I first heard about this book when my tutor mentioned it to me in November – he said he had ordered a copy, on the back of a recommendation. A few weeks later in early December, whilst up at Hampstead Heath, I was recommended it as well. I was given the opportunity to quickly browse its contents whilst there, and when I got home that night I immediately ordered it.
The first thing I’ll say here is that I am delighted to have been recommended this book. It really is just brilliant. For a topic such as mycology, which can be absurdly daunting for someone who isn’t an expert in the field, Stamets really does make the book accessible to all. Though it’s not just the information’s presentation that is so great – it’s the fact that it’s written with such evident passion. One can simply not doubt that Stamets lives and breathes fungi, and it’s hard not to assume some of his love for them when reading his words!
This book is split into a few sections, which are: (1) “The Mycelial Mind” – Stamets takes the reader into the world of fungi, and explains their biology and ecology; (2) “Mycorestoration” – here, the reader is shown how fungi can be used to repair damaged ecosystems, control invasive pests, and reduce the damage we inflict upon ecosystems as a result of farming, waste production, and so on, and; (3) “Growing Mycelia and Mushrooms” – a potentially very tedious topic is made very enjoyable in this section, with Stamets showing how to cultivate mushrooms, and the health benefits associated with them. This last section finishes off with a great (and hugely in-depth!) look at some of his favourite fungi, including Ganoderma lucidum, Grifola frondosa, and Trametes versicolor.
My favourite part of this book would have to be the second section -particularly the mycoforestry and mycoremediation chapters. Coming from a conservation background at university, seeing Stamets so fluidly weave in fungi to woodland management was glorious, and I felt rather invigorated having read the chapter. It also made me wonder why fungi aren’t more routinely used in forestry practices, particularly when there is a mass of deadwood accumulating that is locking up an abundance of nutrients.
It was perhaps the chapter on mycoremediation that left me stunned, however. The possibilities of using mycelium to make highly toxic compounds quickly non-toxic, such as petroleum and sarin gas, is absolutely ground-breaking, and I am shocked that we haven’t seen mycelium used since the release of this book in large-scale chemical disasters. The ability for fungi to uptake and store radiation and metals is also incredible (some fungi can store over 10,000 times the safe limit of heavy metals!), and the way Stamets analyses these facets and relates them to human wants is brilliant. Every single point is relevant, and can be tied to a benefit that humans seek – in one case, he remarks how we could use fungi to harvest toxic metals such as lead and cadmium, and then transport the fungi off site and have them incinerated or taken to a metal refinery. Similarly, we could use fungi to remove radiation from Chernobyl.
I realise that this book is more a mycological publication than an arboricultural one, but I am in no doubt that plenty of arboriculturalists will thoroughly enjoy this book – if only for the information on wood decay fungi. Fungi and trees really aren’t too unrelated, when it comes down to it – mycorrhizal fungi, saprophytic fungi, and parasitic fungi all live alongside and with trees and plants. To neglect understanding fungi is to neglect understanding trees.
If I were to rate this book, I’d give it 100/100. Please buy it, as I am sure you won’t consider the money wasted.