not be when I learned new things on every single page of this book!? Fungi are incredible!
They make our lives possible, and they make our lives better.... as long as we know which ones to avoid.
The author also discusses the use of fungi for fabricating new materials, such as "leather" and a material that replaces brick, particle boards, and concrete. I found this fascinating ... and yet couldn't help but consider the ethicality of killing fungi for "microfabrics". I know, I know, this is going to make some people scoff, and that's OK. For me though, because fungi display an array of intelligent characteristics, I can't help but worry that perhaps they are intelligent and sentient. However, unless and until we learn that they are, it is more ethical to make "leather" from these fungi than from animal skins.
It is also better for the environment, as "Hundreds of square feet of mycelial leather can be grown in less than a week on materials that would otherwise be disposed of."
Mr. Sheldrake discusses climate change as well as the effect intensive farming practices have on fungal species. "A combination of plowing and application of chemical fertilizers or fungicides—reduce the abundance of mycorrhizal fungi." This poses a worry to future food production because a plant seed that cannot find suitable fungi is unlikely to survive.
It is apparent throughout the book that life on earth owes much of its thanks to fungi, and yet fungi is perhaps the least understood life form on earth.
Kudos to Merlin Sheldrake for writing such an engrossing and educational book. I highly recommend it!
4.5 This book is a perfect length for the content - just enough to feel sated - and it’s organized into sections of thought, from:
1) how mushroom trips can rewire the neural pathways in your brain to alleviate depression, anxiety and addiction, and inspire creativity and new ways to solve problems; to:
2) a section on the environment and how fungi could save our planet by both decomposing toxic waste, and composing organic materials to replace leather and wood, in addition to possibly saving our bees; to
3) a chapter on a species of fungi that bursts open the skull of an ant and uses its body to perform acts that benefit the fungus, but that it can’t perform in its original form (straight up science feels like science fiction here).
It is well written and wonderfully entertaining. Oh, and did I say? It blew my mind.
Some books deserve all the stars in the world, Entangled Life being one of them. I’ve read quite a few science books so far, and in each of them I have found something to fascinate me. But none of them managed to immerse me so deeply into it like this one.
Fungi must be the most incredible subject out there, along with universe and brain, due to their similar structure.* The book has 229 pages (the rest are notes and bibliography) and it took me more than two weeks to finish it. And that’s because every few pages I’ve put it aside and searched the net for all kinds of references, talks, interviews, articles, and so on. I had no idea how useful the fungi are and how many new fields are now studying them.
Among their myriad useful purposes, they can be ‘trained’ to decompose almost anything, even heavy metals. That is the case of Pleurotus, which can break down crude oil, cigarette butts or used diapers, among other pollutants.
Fungi have highly powerful antiviral properties, the most stunning effect being when added to bees’ sugar water: “Adding a one percent extract of amadou (or Fomes) and reishi (Ganoderma, the species used to grow materials at Ecovative) to bees’ sugar water reduced deformed wings virus eighty-fold. Fomes extracts reduced levels of Lake Sinai virus nearly ninety-fold, and Ganoderma extracts reduced it forty-five thousand fold. Steve Sheppard, a professor of entomology at Washington State University and one of Stamets’s collaborators on the study, observed that he had not encountered any other substance that could extend the life of bees to this extent.”
The book is so well structured and written: chapters are grouped by topics, and the author describes a lot of experiments conducted by himself or others, many quite humorous, and all sooooo captivating! There are so many awe moments in the book, and I think I’ve saved at least 10% of the book as quotes, but there are plenty of them in the other reviews, and so I won’t add any others here. The book being so short and so incredibly fascinating, it would be a pity not to read it all.
However, I will leave below some links, the most interesting I have found in my net wanderings:
About biocomputing, a conversation between Andrew Adamatzky, Professor in Unconventional Computing in the Department of Computer Science and Director of the Unconventional Computing Laboratory, University of the West of England, Bristol, UK, and Merlin Sheldrake, the author: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c-LIV...
I have a life-long love for and fascination with mushrooms. Partially because they are delicious, but I also remember finding them almost magical when I was a kid: they could appear overnight, had the strangest shapes, colors and textures. In my mind, they were almost like alien plants. Later, I learned a little bit about their complex interconnectedness, their adaptability and strange reproduction method – and that only made them more fascinating!
Merlin Sheldrake’s book is an engrossing, entertaining and very informative read on all things fungi. Take note, Jeff VanderMeer fans: reading this will only freak you out more about the Grey Caps and the Ambergris mythology!
I knew a few things about the so-called wood wide web, that fungi is closer to animal than to vegetal, and that the mushrooms we see are only the metaphorical tip of a very large and complex fungi iceberg, but “Entangled Life” took me much deeper – mushrooms, as it turns out, are even more fascinating than I had thought!
While this book is certainly a wonderfully accessible work on the science of fungi, Sheldrake goes an extra step to also be thought-provoking. He wants the readers to question certain things, like the definition of intelligence, see if they can shift their perspective on the world and its structure – all that by looking at how fungi grow, feed, mate and communicate.
From problem-solving intelligence and hijacking insect bodies to get to the ideal fruiting location, to healing human illness or just giving us really weird hallucinations, mycology shows that fungus are a varied and complex class of organisms, and that without the delicate symbiotic balance between fungus and vegetation, life on the planet would not have been possible. Sheldrake explores all these topics, putting concepts like evolution, collaboration and even consciousness in a different and very interesting perspective. Studying mushrooms could potentially help us understand how to adapt more effectively to our environment, grow healthier and stronger crops, and maybe one day find effective ways of managing pollution and replacing plastic and other wasteful matter with mycelium.
