Bingo 17: The Wilds
I’ll be honest: I was planning to use Entangled Life for the ‘flora’ square except that the author pointed out that fungi and some related things are not actually plants exactly; they are essentially their own thing. That’s actually a major part of the book, just how diverse fungi, lichens, and yeasts are. Anyways, a significant amount of the book is about fungi in their natural habitats (ie- outdoors) and just how little is known, and just how much could be out there, as in miles of fungi networks in the dirt under your feet. Some bits take place in labs and production facilities, but a lot of the research discussed is done outside as well as a lot of the theorizing, and there is a lot of theorizing. There is a lot of crawling around in forests, going all over the world (both time and space), and even a heist of apples from what might have been the apple tree that inspired Newton outside of a Cambridge University building; apparently those apples make a pretty good cider even if the apple variety itself is supposedly unpleasant consumed raw.
And the other major point of the book that comes up off and on? The effect of language when trying to describe something one doesn’t fully understand, as in why anthropomorphizing (or even the reverse, vegetizing) can lead to misconceptions that have to be disproven. Fungi et al have been described as networks, brains, webs (as in the ‘wood wide web’), and more, none of these metaphors fully do justice to the entirety of even the concept of what fungus is or can do; mostly, the metaphor can be useful to address one piece of the fungus puzzle.
Fungi can do some cool stuff, including potentially save the world from all kinds of current environmental threats like pollution, poisoning, disease, agriculture, and a lot more. They are some of the oldest living things around, they demonstrate some kind of ‘learning’ capacity (adaptation might actually be the better word, many have effects on people, and not just as food/sustenance, and more. There is a lot of interesting possibilities, but because there is such variety, there isn’t as much depth as I’d have liked on some things.
This is a really interesting, yet also very frustrating book to me. I liked the ideas about what we do and don’t know about fungi and just how much they affect the world. The thing I really didn’t like was how a lot of the science and anecdotes included are only half told. The end is almost never there. For example the author mentions signing up for a study in which scientists were intentionally fed magic mushrooms to see if the mind-altering effects included an increase in creativity. The conclusion is never given. Likewise, there a bit about the author trying a fermentation bath but nothing about why one would do that, how he felt about it afterwards, or anything else other than to possibly bring up the subject of what fungi can do with decomposition (a lot it turns out). The same goes for quite a few of the scientific experiments mentioned. Except, those details turn out to be mostly included in the Notes section afterwards. There’s no indication of footnotes or endnotes throughout the book; you just have to guess or hope that he thing you want to know more about was included there. The stuff that does get further detail is mostly the science, and it’s good useful detail, and I wish it been put in the main text. I don’t think that would have cost that many extra pages. Yeasts also get brought up just enough to be interesting, but then don’t get much explanation or attention. I was rather hoping for more of that bit too.