Entangled Life

Merlin Sheldrake

Entangled Life
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Entangled Life

Merlin Sheldrake

‘A dazzling, vibrant, vision-changing book. I ended it wonderstruck at the fungal world. A remarkable work by a remarkable writer’ – Robert Macfarlane, author of Underland

The more we learn about fungi, the less makes sense without them.

Neither plant nor animal, they are found throughout the earth, the air and our bodies. They can be microscopic, yet also account for the largest organisms ever recorded. They enabled the first life on land, can survive unprotected in space and thrive amidst nuclear radiation. In fact, nearly all life relies in some way on fungi.

These endlessly surprising organisms have no brain but can solve problems and manipulate animal behaviour with devastating precision. In giving us bread, alcohol and life-saving medicines, fungi have shaped human history, and their psychedelic properties have recently been shown to alleviate a number of mental illnesses. Their ability 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 over ninety percent of their species remain undocumented.

Entangled Life is a mind-altering journey into a spectacular and neglected world, and shows that fungi provide a key to understanding both the planet on which we live, and life itself.

‘One of those rare books that can truly change the way you see the world around you. Astounding’ – Helen MacDonald, author of H Is for Hawk

Review

Fungi, eh? Flavour of the month. The newest mycological champignon, Merlin Sheldrake, is a ‘musician and keen fermenter’, a son of Rupert Sheldrake, holds a PhD in tropical ecology from Cambridge, and has written this book which details his research and wideranging conversations across the field of fungi. Yeasts, lichens, magic mushrooms and truffles all get a guernsey as he surveys the work of mycology obsessives (including himself) across the globe and reports on their findings regarding the contributions of fungi to our world, and the potential of further fungal thinking.

As it is for me, the humble mushroom might be the main way by which you encounter the world of fungi. But Sheldrake’s book reminds us of the gazillion (at latest count) of them that live inside you, and the (roughly) brazillion species out there in the world that help make our planet habitable. Scientifically speaking, fungi have their own kingdom, neither plant nor animal, and they constitute a vital bridge between the latter two, feeding dead animals to plants which, in turn, we living animals eat. Fungi also transform non-life into life by breaking down inorganic material (rock, oil, plastic and pesticides) into organic elements and handballing it over through the roots of trees or into our gobs on toast on Sunday morning. When trees converse, they do so using telephone lines of fungal mycelium – the Wood Wide Web. To read this book is to get drawn down through the soil and into the networks by which the living, composting, thriving earth communicates. Delightfully, even the lyrical illustrations were drawn (by Colin Elder) using ink made from Coprinus comatus – shaggy ink cap mushrooms.

Merlin Sheldrake reckons that paying more attention to our fungal buddies will help us save this troubled world. And, yes, since you asked, he does seem like a fun guy.


Bernard Caleo is a member of the Readings events team.

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