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The 6 Mushroom Books I Reread & Reference Regularly
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The 6 Mushroom Books I Reread & Reference Regularly

Shannon Ratliff
Shannon Ratliff
May 16, 2024
4 min

Time and time again, I return to nature writing for its raw truth and metaphors, using the world as a mirror into ourselves. I first fell in love with it in middle school and have discovered new authors and disciplines every year since. So, I have a few opinions. Nature writing that stands the test of time has three things going for it.

  1. It simplifies the complexities.
  2. It recognizes the state of the world (economic, political, social) at the time of publishing.
  3. The emotional stakes are rooted in community, not isolated scientific thought.

Every year, I revisit a few of these books and reference some daily for my job running this publication. Some are mushroom field guides, some are stories of community. Most focus on the promise of medicinal mushrooms, which is important in my journey now — incorporating mushrooms in daily life versus the psychedelic.

That’s the beauty of the best books. You never read the same page the same way. Your understanding of the world has shifted and the words are the rocks in the river that remain. So I hope you find whatever you’re searching for here.

The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins

Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing

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Tsing explores the matsutake mushroom, the most valuable in the world, and globalization. This book is extraordinary in its depth, covering Japanese gourmet food and culture, industrial forests, Yi Chinese goat herders, and the current time of massive human destruction, to name a few.

I read this book like a collection of essays instead of a flowing read. Tsing is so full of knowledge that it’s dense at times, making it easier to digest in sections. Since finishing, it has informed my research and direction in understanding the role we play and how our desires are globally influential, for better or often worse.

Get a copy.


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All That the Rain Promises and More: A Pocket Field Guide to Mushrooms

David Arora

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Arora is one of the definitive mushroom authors in North America. His wit and humor in addressing the subject has cemented his status as an icon. Just look at that cover. Chicken of the woods, a bow-tie, and a trombone? Please.

This pocket guide is more than a field guide for foraging mushrooms, it’s a bite-size version of his Mushrooms Demystified, a defining book for all mycologists. I pick this up to identify, confirm, research, and quiz myself on the species I turn to at random.

Get a copy.


Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants

Robin Wall Kimmerer

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I first read Kimmerer’s masterpiece during my graduate program while studying Creative Nonfiction Writing. I’ve always loved nature writing and lyricism, something Kimmerer shows us beautifully in her text that intertwines myth, history, science, and kindness in a braid like its name.

Each time I pick it up, what has become apparent is her prophetic nuance. She separates the threads for us to see, but it is up to us to move forward from the text and braid together the detrimental impact of white Western ways that are deeply embedded in an American understanding of plant medicine.

Get a copy.


MycoMedicinals: An Informational Treatise on Mushrooms

Paul Stamets

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Stamets is a prolific author in the space, with Mycelium Running almost making this list. However, that’s just not as impactful to me as the Comments section on the 17 mushrooms he covers. Working with C. Dusty Wu Yao, [look up], the history lessons and cultural context he offers each mushroom are unparalleled even on forums today.

Here are the authors on Cordyceps sinesis:

This mushroom has made international sports headlines. At the Chinese National Games in 1993, a team of nine Chinese runners shattered 9 world records, breaking the record for the 10,000 meter run by an unprecedented 42 seconds. They gave credit to their intense training regimen and the use of Cordyceps.

Get a copy.


Mushrooms Demystified

David Arora

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This is the Arora book to buy if you want the encyclopedia of mushrooms. This is my fact-checking resource, especially because I prefer to do that editorial task with a hardcover away from the reaches of the AI internet 🙃. It’s an illustrated guide that benefits beginners to expert psychonauts because it has it all.

You won’t find the interesting essay tidbits like MycoMedicinals, but taxonomy is so descriptive, it goes into the best detail with smell. When you’re foraging, smell is one of the key indicators of an edible mushroom versus a poisonous one.

Arora can’t help but let his humor shine through. On a particular ‘shroom whose page I just lost as I went to type it out, under Edibility?, he wrote, “Who knows? Who cares?”

Get a copy.


Entangled Life: How Fungi Make Our Worlds, Change Our Minds, and Shape Our Futures

Merlin Sheldrake

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Discover the world of mushrooms through Sheldrake’s wondrous eyes is the best way to describe this book. The connections and research he pulls together are similar to Tsing’s take on connecting the world of mushroom hunting and the growing world of interest.

However, his version reads more like a book, whereas I digest Tsing’s work in essay form. My single critique for the book is its lack of supportive data in the face of its claims. Sometimes Sheldrake casts sweeping arms that are beautiful to read, but aren’t contextualized in the limitations of the research referenced.

Get a copy.


Here are the rest of the fungi books on my list to revisit this year.

  1. Stirring the Mud: On Swamps, Bogs, and Human Imagination by Barbara Hurd
  2. The Ancient Wisdom of Chinese Tonic Herbs by Ron Teeguarden
  3. Healing Mushrooms: A Practical and Culinary Guide to Using Mushrooms for Whole Body Health by Tero Isokauppila
  4. The Way Through the Woods: Of Mushrooms and Mourning by Litt Woon Long
  5. Mycophilia: Revelations from the Weird World of Mushrooms by Eugenia Bone

When it comes to growing mushrooms, there aren’t cultivation or psychedelic guides here. There are so many great books on magic mushroom cultivation, but honestly, that’s just not where I’m called to focus. Psilocybin mushrooms are wonderful, but these days, I’m more concerned with the benefits of medicinal mushrooms more than the benefits of microdosing, of which I have felt many.

I don’t think there is one best mycology book or an “essential guide” because each brings a different perspective and pulls together different resources. In fact, that’s probably the biggest issue in the online world of fantastic fungi today: there isn’t one single resource because the field is changing constantly. If there’s one thing these books teach, it’s that mushrooms are powerful and have been recognized as such for millennia.

The fungal pharmacy that we’re gifted with on Earth shouldn’t be taken lightly, and wild mushrooms should be foraged appropriately. Whenever possible, we can even start growing gourmet mushrooms in our own kitchen.


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Shannon Ratliff

Shannon Ratliff

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Table Of Contents

1
The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins
2
All That the Rain Promises and More: A Pocket Field Guide to Mushrooms
3
Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants
4
MycoMedicinals: An Informational Treatise on Mushrooms
5
Mushrooms Demystified
6
Entangled Life: How Fungi Make Our Worlds, Change Our Minds, and Shape Our Futures

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