The Book of Fungi: A Life-Size Guide to Six Hundred Species From Around The World by Peter Roberts and Shelley Evans
|The Book of Fungi: A Life-Size Guide to Six Hundred Species From Around The World by Peter Roberts and Shelley Evans|
|Category: Popular Science|
|Reviewer: Sue Magee|
|Summary: Six hundred representatives of the fifth order of the natural kingdom, life size and in glorious colour.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 656||Date: May 2013|
|Publisher: Ivy Press|
Fungi are the fifth order of the natural kingdom and it's estimated that there are approximately one and a half million species, found throughout the world. The Book of Fungi looks at six hundred of the known fungi and each is pictured at its actual size in full colour and there's a scientific explanation of its distribution, habitat, form, spore colour and edibility. The tone of the book is academic but don't let this put you off - before I began reading my knowledge was broadly restricted to knowing that it was better to discover fungus growing outside your house than attached to the structure inside - and I found it interesting, entertaining (which I didn't expect) and accessible.
First of all, let's get out of the way what it isn't. It isn't a field guide unless you're in the habit of carrying a book which weighs in at 2.3 kilos and nor is it arranged to facilitate consideration of the fungi which you're likely to find in a particular area. If this is what you're looking for there's an excellent list of regional field guides at the back of the book. It's definitely not a guide to discovering edible mushrooms - there's a note on each page to say whether the fungus is edible or inedible but if that's what you're looking for then you might be better off with Fungi by Michael Jordan.
I found the book surprisingly accessible for a novice, deciding early on that I wasn't going to attempt to remember names but rather concentrate on what fungi are about. Do you know that they're the primary recyclers of fallen leaves and rotting wood? That's why you find that rich, fertile humus where you least expect it. The book looks at a representative sample of fungi and doesn't restrict itself to the sensational or oddities but includes fungi that you're likely to find near you.
As an introduction to the subject you get an explanation of fungi, how they interact with plants and animals, their recycling functions and the situations in which they become pests or parasites. There's a fascinating chapter on food, folklore and medicine - did you know that one and a half million tons of cultivated mushrooms are produced each year? - and some general information on distribution and conservation. We start getting to the nitty gritty with Collecting and Identifying Fungi and then move on to looking at the individual species.
For each fungus covered there's a wealth of information packed into a single page. A map highlights where - globally, rather than a specific location - you're likely to find a particular fungus. There's brief text to detail its habitat and what you're likely to find it with, how it grows and how abundantly, the spore colour and whether or not it's edible. A line drawing shows the underside and there's a full-colour, life-size photograph (they're all of superb quality, by the way). The descriptions are pithy and brief and there's a very useful indication of similar species which might cause confusion.
The bane of a reviewer's profession is that we get to sit down and read books through - and this isn't a book which benefits from that. It's a book to use for reference (there are excellent indices for both common and scientific names), to open at random and browse through. I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy of the book to the Bookbag. It's one I shall return to at my leisure.
If you want to cook mushrooms then there are some excellent recipes in Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi.
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You can read more book reviews or buy The Book of Fungi: A Life-Size Guide to Six Hundred Species From Around The World by Peter Roberts and Shelley Evans at Amazon.com.
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