CA Mushrooms
CA Mushrooms

Book Review


By Nicholas P. Money
Oxford University Press; 2011
ISBN13: 9780199732562
ISBN10: 0199732566
Hardback, 224 pages

Nicholas Money, Professor of Botany at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, burst onto the mycoliterature scene with his first book Mr. Bloomfield’s Orchard: The Mysterious World of Mushrooms, Molds, and Mycologists. That book dealt, primarily, with the history of mycology, and in particular with the history of mycologists… and what a curious bunch they are. At the time, I was bowled over, both in the content and in the writing style of Nik Money. I felt this first work to be on par with E.C. Large’s The Advance of the Fungi (1940), one of my all-time favorite titles in mycology and probably THE single most influential factor in my pursuing a degree in plant pathology and in researching fungi. Money’s third book, The Triumph of the Fungi, was the perfect bookend to Mr. Bloomfield; where the latter leaves off in the history of mycologists, the former takes up in discussing many of the most interesting fungal diseases in history, with every bit the same wit and verve of Large.

So it has been with much anticipation that I’ve awaited Nik’s fourth foray into mycolit, simply titled: Mushroom. Could Money keep up the same wry wit and enthusiasm of his previous books?

The short answer is yes. And while he does revisit a few topics of previous books (mycological history, mushroom structure and function and the physics of spore discharge), he finds plenty of fertile new hunting grounds to ply. Chapter titles include: “Angels on the Lawn: How Mushrooms Develop;” “Gill Gymnastics: The Beautiful Mechanism of Mushroom Spore Release;” and “Triumph of the Fungi: Diversity and Functions of Mushroom-Forming Fungi.” Money’s area of research is on the structure and functionality of the sporocarp, so we expect to get a little sciencey here, but Nik writes at a level that anyone can understand and enjoy.

In “Satan’s Gourmand: Harvesting Wild Mushrooms” Money discusses the increasingly popular hobby of wild mushroom hunting and begins with arguably the most famous American mycophage, Charles McIlvaine (to the delight, no doubt, of the 1,000 members of NAMA). Clearly, Money is most comfortable—and most successful, in my opinion—writing about the history of mycology in North America and in sorting through the lives of many mycologists of yore whose names are now on the pages of our field guides. He should be. Money lives a short commute from the Lloyd Library in Cincinnati, which houses a trove of letters and correspondences between the infamous Curtis Gates Lloyd and pretty much every mycologist of the previous century. And Money makes it a weekly routine to spend a day there, poring over the countless pages of documents, now yellowed with age.

All mycophiles will enjoy “Snow White and Baby Bella: The Global Industry of Mushroom Cultivation” and “Death Caps and Muscle Wasters: Poisonous Mushrooms and Mushroom Poisoning.” And while he maintains that he’s never personally experienced psychedelic mushrooms himself, Money entertains with “The Victorian Hippie: Mordecai Cooke and the Science of Mushroom Intoxication.” My favorite chapter was the final one, “Cures for Mortality?: The Medicinal Mushroom Fraud.” Not necessarily because I’m so much in either camp (pro or against medicinal mushrooms), but because the combination of Money’s wry wit and Socratic mind make for fun foray into a scientific gray area. Professor Money collides head-on with the mushroom snake oil and patent medicine industry that has exploded on the internet in the past decade or so. Without a doubt, there are many scientifically proven medicines derived from fungi. But for every legitimate one, there are many with little more than baseless claims to back them up. Money cuts through the BS and takes no prisoners, but from the standpoint of a mycologist. (One with a really funny British sense of “humour.”)

While Mushroom falls a little short of the magnificence of Mr. Bloomfield’s Orchard, in this reader’s opinion, it is still a very enjoyable read and one you will want to include in your library.

— Review by Britt Bunyard
— Originally published in Fungi