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Entangled Life: How Fungi Make Our Worlds, Change Our Minds and Shape Our Futures (2020) is all about fungi, such as mushrooms, yeast, and mould – they are neither plants, nor animals. 

The author begins with what fungi are and how they live their lives – with more than 90% of species undocumented and many of them out of view of humans (and therefore out of mind). From microscopic yeast to a gigantic sprawling network of organisms, fungi can digest rocks and survive unprotected in space. 

Fungi spores are everywhere in the air we breathe: ‘Some species discharge spores explosively, which accelerate 10,000 faster than a Space Shuttle directly after launch, reaching speeds of up to a hundred kilometres per hour … [producing] around fifty megatonnes of spores each year – equivalent to the weight of 500,000 blue whales …’ Wow, who knew? 

And from fungi mould comes penicillin – a bacteria-killing chemical, the first modern antibiotic that changed the way we heal wounds, treat diseases and psychological illnesses, and save lives. It also gives us bread and alcohol. 

They seem to have a directional memory, without having a brain, and can solve problems – for example, the experiment in which, in a soil model of Great Britain, fungi could work out the most efficient routes between cities – faster than a human. The Cardiff University professor, Lynne Boddy, conducting the experiments, said that the fungi mapped out the network of highways: ‘You could see the M5, M4, M1, M6. I thought it was quite fun.’  

There is an intriguing discussion about scientists humanising plants and vegetalising people, as a way of describing the ‘entangled life’ of fungi. 

From life before plants, to life today, Sheldrake reveals the importance of fungi – in the hope that people take them less for granted, and more for the way they have become entangled in our lives, in a good way. This is an informative, interesting read, rich in facts, and with some quotes, photographs and illustrations too. 

Photographer: Martina Nicolls

MARTINA NICOLLS – MartinaNicollsWebsite

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