In the Company of Mushrooms: A Biologist's Tale

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9780674445550: In the Company of Mushrooms: A Biologist's Tale

We might slice them into a salad, savor them in a sauce, wonder at their power to intoxicate or poison, marvel at their multifarious presence in the forest--but few of us realize that mushrooms, humbly thriving on decay, are crucial to life on Earth as we know it. In this book a distinguished biologist, long intrigued by the secret life of fungi, reveals the power of these curious organisms--not quite animal, not quite plant--to enchant and instruct, to nourish and make way for all sorts of superior forms of nature.

In a style at once learned and quirky, personal and commanding, Elio Schaechter imparts the fascinating minutiae and the weighty implications of his subject--a primarily microscopic life form that nonetheless accounts for up to two tons of matter for every human on the planet. He shows us how fungi, the great decomposers, recycle most of the world's vegetable matter--from a blade of grass to a strapping tree--and thus prevent us from sinking under ever-accumulating masses of decaying matter.

With the same expertise and contagious enthusiasm that he brings to the biology of mushrooms, Schaechter conveys the allure of the mushroom hunt. Drawing on his own experience as well as that of seasoned pickers and amateur mycologists, he explains when and where to find mushrooms, how they are cultivated, and how they are used in various cultures. From the delectable to the merely tolerable, from the hallucinogenic to the deadly, a wide variety of mushrooms are covered in this spirited presentation.

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Review:

Call them the foot soldiers of the forest floor. Unassuming and prolific, mushrooms clear a path for new life by expertly and efficiently recycling accumulated dead matter, from the tiniest leaf to the tallest tree. It may sound like a dirty, thankless job, but as microbiologist and author Elio Schaechter enthusiastically notes, we should be singing praises to the fungi of the Earth; without them, all but the tallest of creatures would be buried under a global blanket of decomposing matter. Schaechter is obviously fascinated by his subject, and his spirit is contagious, making In the Company of Mushrooms as entertaining as it is informative. Though the book serves as a guide to hunting, identifying, and classifying mushrooms--including where to look, what tools are necessary, and how to discern the flavorful from the deadly--its primary aim is to convey the wonders of the fungi world and its essential function in nature. Along the way Schaechter discusses the history of the mushroom and its role in the diets and healing practices of both ancient and modern cultures. He also offers such delectable tidbits as the fact that fungi are more closely related to humans than plants on the evolutionary scale. Mycology has never been so engaging.

About the Author:

Elio Schaechter is Distinguished Professor of Molecular Biology and Microbiology, Emeritus, Tufts University School of Medicine. He is the coauthor of Mechanisms of Microbial Disease and Physiology of the Bacterial Cell.

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