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The Magic of Mushrooms book

The Magic of Mushrooms by Sandra Lawrence – book review

Lia Leendertz, author of The Almanac: a Seasonal Guide, reviews The Magic of Mushrooms: Fungi in Folklore, Superstition and Traditional Medicine by Sandra Lawrence

Our review

A beautifully illustrated, easy and entertaining read about the abundance of folklore, stories and superstitions surrounding fungi.

The Magic of Mushrooms: Fungi in Folklore, Superstition and Traditional Medicine
by Sandra Lawrence
Welbeck, £14.99
ISBN 978-1787399068

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This is such a fun book about a fascinating topic. Author Sandra Lawrence has set about this obviously meaty subject with glee, and approaches every new chapter as a storyteller addressing a rapt audience. You can almost sense her rubbing her hands together.

This is no mean feat, as most of the entries are just a few pages long, and yet she delves into the fascinating histories behind such varying stories as the origins of Tokaji wine, or ‘noble rot’; delicious Amanita caesarea, so beloved of Claudius Caesar that it was named after him, and is still found growing along Roman roads where centurions discarded mushroom remains; and the ‘Mummy’s Curse’ that killed 11 of the people who first entered Tutankhamun’s tomb, but now suspected to be connected to spores of Aspergillus stirred up on breaking the tomb’s seal.

The majority of the book is historical but it concludes with a quick jaunt through the potential future fantastical uses of fungi, from accompanying astronauts to Mars to soak up radiation, to self-healing buildings built from fungus-baked bricks.

The vast amount of research that must have gone into the writing of this book is apparent on every page, but it never feels dense or inaccessible and would make a wonderful gift book for anyone with even a passing interest in folklore or fungi.

It is also a real feast for the eyes, crammed full of examples of the way mushrooms have been depicted in art, from Russian postage stamps and Japanese wood blocks to 12th-century frescoes and much, much more. These images are generously used, often across whole spreads, and are printed on thick, matt paper; the whole thing satisfyingly chunky, colourful and tactile.

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But it is the writing that really makes this book shine. Fungi are fascinating, and Sandra Lawrence really enjoys reminding us of that fact.