I was very struck by the passage on how organic agriculture respects the mycelial relationship between the fungus in the ground and the crops, and Sheldrake’s thoughts on how hallucinogenic mushrooms might actually be showing us how mushrooms themselves perceive the world – as interconnected.
Sheldrake’s prose is very readable, and he explains complex scientific processes in simple and accessible language, which makes the whole book fun to read and easy to process. He is also clearly passionate about his topic, verging on the mythical fascination. A lot of science books have an extremely grounded tone, and his (ironically, considering he studies stuff that’s literally in the ground) is almost spiritual, which is surprising, but not unpleasant.
Overall, a great book on an absolutely fascinating subject. Thank you Camelia Rose, for putting this wonderful book on my radar!
Entangled Life is a well-chosen title. These two words perfectly describe this book. While it is about fungi, Sheldrake delivers a much broader message. One about relationships and the perspectives we adopt to see those relationships. These are not relationships between people but relationships between different forms of life: Fungi, microbes, plants and animals including humans. We see how the world we know depends on these relationships, and the critical role fungi play in these relationships.
Fungi can be microscopic specks or behemoths that weigh hundreds of tons spreading kilometers underground and living for thousands of years. The spreading is done by fine threads of material that make up the fungi called mycelium. Mycelial fungi are a network of threads that branch and interconnect. This network entangles plant roots, other fungi and food sources. The threads can converge to produce fruit to spread spores. Mushrooms and truffles are fungal fruit composed of the same mycelium that that comprise the fungi. Sheldrake spends a chapter on hunting truffles in Italy. The book is filled with such stories to engage the reader as he makes his points about the role of fungi in the chain of life.
Symbiotic relationships with fungi are everywhere. Lichens consisting of fungi and green algae or photosynthesizing bacteria are widespread throughout the world. They do well outside of the world too. Put outside the space station for six months, the lichens quickly revived when brought back in. Sheldrake notes some lichens can withstand 1200 times the radiation that would kill a person. In addition to the bacteria and algae in lichens fungi form mutually beneficial relationships with plants. Fungi can grab nutrients from just about anything. With their prolific use of enzymes and acids they decompose wood and even break down rock for nutrients. They provide plants nutrients, such a phosphorous, nitrogen, zinc and copper in exchange for sugars and lipids the plants produce. Sheldrake claims plant life would never have made it to land without fungi. In forests and other lands not ruined by human intervention fungi form what Sheldrake calls the “wood wide web.” He likens it to a natural underground internet over which nutrients are exchanged and signals transmitted.
Take two bean plants. One is attacked by aphids. It sends out a chemical signal to attract wasps that eat aphids. The bean plants are linked by a mycelial fungus entangled with their roots. The chemical signal enters the fungal threads and is picked up by the other bean plant which now prepares its defense against aphids sending out its own signal to attract wasps. This is where it gets interesting. Which organism is in charge of this relationship? Is it the first bean plant sending out the signal altruistically warning its neighbors? Or does the chemical signal just inadvertently get carried into the mycelial network along with sugars and other chemicals? Is the second bean plant eavesdropping on its neighbor to find out what’s happening in the hood? Or is the fungus in charge? It’s involved with both bean plants. Does it transfer the chemical signal to make sure all its symbionts stay informed and healthy? Sheldrake is not implying that these organisms are operating with motives, just that these are possible ways they evolved. When you add in bacteria and viruses that may also be involved, the complexity becomes even greater. So rather than think of individuals, we need to think in terms of systems. Today we understand that we are also systems with as many cells in our body that are not our own as there are human ones. We are just learning about the critical role these microbes play in our lives.
Fungi challenge our notion of what it takes to be intelligent or at least to calculate, solve problems and remember. Mycelial fungi don’t have a head, brain, nervous system or any center of activity. Yet these fungi work their way around obstacles and find the best route to food sources changing strategies as necessary. Take a wood rotting fungus. It will send its mycelial threads out in all directions to locate a new food source. If one thread finds a piece of wood, immediately the fungus will begin to thicken those threads. Simultaneously it will shorten the other threads. Yet the entire fungus is just a network of threads. There is no central command. Yet it quickly communicates to all parts of the network, makes decisions and changes behavior based on circumstances. Once it finishes with the new wood it will move on to another. Going from food source to food source, it can migrate far from where it started, just by lengthening some threads and shortening others. In experiments a block of wood already being devoured by fungus is placed near a clean second block of wood. The fungus spreads in all directions and some threads find the new wood. The fungus reinforces the threads to the new wood and shortens others. Now, take away the first piece of wood, cut off all the threads extending out of it and put it on a dish by itself. It will grow in the direction in which it had found the new wood. The fungus remembers where the threads found food.
This is a wonderful book. It shakes you out of the torpor of conventional thinking. It elicits a sense of wonder about just how strange the fabric of life is. Very highly recommended.
"We commonly think of animals and plants as matter, but they are really systems through which matter is constantly passing."
Things that delighted me: – 2 citations from Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer, which everyone should also read – a quoted passage from Galadriel in LOTR and the newfound knowledge that J.R.R. Tolkein was a consumer of mycelial research – illustrations rendered in ink made of mushrooms
"Our descriptions warp and deform the phenomena we describe, but sometimes this is the only way to talk about features of the world: to say what they are like but what they are not."
Things I learned: so much! – Fungal spores trigger the formation of water droplets in clouds—they trigger the weather! – Fungi can reconfigure their digestion to consume all sorts of toxic things people produce: cigarette butts, used diapers, radioactive particles, even plastic! – Fungi are ingenious beings wholly consumed by consuming.
