Book Review

The Kingdom of Fungi

By Jens H. Petersen
Princeton University Press; 2012; 265 pages
$29.95 cloth (ISBN: 978-0-691-15754-2) or e-book (ISBN: 978-1-400-84687-0)

Jens Petersen is a Danish mycologist whom, until now, I had known only through his excellent field-guide photographs, which appear prominently in the identification software program, MycoKey, as well as in many European mushroom books and online sources. However, his new book has expanded and elevated my already high opinion of his work.

Given its heavy emphasis on the photographs, this is probably best categorized as a coffee table book. Nonetheless, the text, albeit sparse, is highly informative and furnishes something of a synopsis of a mycology textbook. The short snippets (one to three paragraphs each) provide an accurate overview of a wide range of topics and should lead many readers to seek out additional sources of information to flesh out their understanding. General coverage includes an introduction to fungal life, fungal spores, hyphae, taxonomic relationships (“kinship”), imperfect fungi, fruiting bodies, fungal ecology, where fungi occur (or don’t), why we need them, and what the future holds. This comprises about one-quarter of the book. The remainder is devoted to an annotated pictorial tour of the ascomycetes, basidiomycetes, zygomycetes, and other groups with overwhelming emphasis on the first two. For overall quality and sheer beauty, most of these photos are as good as any I’ve seen. The treatment strikes a good balance between the traditional morphological classification scheme and the findings of recent molecular phylogenetic studies that attempt to produce a scheme that follows the evolutionary relationships of the organisms.

I am particularly impressed by the range of scale in Petersen’s photography. Not just the usual field guide photos of decent-sized mushrooms, but everything from landscapes to tiny cups to microscopic features, all done in excellent fashion. And, not only are the photos beautiful but they are showcased in an equally attractive package created by the design team. No stodgy textbook this. The charts are colorful, clearly laid out, and integrated nicely with the photos.

With a very reasonable price, there is no reason for every mushroomer not to have his or her own copy and perhaps to buy additional ones for eye-opening gifts for friends who don’t yet share our passion for the fungi.

— Review by Steve Trudell, Seattle, WA
— Originally published in Mycophile