Magical Mushrooms, Mischievous Molds

George W. Hudler

Princeton University Press 1999
A book review by Danny Yee © 2003
Magical Mushrooms, Mischievous Molds is a survey of the fungus kingdom and its influence on human life. Hudler begins with a brief introduction to the classification and biology of fungi. He then looks at fungi as pathogens of food crops and agents of tree diseases, and at ergot of grain crops, mycotoxins, and mycoses (fungal diseases of humans). On the more positive side, he covers medicinal molds, yeasts in baking and brewing, edible (and poisonous) mushrooms, and hallucinogenic mushrooms. And he closes with chapters on interactions with insects, symbiotic relationships with plants (lichens and mycorrhizal systems), and wood decay.

The approach is not at all technical: some material at the end of chapters is relegated to a smaller font, but even that assumes no scientific background. As well as the obvious connections to agriculture and medicine, there are plenty of links to history and literature. Hudler is infectiously — and sometimes amusingly — enthusiastic about his subject, cheering on those who have paid fungi the attention they deserve and castigating those who have ignored them. The result is informative and entertaining popular science. It will be of particular interest to those who pick their own mushrooms or brew their own beer, activities Hudler writes about at length, but it should appeal quite broadly.

"In 1984, however, a second strain of P. infestans [which attacks potatoes and tomatoes] was discovered — first in Europe and then in North America. ... Today, plant scientists and farmers find themselves once again locked in a battle they thought they had won a hundred years ago. But P. infestans, with its diminutive form and elegant structure, is a formidable adversary — not to be outdone by the mere efforts of more advanced life forms."
"Graham Greene chose aflatoxin as his weapon of choice ... in his story, The Human Factor. To his credit, Greene used aflatoxin in the 'right' way, feeding small amounts to his victim over the course of several weeks"
"a more lucrative market for lichen extracts exists — in the manufacture of perfumes. Essential oils are extracted from over 8,000 tons of lichens harvested from various sites in Europe each year, to be used as fixatives and base odors in the final product."

July 2003

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%T Magical Mushrooms, Mischievous Molds
%A Hudler, George W.
%I Princeton University Press
%D 1999
%O hardcover, index
%G ISBN 0691028737
%P xvi,248pp