"Once more, a global crisis is turning into a suite of fungal opportunities."
Why everyone should read this book: – It will change the way you think, not only about fungi, but how you approach thinking about anything that is a given. – There is hope sourced in mycelial bodies; this book gives just a few tastes of all the ways fungi can help save the world.
"If you say that a plant 'learns,' 'decides,' 'communicates,' or 'remembers,' are you humanizing the plant or vegetalizing a set of human concepts?"
Takeaways: I want to know more! This book enchanted me, took me on an entangled journey, demonstrated earth-shifting realizations, and showed me just how much I still have no inkling of. It left me in a mood that rhymes with our mycelial friends: I’ve just eaten a mouthful, a stomachful, but I want more, more, more.
Lots of drawn-out writing, especially about anthropomorphization and linguistic issues. Not so much science. Do we have the wrong metaphors for fungi and plants? I couldn't care less. It is easy to write about, but not very scientifically productive.
Furthermore, even when it comes to science, every point is drawn out excessively, and the author gives a completely non-critical summary of lots of well-known phenomena. For example, fungal networks for computation. This is something that should be looked at carefully and critically, not just accepted with a "gee whiz" like a Wired magazine article. The chapter on psychedelics is a retread of Michael Pollan.
I really would have liked to have seen the author's own work be much more emphasized. Sheldrake is a biologist, or at least he has a Ph.D., but much of this book is just shallow interviews with other scientists, like you'd get from any journalist.
On the plus side, there was some good science. The most interesting parts to me, were the stories about fungal parasites, which are much more common than I had heard of. Also I was quite interested to hear about the plants that parasites on mycelial networks, ultimately getting their nutrition from other plants. I liked the author's perspective that mycelial networks are not just links between trees, but facilitate links between trees, possibly to help themselves. Allowing nutrients to flow from some trees to other trees and possibly back, helps the fungi keep a stable host ecosystem.
The illustrations, originally drawn with ink from Shaggy ink cap mushrooms, were also great.
> besides penicillin: cyclosporine (an immunosuppressant drug that makes organ transplants possible), cholesterol-lowering statins, a host of powerful antiviral and anticancer compounds (including the multibillion-dollar drug Taxol, originally extracted from the fungi that live within yew trees), not to mention alcohol (fermented by a yeast) and psilocybin (the active component in psychedelic mushrooms
> Some fungi have tens of thousands of mating types, approximately equivalent to our sexes (the record holder is the split gill fungus, Schizophyllum commune, which has more than twenty-three thousand mating types, each of which is sexually compatible with nearly every one of the others). The mycelium of many fungi can fuse with other mycelial networks if they are genetically similar enough, even if they aren't sexually compatible
> One partner plays a paternal role, providing genetic material only. The other plays a maternal role, providing genetic material and growing the flesh that matures into truffles and spores. Truffles differ from humans in that either + or - mating types can be maternal or paternal
> Fungi produce plant growth hormones that manipulate roots, causing them to proliferate into masses of feathery branches—with a greater surface area, the chances of an encounter between root tips and fungal hyphae become more likely.
> nematode-eating fungi only produce worm-hunting organs and issue a chemical summons when they sense nematodes are close by. If there is plenty of material to rot, they don't bother, even if worms abound
> The methods fungi use to hunt nematodes are grisly and diverse. It is a habit that has evolved multiple times—many fungal lineages have reached a similar conclusion but in different ways. Some fungi grow adhesive nets, or branches to which nematodes stick. Some use mechanical means, producing hyphal nooses that inflate in a tenth of a second when touched, ensnaring their prey. Some—including the commonly cultivated oyster mushroom (Pleurotus ostreatus)—produce hyphal stalks capped with a single toxic droplet that paralyzes nematodes, giving the hypha enough time to grow through their mouth and digest the worm from the inside. Others produce spores that can swim through the soil, chemically drawn toward nematodes, to which they bind. Once attached, the spores sprout and the fungus harpoons the worm with specialized hyphae known as "gun cells."
> Olsson and Adamatzky have shown that mycelium can be electrically sensitive, but they haven't shown that electrical impulses can link a stimulus to a response.
> they describe fossilized mycelium preserved in the fractures of ancient lava flows. The fossils show branching filaments that "touch and entangle each other." The "tangled network" they form, the dimensions of the hyphae, the dimensions of spore-like structures, and the pattern of its growth all closely resemble modern-day fungal mycelium. It is an extraordinary discovery because the fossils date from 2.4 billion years ago, more than a billion years before fungi were thought to have branched off the tree of life.
> Lichens encrust as much as eight percent of the planet's surface, an area larger than that covered by tropical rainforests. They clad rocks, trees, roofs, fences, cliffs, and the surface of deserts … Most rocky shorelines are rimmed with lichen. Lichens start where the seaweeds stop, and some extend down into the water.
> The names used to describe lichens sound like afflictions, words that get stuck in your teeth: crustose (crusty), foliose (leafy), squamulose (scaly), leprose (dusty), fruticose (branched). Fruticose lichens drape and tuft; crustose and squamulose lichens creep and seep; foliose lichens layer and flake
> In some situations, lichens reproduce without breaking up their relationship—fragments of a lichen containing all the symbiotic partners can travel as one to a new location and grow into a new lichen. In other situations, lichen fungi produce spores that travel alone. Upon arrival in a new place, the fungus must meet a compatible photobiont
> Lichens have evolved independently between nine and twelve times since. Today, one in five of all known fungal species form lichens, or "lichenize." Some fungi (such as Penicillium molds) used to lichenize but don't anymore; they have de-lichenized. Some fungi have switched to different types of photosynthetic partner
> The 'basic set' of partners is different for every lichen group. Some have more bacteria, some fewer; some have one yeast species, some have two, or none. Interestingly, we have yet to find any lichen that matches the traditional definition of one fungus and one alga."
