Magical Mushrooms, Michievous Molds

George W. Hudler, Author
George W. Hudler, Author Princeton University Press $39.5 (248p) ISBN 978-0-691-02873-6
Reviewed on: 12/29/1997
Release date: 01/01/1998
While most people might not think mushrooms and molds to be fascinating creatures, Hudler, professor of plant pathology at Cornell University, does a remarkable job proving them wrong. In this thoroughly entertaining book, he demonstrates that fungi are much more than slimy, disgusting, disease-causing organisms; in fact, they have dramatically influenced the course of human history. With chapters on yeasts used to make bread and to brew alcoholic beverages, on the medicinal uses of fungi from penicillin to possible treatments for AIDS, on edible mushrooms like the common button mushroom and the more exotic truffle, and on hallucinogenic mushrooms, Hudler takes readers on an enthralling and informative tour of this much maligned kingdom. Fungi do have a downside and Hudler doesn't gloss over their ill effects, discussing the havoc arising from the failure of the Irish potato crop (caused by Phytophthora infestans) and the misery and starvation attributable to ergot (Claviceps purpurea) contamination of grains, including, likely, the events associated with the Salem witch trials. He also covers a host of fungi-involved human diseases, from athlete's foot to yeast infections and histoplasmosis. Hudler even explains that chemicals in ergot, when ingested, can lead to formication, or ""a sensation of ants crawling over the body."" With a chapter providing advice for those interested in collecting wild mushrooms, there's something in this wonderful volume for just about every taste. Illustrations not seen by PW. (Oct.)
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