Shroom: A Cultural History of the Magic Mushroom

Andy Letcher, Author . Ecco $25.95 (360p) ISBN 978-0-06-082828-8

Letcher, an eco-protestor who once lived in a tree house, wrote this exhaustive history in order to debunk the folklore in which mushroom munchers have rooted their appreciation of the hallucinogen. The "bemushroomed," he says, proselytize that the fungus inspired humans to construct Stonehenge, found Western philosophy and even think up Santa Claus. To demonstrate that the real story is "less fanciful and far more interesting," Letcher draws on biological and archeological studies, social history and even his own diaries to chronicle phenomena like Algerian cave drawings that look suspiciously like mushrooms and the plight of Siberian shamans. But he often buries his best material. It's startling, for example, to learn that a New York City banker helped kick-start the psychedelic '60s with a Life magazine article about Mexican mushrooms. But Letcher digresses for 18 pages before finally delivering the kicker: financier Gordon Wasson engaged in a grave deception to gain access to the goods and declared himself blameless as hippie hordes destroyed the ancient community Huautla. Major figures like Timothy Leary and Allen Ginsberg appear, but are also subsumed by Letcher's colorless, academic style. Readers expecting a druggie classic in the style of Aldous Huxley or Carlos Castaneda will be disappointed. (Feb. 27)

Reviewed on: 12/18/2006
Release date: 03/01/2007
Paperback - 360 pages - 978-0-571-22770-9
Paperback - 360 pages - 978-0-571-22771-6
Paperback - 360 pages - 978-0-06-082829-5
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