> Abram Hoffer, a Canadian psychiatrist and researcher into the effects of LSD in the 1950s, remarked that "from the first, we considered not the chemical, but the experience as a key factor in therapy." … psychedelics like psilocybin "dope-slap people out of their story. It's literally a reboot of the system
> Layers of dead and un-rotted forest built up, storing so much carbon that atmospheric carbon dioxide levels crashed, and the planet entered a period of global cooling. Plants had caused the climate crisis, and plants were hit the hardest by it: Huge areas of tropical forest were wiped out in an extinction event known as the Carboniferous rainforest collapse.
> African Macrotermes termites are some of the more striking examples. Macrotermes, like most termites, spend much of their lives foraging for wood, although they aren't able to eat it. Instead, the termites cultivate a white rot fungus—Termitomyces—that digests it for them. The termites chew wood into a slurry that they regurgitate in fungal gardens, known as the "fungus comb," by contrast with bees' honeycomb. The fungus uses radical chemistry to decompose the wood.
> Mycoheterotrophs—"hackers" of the wood wide web—have lost the ability to photosynthesize and draw their nutrients from mycorrhizal fungal networks that lace their way through soil.
[15 Feb 2021] This is a rambling but fascinating paean to fungi. The author is very enthusiastic about the subject, especially mycorrhizal networks, and makes them interesting to the reader. His style is accessible and clear. But the organization of the book is somewhat lacking. It's as though you were sitting with an expert on a subject and just talking. He moves from one topic to another, with interspersed personal anecdotes, but without clear logic. I enjoyed the book on the whole but there were a couple of holes that bothered me.
One, he doesn't really explain what a fungus is. He doesn't even try and in fact in the last chapter refuses to address the issue, saying it's impossible to categorize fungi. That may be true, but I would like to have seen some discussion, for instance, of how yeasts, mushrooms, and toe fungus are related. How do you know they're all fungi? Because they seem very different. He spends a lot of time on the behavior of fungi, but not on their basic characteristics.
Also, he discusses fungi as if they are all miraculous and beneficial, but hardly even mentions the less than beneficial side. What about all the fungal diseases of plants, animals, and humans. As someone who has dealt with both toe fungus and yeast infections, I would like to have seen some coverage of the less wonderful aspects of fungi.
Still, I would recommend reading this book if you are at all interested in this strange family of lifeforms.
Let's start with some music, appropriately "Women Gathering Mushrooms", a recording of the Aka people living in the forests of the Central African Republic. It's an example of musical polyphony. Polyphony is singing more than one part, or telling more than one story, at the same time. Unlike the harmonies in a barbershop quartet, the voices of the women never weld into a unified front. No voice surrenders its individual identity. Nor does any one voice steal the show. There is no front woman, no soloist, no leader. . . . The many songs coalesce to make one song that doesn't exist in any one of the voices alone.
Fungi are like that, polyphony in bodily form. They are connecting networks, connected to each other, to plants, and, well, to us. Here's an example:
That's Monotropa uniflora, a plant species that long ago lost the ability to photosynthesize. Instead, Monotropa receives the carbon and nutrients that it needs from other plants, but through a fungal network. Researchers in the field call this the Wood Wide Web.
This book was fascinating; informative and extremely well-written. The author is a biologist specializing in the study of underground fungal networks in tropical forests, so he knows his way around a microscope, but he's also a full participant. He volunteered as a patient in a controlled LSD experiment, submerged himself - naked - in decomposing wood chips for hours, and fermented brew from apples fallen from an offspring of Isaac Newton's famous, if apocryphal, tree.
I learned about zombie fungus :
It's a long, unpleasant story, but the takeaway is that the fungus gets the carpenter ant to climb to a height where the fungus can then essentially take over its body. The author suggests that this mind-control is what's happening when humans take psilocybin (magic mushrooms or LSD).
You will learn here how to grow oyster mushrooms out of baby poop (removing the plastic from the diapers first, of course), how mushrooms can 'consume' Saddam Hussein's VX gas, degrade pesticides and remove infectious diseases like E. coli.
In principle, fungi are some of the best-qualified organisms for environmental remediation. And did I mention that the material made from the outer layer of the portabella mushroom shows promise in replacing the graphite in lithium batteries and white rot fungi has been used to reduce bee mortality dramatically?
Sex? Well There's the Stinkhorn, which, I now know, does indeed stink terribly. Yet its Latin name - Phallus impudicus - has been known to make some genteel souls blush:
And, in the Native American Language of Potawotomi, the word puhpowee translates as "the force which causes mushrooms to push up from the earth overnight" or, really, "any other shaft rising mysteriously in the night."
There are poisonous mushrooms, of course, ones that blow out the rear ends of cicadas, and ones that spread the most deadly disease ever recorded, threatening all amphibians. Yet, fungi often find the cure to sickness first, and pass it along through that network.
It's a beautiful book, too, from its cover to multiple drawings to very helpful pictures. If it might bother you, be advised there are 225 pages of text, and 125 pages of acknowledgements, bibliography, endnotes and index.
I will never look at a mushroom the same way ever again.
