Fungi throw our concepts of individuality and even intelligence into question. They are metabolic masters, earth makers, and key players in most of life’s processes. They can change our minds, heal our bodies, and even help us remediate environmental disaster. By examining fungi on their own terms, Sheldrake reveals how these extraordinary organisms—and our relationships with them—are changing our understanding of how life works.
... ebullient and ambitious ... Sheldrake’s book is full of striking examples like these, prying open our cramped perspectives. He offers motley quotations, all of them enigmatic yet pertinent, from figures as varied as Tom Waits and the French feminist Hélène Cixous ... This book may not be a psychedelic — and unlike Sheldrake, I haven’t dared to consume my copy (yet) — but reading it left me not just moved but altered, eager to disseminate its message of what fungi can do.
More than anything else, Entangled Life is an ode to other ways of being ... I finished the book eager to ferment anything and everything, dig through soil, and go out and sniff mushrooms ... full of details, but Sheldrake tends to use those details to reveal broader truths ... I have been working on and reading and writing about fungi for a decade. And yet, nearly every page of this book contained either an observation so interesting or a turn of phrase so lovely that I was moved to slow down, stop, and reread ... It is easy, as a biologist, to grow numb to nature: numbed by the ones and zeroes of spreadsheets, numbed by emails and virtual meetings. This book rocked me into remembering that nature, especially fungal nature, is big and encompassing and creative and destructive. It reminded me that fungi are, like the Universe, sublime.
While fungi are easy sources of wonder, getting to the wonder means understanding the basics, which can be arcane in the case of fungi. Sheldrake carefully explains the details in clever, affable prose. His book has a host of other strengths as well. It emphasizes the openness and indeterminacy of mycology, a vastly understudied field, through honest depictions of scientists in the lab and field trying to puzzle out fungi’s unexplained behavior. Sheldrake also shows how culture shapes scientific knowledge ... He embraces the sort of fantastic speculations that come with the territory, as when a childhood memory of Terence McKenna, the ethnobotanist, mystic, and family friend, segues to McKenna’s fantastic theories about the extraterrestrial origins of fungi. But ultimately the book remains grounded in empirical evidence. Sheldrake is stylistically impressive, too—he can be charmingly poetic, using metaphors and analogies to communicate meaning ... Although Entangled Life never lapses into polemics or preaching, the book has an evangelical message all the same ... The book is a call to engage with fungi on their level.