How Fungi Make Our Worlds, Change Our Minds & Shape Our Futures
NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • A “brilliant [and] entrancing” (The Guardian) journey into the hidden lives of fungi—the great connectors of the living world—and their astonishing and intimate roles in human life, with the power to heal our bodies, expand our minds, and help us address our most urgent environmental problems.
“Grand and dizzying in how thoroughly it recalibrates our understanding of the natural world.”—Ed Yong, author of An Immense World
ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR—Time, BBC Science Focus, The Daily Mail, Geographical, The Times, The Telegraph, New Statesman, London Evening Standard, Science Friday
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.
Winner of the Wainwright Prize, the Royal Society Science Book Prize, and the Guild of Food Writers Award • Shortlisted for the British Book Award • Longlisted for the Rathbones Folio Prize
Scientist Sheldrake debuts with a revelatory look at fungi that proves their relevance to humans goes far beyond their uses in cooking. While fungi lack brains, they can process and share complicated information about food and the habitability of environments quickly and over great distances, influencing the "speed and direction of growth," in ways not yet understood, prompting Sheldrake to ask, "Can we think of their behavior as intelligent?" By discussing how fungi come together with algae to form lichens, Sheldrake touches on another question, that of "where one organism stops and another begins" in symbiotic relationships. Elsewhere, he explains how fungi were essential for the original colonization of land by plants, as they effectively served as roots for the first rootless arrivals. Meanwhile, anthropologists have postulated that, via the fermentation process, fungi may have sparked one of humankind's key transitions: "from hunter-gatherers to agriculturalists." Looking to the future, Sheldrake discusses developing uses of fungi in shipping, construction, and environmental remediation materials. In bringing all these diverse threads together, Sheldrake delivers a thoroughly enjoyable paean to a wholly different kingdom of life.
I wasn’t that interested in fungi before I read this, but Merlin Sheldrake writes in such a compelling way that I fell into the book, and into the subject.
Fantastically informative on a great subject. A 10!
Merlin Sheldrake could not have a more fitting name as the author of a book about the magical qualities of Fungi. He gies beyond mere symbiotic relationships, and delves into the unseen dependencies we have to our fungi friends. Most of us know the gastronomic delicacies of fungi, but we have no idea how dependent our very existence is to these miraculous creatures. Simultaneously, we are just beginning to understand the disease causing challenges of fungus.
In plain spoken manner, Sheldrake categorically proves how the metabolic qualities of fungi can sustain and save us. Where we struggle they thrive. But where we cause unnatural ecological change we accelerate their destructive capabilities while missing out on their benefits. Sheldrake extrapolates an engaging and educational story from what could have simply been a Wikipedia entry. His anecdotes, myth busting, and historical tie-ins are the techniques that make science fun and enthralling.
The main take away is a wish that the collective we start redirecting spending away from destroying ourselves and towards tapping into the unknown potential of the 90% plus of fungi we have yet to document. Additionally, you start to question how “intelligence” is defined. Sheldrake demonstrates that the designation of “brainless organisms” is misapplied to fungi and maybe underutilized when it comes to humans. We have a lot to learn from the hidden workers behind the machinery of life.