Winner of the 2021 Wainwright Prize for Writing on Global Conservation
A fascinating exploration of fungi with chapters on:
Truffles/mushrooms – as the edible fruiting bodies but also most obvious manifestations of fungi
Mycelium – the living labyrinths of fungi
Lichens – a fascinating chapter which explores their existence as a symbiotic relationship (now often called mutualism) between a fungus and an alga
Mycelial minds – which explores the halluceogenic properties of fungi
Before roots – which describes how fungi were the early root networks of the first plants and even now have often complex relationships with plants – relationships we often view with a very plant-centric worldview. One fascinating comparison here draws a parallel between modern agriculture and its implicit assumption that the life of the soil and the role of fungi is somewhere between irrelevant and unhelpful and the attitude (until recently) of modern medicine to gut bacteria
Wood wide webs – further exploring the relationships between plants/trees and fungi
Radical mycology – which looks at those who advocate for a crucial role for fungi in solving world issues
Making sense of fungi – which is mainly based around yeasts
These are all simplistic descriptions – the book is wide ranging, often more interested in posing questions or giving alternative views than giving simple answers or go for straight explanation.
Overall a fascinating book which has added to my appreciation of the wood floor on my daily walks through woods – even today I spotted many different types of visible fungi, the copious evidence of fungal decomposition and the downside of fungi/tree interaction – Ash Dieback.
Merlin Sheldrake, the author of Entangled Life: How Fungi Make Our Worlds, Change Our Minds, and Shape Our Future, kindly sent me an advance copy and asked for comment. It is due to be published this May by Random House. One might naturally be inclined to form certain assumptions about someone named Merlin. That they are a wizard, perhaps, or at least capable of casting spells. I don’t know if he is a wizard, but what I can tell you is that he has written an enchanting book. It has had me spell-bound for many hours, as Merlin invited me to tag along on his explorations of the mycosphere, the invisible fungal kingdom that is everywhere in nature and yet only rarely noticed. Merlin Sheldrake has obviously noticed, and his knowledge of his specialty (mycology) and his enthusiasm and erudition shines through on every page. Much as a foray in the woods might turn up many beautiful wild mushrooms, Merlin invites us into the fecund forest of his mind to introduce a few of his fungal friends. Each chapter focuses on different facets of fungal biology. In one we learn of the incredible chemical capabilities of truffles, which produce an array of complex volatile compounds that appeal to olfactory sensibilities like nothing else in nature, and as a result, truffles are among of the most valuable and sought after fungi known, often fetching thousands of dollars per kilo. In another, he discusses mycelial networks, the hyperconnected hyphal matrices that permeate ecosystems and sustain and regulate them, that are everywhere and yet unseen, and through their growth patterns, adaptive strategies and symbiotic interactions with plants, demonstrate an inherent intelligence that does not require a brain or nervous system, yet is every bit as complex and clever as any mammalian brain. Another chapter introduces us to lichens, bizarre super-organisms that are really ecosystems unto themselves, symbiotic associations between fungi, algae and bacteria that are able to thrive in some of the most extreme environments on Earth, from blasted deserts to Antarctic glaciers, and (as research is showing) quite able to adapt to extraterrestrial environments. He does not neglect, of course, to discuss the psychoactive fungi that make neurotransmitter analogs like psilocybin that happen to activate receptors in the brain that mediate the deepest human experiences of awe and wonder. But Sheldrake puts this into context by discussing other fungal species that have evolved clever strategies for invading the nervous systems of insects and programming their behavior to optimize their reproductive cycles and spore distribution. Humans may be the most complex organisms whose behavior is affected by fungi, but it is in principle no different than the behavioral engineering they unleash on ants and other insects to entice them to do their bidding. All of this and more does Merlin Sheldrake share with us in his garden of fungal marvels. But readers should not worry that his book may be too dense to comprehend, or accessible only to scientists and specialists. That is not the case at all. Sheldrake has a gift, found among the best science writers, of explaining very complex concepts, identifying the connections that link different disciplines, and serving it all up in such an engaging way that the reader forgets that they are not supposed to understand this stuff. Instead, the reader is carried away on a fantastic fungal foray that’s as hard to put down as a thrilling detective novel. This book is one of the best works of popular science writing that I have enjoyed in years, and I hope that it, and Mr. Sheldrake, receive the attention and accolades that they deserve.
Entangled Life would be better if it discussed fungi biology more and Merlin Sheldrake less. I did learn some worthwhile, interesting tidbits, but ended up skimming a lot of sections where Sheldrake was just going on some meandering philosophical journey of what fungi might mean or things that could be. I just don't like him much. He seems like a nice guy, but it's difficult for me to relate to him or what he cares about.
And to be brutally honest, I think he wasn't being quite open with the reader in this book. There was very little discussion, for example, of how his father, Rupert Sheldrake, may have played a role in gaining Merlin access to his education and subsequent ... oh, I don't know ... freedom to wander around talking to people about how mushrooms can change the world? For example, Merlin mentions at one point how he's known Paul Stamets since he was a teenager. Well, why is that, exactly? Because Stamets, I strongly suspect, is likely friends with his parents, or a friend of his parents' friends.
To put my hesitation here in crude, probably unfair terms ... Entangled Life reminded me a bit of that kid in high school whose winning science fair project just happens to be closely related to what mommy and daddy do for work.
And it seems likely that Sheldrake wrote much of Entangled Life while microdosing on psilocybin, which probably accounts for the meandering, unfocused writing style lots of other reviews note. If he was more honest about the fact that his fascination with fungi is strongly inspired by its psychedelic properties, I would have respected that more. But as it is, he seems to just be ... pretending to be a mainstream scientist, while probably more interested in pursuing the spiritual implications of fungi? Obviously, I don't personally know him, but this was the impression I got from the book.
