Princeton : Princeton University Press, 2022.
xxii, 270 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm
Includes bibliographical references and index.
"When Michael Hathaway embarked on the fieldwork that led to this book years ago, he thought he would be writing a conventional ethnography, centered on the lives of people engaged in the foraging and circulation of an exotic type of mushroom known as the matsutake, which sells for a thousand dollars a kilogram in Japan. In southwest China's Himalayan forests, Hathaway spent months in two mountain communities, among ethnic Tibetans and among the Yi people, whose lives have been transformed beyond recognition by the lucrative matsutake trade. After spending time with Chinese and Japanese matsutake scientists in their labs and field stations, and as he became an ever-more skilled mushroom forager himself, Hathaway reconceived this book entirely. Rather than writing a book on the social worlds of Chinese mushroom hunters, he decided to key on how the mushroom's own behavior shapes the actions of humans and human communities -- as well as the actions of other living beings -- in ways that aren't often considered. The matsutake and other fungi aren't simply pawns of human economic projects. They seek out other species to carry out their own life projects -- i.e., they make their own worlds. And in so doing the exert profound influence on all living things around them. Of course this is true not just of fungi. All living organisms, including plants and animals, constantly and actively interpret and engage with their surroundings. But until recently we have not been able to appreciate the extent to which the "lowly" fungi engage in these activities as well -- how profoundly they shape the rest of nature. They make worlds that we, as humans, are part of, whether we notice it or not. Hathaway's book keys on how fungi exercise this capacity for world making. The matsutake takes center stage for most of this book. The vast majority of this particular mushroom species are never foraged by humans. They live their own complex mycelial lives, shuttling nutrients and water between trees, soil, and minerals, travelling slowly through subterranean depths for centuries, and attracting a wide variety of insects, birds, and mammals to their fruiting bodies. Hathaway's book explores the many ways in which the matsutake, humans, and other forms of life on our planet engage with each other, and pull each other into their respective lives"--,Provided by publisher.