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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