Also, the story he told at the end of the book about stealing apples from the Newton tree at Cambridge was juvenile and hypocritical. After musing about how the story was likely apocryphal and how the tree was just something for tourists to gape at for its performative purposes, he decides these just HAVE the be the apples he gets for fermentation. So after being told he can't pick some, yeah, he just goes back and night and steals them all for his cider. Honestly, this is the behavior of a privileged American fraternity brother, not a professional scientist. Not cool.
Admittedly, a lot of these criticisms are just my own personal prejudices, and other readers may not be bothered by them. Entangled Life was written well enough, even if it wandered, and if you're a reader interested in the more philosophical side of fungi, you will likely LOVE this. But I really just wanted the biology with a few side stories thrown in, so this wasn't my cup of tea.
Last Gripe: This is now the second review I've written where I find myself riding to the defense of Beatrix Potter. But I was very annoyed when Sheldrake mentions only about how she was wrong concerning lichen, without otherwise giving her any credit for the correct theories about mushrooms she DID develop, which were ignored at the time because she was a woman. I found it dismissive, unfair, and just plain bad manners. Potter was unfairly denied opportunities and diminished while alive ... no reason at all for Sheldrake to continue doing so nowadays.
Entangled Life: How Fungi Make Our Worlds, Change Our Minds & Shape Our Futures by Merlin Sheldrake. Hardcover, 366 pages, pub. 2020 by Random House
I read this book as a favor to someone who promised me that I would thank them when I was done. Well, I'm glad I read it because after all these years I still learned a few things.
I knew a little about flora and fauna. I knew something about deciduous and conifers; a little about pollination and germination; and a little something about photosynthesis. I even had an idea about the birds and the bees, but let me tell you, I knew nothing about fungi. If I hadn't known better, I would have thought parts of the book were written by H. G. Wells in that it seemed to come straight out of "Food of the Gods" which I read and reviewed a year or two ago.
This book is not for everyone, nor is it for most. But if there is any part of you that has scientific curiosity about something so bountiful on this earth, then I say check this out.
Who knew the world of fungus could be so wild and wacky?
Sheldrake opened my eyes to a world where mushrooms could influence human and animal behaviour alike, just from their scent, like our entire truffle industry. When mature, they release an aroma/chemical so intoxicating that mammals cannot refuse, recruiting us to spread their spores across otherwise impossible distances. There are fungi that eat radiation, that live kilometres underground or in an immense network connecting the roots of trees in a forest, directly influencing their survival and allowing chemicals and nutrients to flow from one tree to another. Some implant themselves in the brains of ants, forcing their physical body to climb up a tree, clamp their jaws around a branch at a height that is optimal for humidity and light, then sprout out of the ant to drop spores on its brothers below. And of course, there are mushrooms that have been used for thousands of years for medicine and recreation.
This book is an incredibly interesting read, though at times I did feel that my biochemistry degree helped me easily understand some of the concepts.
I cannot stop talking to people about this book--it's fascinating! I did not realize how much I needed to read a book about a species other than humans until I read this. It's the perfect antidote to this year's human disasters. The book is well-written and at times pretty mind-blowing.
In my natural sciences studies over the years, though I was aware of fungi roles I hadn't focused much on them. I found this book an important other dimension, adding considerable complexity to physical being. It is not only informative, but also interesting — at least I would think so for those that strive to broaden their perspective.
Paraphrasing the author, the relationship between plants and fungi gave rise to the biosphere as we know it and supports life on land to this day, but there is still much more we have to learn. You might remember that in The Extended Phenotype, Richard Dawkins points out that genes don’t just provide the instructions to build the body of an organism. They also provide instructions to build certain behaviors. But, those behaviors can be manipulated.
For example, you may be aware that Ophiocordyceps and other insect-manipulating fungi have evolved a remarkable ability to cause harm to the animals they influence. They can take over insect bodies, effecting zombie-like behaviors to benefit the fungus. Also, The impact of fungal diseases is increasing across the world, such as with unsustainable agricultural practices that reduce the ability of plants to form relationships with the beneficial fungi on which they depend. Rather than working with Nature though, the widespread use of antifungal chemicals has led to an unprecedented rise in new fungal superbugs that threaten both human and plant health.
Of course, in seeking balance Nature's pendulum cuts both ways. Our subjective worlds are underpinned by the chemical activity of our brains. Now, a growing number of scientific studies report that Psilocybin mushrooms have evolved an astonishing ability to cure a wide range of human problems. Recent studies report the dramatic effects of psilocybin on people’s minds, outlooks, and perspectives. Experiences include enduring increases in subjects’ sense of connection with the natural world. Profound changes in people’s minds and personalities are rare; that they should happen over the course of such a short experience is striking. Nonetheless, these aren’t anomalous findings.
Umm, could Psilocybin mushroom consumption be the needed first step in effectively mitigating human caused global warming and extinctions? [My thoughts, not the author's.]
The above but a sampling, there is much more to this book. We exist in a closed loop system, and fungi are an essential component in creating growth and recycling life for new growth. Along the way, various fungi can sap and encourage our being. If one isn't overly encumbered by their human bubble, this book will help in understanding the natural world and our physical being.
Giving up on this, it's slow going and spends a lot of time going over the same ground, and so far what we've gone over isn't grabbing me as I'd hoped. Possibly I had excessive expectations for a book about mushrooms. Feels like an expert trying to write popular science and not quite hitting the sweet spot.
