Brief Reviews, VOLUME 5

Mycophilia – Eugenia Bone [Brief Review]

Page 2 – Mycophilia – Eugenia Bone

After a broad and fascinating introduction to the basic biology of fungus, we return to the function of the organism that people have attributed great value to for eons, it’s use as food. Bone spends nearly half of the book discussing various aspects of mushrooms that are edible in one fashion or another. She begins with wild mushrooms and includes much detail of her personal experiences hunting for them in different contexts. She then progresses on to what could be referred to as the garden-variety mushrooms; buttons, portobello, crimini (all the same species, we are told). Truffles are discussed, as well as medicinal uses for mushrooms. Even hallucinogenic mushrooms are addressed by Ms. Bone.  She brings up mushrooms that can be eaten, but only once, i.e. poisonous mushrooms. She also discusses some of the history related many of the more well-known mushrooms dating from ancient mushroom cults and including all kinds of speculation as to the role mushrooms may have played in such storied historical events as the Salem witch trials.

Again, the science and history presented here couldn’t be more fascinating. Even if some of   the history is speculative, it is thoroughly engrossing. The science is also captivating because it is so new. People have obviously been aware of mushrooms and other kinds of fungus for millennia, but little was really understood about the nature of the organisms until the advent of high-powered microscopes that allow scientists to understand fungus on a cellular and molecular level. Between fungus’s fanciful past and its rapidly unclouding scientific present, it seems like something big ought to be in store for the future of fungus. Ms. Bone spends one chapter searching the horizon for possible future uses for fungus, and finds some incredibly creative and game-changing uses in the works. Medicines, hydrocarbon remediation, fully biodegradable packaging materials, and biofuels are some of the uses that are in various stages of realization, and as our knowledge expands so do the potential uses for mushrooms, and mycelium.

While the book contains scads of information biological, historical, and cultural, it also reads largely like a memoir. The story is Ms. Bone’s story. The experiences are hers and the people referenced are her friends. She gives the details of mycological forays and conferences with true journalistic integrity. To the lay reader, however, many of the names, places, and minutiae of events tend to bog down the reader with information that has less appeal than the purely fungus-related stuff. At 300 pages, the book definitely runs the gamut of all topics mycological, so some of the personal detail could have been left out without detriment.

The scope of information presented here is so broad and all-encompassing that the book does serve as an excellent appetite-whetter for more detailed information. For example, Bone discusses in appetizing fashion hunting and cooking mushrooms, but her book is neither a field guide nor a cookbook. She presents decades worth of findings and lore, but is not a scientist or historian. More resources exist for people who want to dig deeper into specific aspects of mushroom science or culture, and Ms. Bone has clearly utilized a wide range of resources and done lots of legwork in gathering and compiling information herself. As a result, Mycophilia really is a wonderful overview, presenting mushrooms as a fascinating, promising, and little-understood yet integral part of life-as-we-know-it.

C. Christopher Smith is the founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books. He is also author of a number of books, including most recently How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church (Brazos Press, 2019). Connect with him online at:

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Reading for the Common Good
From ERB Editor Christopher Smith

"This book will inspire, motivate and challenge anyone who cares a whit about the written word, the world of ideas, the shape of our communities and the life of the church."
-Karen Swallow Prior

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