Cover Image: Entangled Life

Entangled Life

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Member Reviews

Kingdom Fungi is one of the most fascinating from the five with various possibilities in medicine and other fields. 

Lyrically written this book is a gorgeous exploration about the life of fungi. Its includes incredible facts about them.

If you are a biology student, trust me you want this book!
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A beautifully written romp through the world of fungi, mushrooms, truffles, yeasts and rot. Some great anecdotes and stories, as well as a look at the world of current and historical fungi scientists.
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Fascinating fungi.

Engagingly written exploration of this keystone organism. Sheldrake draws on biological and evolutionary theory, ecology, ethnobotany, anthropology, religion, mysticism, history, literature, medicine, brewing, bioindustry, culture and counterculture in this paean to fungi.

Accessibly written in layperson’s terms, Entangled Life is a mine of remarkable information. Just one example from the multitude of truly engrossing facts and theories, is the drunken monkey hypothesis, which explains the fondness for alcohol in humans as being the result of our primate ancestors’ descent from the trees. The smell of alcohol was ‘a reliable way to find ripe fruit as it rotted on the ground’.

There is much we don’t yet know about fungi and, while Sheldrake doesn’t have the answers for all the questions he posits, I would not be surprised if his book inspires others to take up this field of research, such that, in time, our knowledge of the fungi kingdom grows.

Read this if you have an interest in fungi. Read this even if you do not. It is mind-altering.

With thanks to NetGalley and Random House UK, Vintage for the ARC.
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Entangled Life by Merlin Sheldrake 

I LOVED this book. Since finishing reading I have become a fountain of fungal facts. They splurge out of me whenever I’m outside and close to another human. 
“Oooo did you know.....?”
My partner has started making up facts so that we can pretend we’re having an actual conversation! 

But honestly the facts are fascinating.... From slime mould that can find the quickest route out of IKEA, to worm hunting fungi. From spores influencing the weather, lichens digesting rocks, zombie fungi controlling ants to the ways mushrooms can be used to save the planet. 
Merlin writes in such an engaging way that you’ll forget this is a science book. He’s also illustrated the book with botanical drawings rendered in.... ink made from mushrooms! 

As a long standing fungi fanatic I nearly fell over with delight when I realised my nature writing favourites turn out to be as connected as a web of mycelium. Merlin was first introduced to me as a passionate mycologist in Robert Macfarlane’s award winning book, Underland. Merlin is the son of Rupert whose work on morphogenetic fields had me fascinated in my twenties. As a child Merlin’s family go on holiday to visit Terence McKenna (famous for his ‘heroic’ doses of psilocybin, the psychoactive ingredient in fungi). Later in the book Merlin meets Paul Stamets ( if you haven’t seen the world saving mushroom TED talk go and look it up now!), he also quotes Galadriel from Lord of the Rings and Robin Wall Kimmerer. 

There’s so much in this book and yet it doesn’t feel dense. It’s technical, science packed and yet also bursting with enthusiasm from a very earnest and genuine human. 

This book is published in September 2020. Huge thanks to @vintagebooks and @netgalley for my eARC.
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Fungus is everywhere. In everyone and everything. Yeasts on your skin, penicillin in your medicine cabinet, in the lichen all over the coast to the mycocelic webs that thread the earth. Merlin Sheldrake loves fungus, and has two jobs here. To spread the love, and to get more people to love them more. As he says, there are departments of animal biology, plant biology but fungus is usually just an offshoot of some of these. He convinces that much more work needs to be done, but he doesn't always spread his breathless excitement as well as he could. Like computers? The fungal networks in forests are basically a Wood Wide Web (his line) connecting everything, spreading information, energy and chemicals. Like food? Wait til you see the truffle pigs snuffling away at this unique fungus. Like booze - like drugs? Sheldrake sure does, and fermentation and psychobilin seem to explain away much of his gateway into fungus.

Sheldrake wants you to think fungi are interesting. That he manages with ease, he quickly elucidates the size of the field and how little is known about so much of how fungi work, There are stories of co-operation, altruism and long term evolutionary gambles which seem counter to most theories. There are so many unanswered questions that he could probably set up about 100 PhD's with the propositions here. But he also wants you to think fungi are cool. And he tries a little too hard with that, with his drink, and his drugs, and his "Last Of Us" and "Girl With All The Gifts" references. You want to join a cool counterculture - become a fungus hacker, and you too can get a Star Trek character named after you. He tries a little too hard on that front, and often lost me in the process. Interesting is plenty cool enough for me.

What I did like though, through this battle of interesting vs cool (vs fungus) was the broader idea in the book that the way we tell our stories, the way we interact with the world guides our research and thinking. The idea that fungi may altruistically spread nutrients and energy around their network seem alien to a capitalist, as does the idea of symbiotic relationships (ie in lichens) where neither partner is dominant. The fact that fungi act intelligently in certain ways without having anything that looks like a brain may make it difficult to empathise with what is actually going on in those networks - and that scientists need to find ways of doing that to try to make with breakthroughs. So whilst it didn't inspire me to get into the myco world, and get my mushroom hacking hat on, it did make me think more about how stories are told - and why. And if the huge size and incomprehensibility of fungi might also make a perfect book about the subject nearly impossible.
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A phenomenal exploration of a misunderstood classification of life. Lyrically written, this book is figuratively like walking through an autumnal glade. One to read if you want to understand and identify with the natural world in a whole new way.
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