I had fun with this one — even though there were a couple of saggy spots, and I noticed a couple of errors. It is his first book. Overall, a contender for best popular science book of the year, and a welcome relief from a string of weak ones for me. Overall, 4.5 stars.
Now, let’s see what I can make of my 6 pages of notes…. Gosh, way more cool stuff here than will fit. And the book is due back shortly. Might have to do a re-read not too far down the line. See notes for a bit more.
For me, first-rate pop-science is almost always written by working scientists in their field. They know their stuff, they know the key players. Ideally, they know how to write entertainingly for non-specialists. Sheldrake is young, enthusiastic, and brings a nerdy sense of fun to his book. We’re off to a great start!
Fungal mind control of ants! (pp. 97-98, hc ed). Carpenter ants are forced to climb to the top of a nearby plant, at high noon, at a height of 25 cm above the forest floor: "summit disease". This is the ideal height and orientation for the fungus to fruit, and to shower spores on other potential zombie-ants below. Fossil evidence of zombie ants extends back into the Eocene, 48 million years ago. So the fungus has had lots of time to perfect its technique! Creepy photos included. Yuck.
Fungal decomposition of lignin in woody plants. This is hard, and not many fungi have mastered it: the so-called “white-rot” fungi. They found a way to unleash nonspecific peroxidase enzymes, which generate lots of free radicals to do the job, 'slashing' & 'burning' the almost-impervious lignin. In the Carboniferous Period, 360 to 290 million years ago, great thicknesses of woody plants accumulated, perhaps before this enzymatic pathway developed. These are the “Coal Measures” that fueled the Industrial Revolution, and these plants sucked so much carbon out of the atmosphere to create (it’s thought) a Global Cooling event. Now it’s payback time? Except: the wood-rot fungus and others decompose plant matter nowadays to the tune of releasing 85 gigatonnes of carbon (as CO2) per year, compared to the 10 gigatonnes of CO2 we release from burning fossil fuels. Whether the latter is enough to create a serious hazard is (to my mind) an open question.
Coda: Sheldrake’s Gravitational Uncertainty 'Principle': the legendary apple tree in Cambridge, whence a falling apple may (or may not) have inspired Newton in 1726. There is a clone of the original tree in the Cambridge Botanical Gardens, at least 2 more in Cambridge, another at MIT in the US, and more elsewhere. Sheldrake riffs on this botanical theater: the apple tree’s (alleged) involvement in one of the Most Significant Scientific Advances in the history of Western thought was “being affirmed and denied at the same time.” Whoa.
Sheldrake decides to make some apple cider from Newton’s (supposed) apples. He asks the garden director if he can pick some apples and is politely rebuffed: the tourists want to see the apples fall! Undeterred, he returns after dark and "scrumps" most of them. He borrows an apple press, makes 30 liters of juice, and ferments it for two weeks. It was delicious! “The taste was dry and delicate, with a gentle fizz. … It elicited elation and mild euphoria.” Bravo!
Best published review is likely Jennifer Szalai’s at the NY Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/05/27/bo... "Finishing the manuscript for a book is usually the consummation of years of work, and when writers emerge on the other side, they often try to do something appropriately celebratory. For his new book …., the young fungal biologist Merlin Sheldrake decided on a ritual I had never heard of…. He dampened a copy of the book and seeded it with spores, eating the oyster mushrooms that sprouted from its pages. Taking another copy, he tore up the pages, mashed them up to release their sugars and fermented the solution into beer. …. Here is an author who marked the completion of his book by ingesting it."
I read through 6 chapters and decided to stop. I’m just not enjoying this book. I teach biology and love the subject of fungi. Some parts (factual information) was interesting but the majority wasn’t. It was mostly pseudoscientific and uncritical speculation mixed in with philosophical ramblings and overly flowery writing. Overall I found the book to be tedious and boring.
Jeigu man kas būtų pasakęs, kad ateis toks laikas, kai aš su didžiuliu malonumu skaitysiu 450 puslapių knygą apie grybus - nebūčiau patikėjus. Visas kortas sumaišė Marius Burokas. Jei ne jo versta ir mano labai mylima knyga "Mažas gyvenimas", "Raizgus gyvenimas" tikriausiai niekad nebūtų kritęs į akį. Pagalvojau, kad, jei jau Marius ją vertė, tai turėtų būti kažkas įdomaus ir neklydau. Dabar lauksiu kokios kitos knygos apie gyvenimą verstos Mariaus Buroko, o kol tai nutiks - pasakoju apie neseniai perskaitytą "Raizgų gyvenimą". Panašu, kad man šie metai literatūroje bus atradimų metai.
Taigi grybai ir ką apie juos kalbėti gana solidaus storio knygoje - tokia buvo pirma mintis paėmus į rankas knygą. O, vaikyti, kiek daug čia yra apie ką kalbėti ir kokius plačius horizontus ji atvėrė. Visų pirma reiktų akcentuoti tai, kad grybai šioje knygoje imami daug platesniame kontekste nei galima įsivaizduoti grybus esančius miške, kuriuos mes matome ir renkame. Tai tik vaisiakūniai. Kaip ir sakau, kontekstas daug platesnis ir viena aišku - su grybais mes susiduriame kiekvieną dieną ir net ne po vieną kartą. Autorius atskleidžia, kokia jų reikšmė gamtai, pasauliui, žmonijai, kokie išradimai yra daromi, kaip grybai iš tiesų keičia mūsų gyvenimus. Visa tai tiesiog privers jus netekti žado. O kiek dar daug apie juos nežinome. Ne kartą mokslininkas pakartoja, kad ši sritis tokia įdomi, nes didžioji dalis informacijos atradimo dar tik laukia ateityje.
Dar vienas momentas ką noriu paminėti apie šią knygą - žinote tą jausmą, kai kažkas pasakoja apie dalyką, kuris juos "veža" tikrąja to žodžio prasme. Pasakotojo akys žiba, jis laimingas, užsidegęs ir net tave sudomina tuo, kas iš pirmo žvilgsnio neatrodo įdomu. Lygiai tas pas čia - autorius pametęs galvą dėl grybų. Tai aiškiai jaučiama ir ta jo aistra tiesiog negali nesižavėti. Skaitant daug tikrai neretai pasitaiko, kaip aš vadinu, tokiu drungnų knygų, kurios nei iš savęs turi stiprios jėgos nei kažkaip tave paliečia. Čia priešingai - aš tiesiog negalėjau nustoti galvoti ir pasakoti apie grybus savo šeimai, nes jie fantastiški, o ypač ekologinis aspektas man buvo visiškai pribloškiantis.
Tai nėra grožinė knyga. Reikia turėti biologijos pagrindus, kad ją skaityti, bet man šis skaitymas buvo tarsi meditacija. Be proto patiko ši knyga ir visus kviečiu ją paskaityti. Ji nuostabi.
Entangled Life: How Fungi Make Our Worlds, Change Our Minds & Shape Our Futures is an up-to-date book about fungi and everything fungal. It's so beautifully written that I sometimes forget it's a science book. Don't get me wrong, the book is scientific, but it is the opposite of the dry, academic style.
What strikes me most is the mycorrhizal network. Apparently the term Wood-Wide-Web is an inaccurate metaphor for several reasons: 1. It's plant-centric, unable to convey the symbiosis between fungi and plants. Everything changes when we see fungi as active participants of the network. A fungi point-of-view allows us to see who benefit whom and solve the question of "atrium" that rises in a plant-centric lens. 2. It implies only one type of mycorrhizal network but in fact there are several. 3. Internet is a machine network, created and managed by one entity (humans), while mycorrhizal networks are collection of self-organized living organisms in mutually beneficial relationships.
The study of mycelium networks is a hotspot in biocomputing. These networks are similar to animal brains in the sense that both are fantastically complex network with electrically excitable cells, but the similarity stops there. Unfortunately the book does not dive into the topic.
The chapter about lichens is fascinating too. It is new to me that a lichen may not be the symbiosis of two organisms but many, and its complexity may earn it the status of an ecosystem.
Of course, it is a truth universally acknowledged that a book about fungi must include a chapter about psilocybin mushrooms and psychedelics.
Other things I've learned from the book: 1. A fungal species isolated from mining wastes is the most radiation-resistant organism ever discovered and may help to clean up the nuclear waste sites. In fact, this species is found abundant in Chernobyl. 2. Agarwood, a fragrant resinous wood used in perfume, more valuable per gram than gold, is formed in the heartwood of aquilaria trees infected by a fungus (Phialophora parasitica). 3. A handful of lichen species are able to survive in the full space conditions. 4. Radical mycology is something worth looking into. 5. Mass cultivated fruits and vegs losing their favor may be the consequence of the plants losing their fungi partners.
Quotes: "Anthropomorphism is usually thought as an illusion that rises as a blister on the soft human mind, untrained, undisciplined, unhardened. There is a good reason for this. When we humanize the world, we may prevent us from understanding lives of other organisms on their own terms. "
"Mycelium is polyphony in bodily form. Each of woman's voice is hyphal tip, exploring a soundscape for itself. Although each is free to wander, their wandering can't be seen as separate from each other. There is no main voice. There is no lead tune. There is no central planning. Nonetheless, a form emerges. "
Here is a video where Merlin Sheldrake explains why using the internet metaphor to describe mycorrhizal networks is inaccurate.
A side note: Merlin Sheldrake's brother is Cosmo Sheldrake, a musician. Terrance McKenna, the magic mushroom guru, is their family friend. The name "Merlin" reminds me The Beguiling of Merlin:
I have been enchanted by Merlin and the wonderful world of mycorrhizal networks.
When we think of fungi, we likely think of mushrooms. But mushrooms are only fruiting bodies, analogous to apples on a tree. Most fungi live out of sight, yet make up a massively diverse kingdom of organisms that supports and sustains nearly all living systems. Fungi provide a key to understanding the planet on which we live, and the ways we think, feel, and behave.
In Entangled Life, the brilliant young biologist Merlin Sheldrake shows us the world from a fungal point of view, providing an exhilarating change of perspective. Sheldrake’s vivid exploration takes us from yeast to psychedelics, to the fungi that range for miles underground and are the largest organisms on the planet, to those that link plants together in complex networks known as the “Wood Wide Web,” to those that infiltrate and manipulate insect bodies with devastating precision.
Fungi throw our concepts of individuality and even intelligence into question. They are metabolic masters, earth makers, and key players in most of life’s processes. They can change our minds, heal our bodies, and even help us remediate environmental disaster. By examining fungi on their own terms, Sheldrake reveals how these extraordinary organisms—and our relationships with them—are changing our understanding of how life works.
This is a fascinating, comprehensive and accessible exploration of a highly misunderstood organism and is capable of being understood by a layperson as well as those with prior knowledge of this area. The book is filled with interesting factual information and anecdotes pertaining to the life of fungi and how exactly they fit into the bigger picture. Concise yet considered, complex yet comprehensible, you will turn the final page with sadness and a completely altered mindset on life itself. Many thanks to Bodley Head for an ARC.