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Magical Mushrooms, Mischievous Molds
ISBN 0691028737 / 9780691028736 / 0-691-02873-7
Publisher Princeton University Press
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Oh, to be young and eligible to enroll in Professor George Hudler's "Plant Pathology 101" class at Cornell! For those of us who aren't, this book is the next best thing--a hugely entertaining introduction to spore lore. Not only does he bring us up to speed on the fungus science, he relates the amazing impact of his branch of science on human history. The Eleusinian Mysteries that so inspired Plato and Sophocles were probably caused by ergot, which Tim Leary and the CIA put to scarier use in its refined form, LSD. Other fungal products are more upbeat: penicillin (Hudler tells a good story about British scientists who put its spores on their clothes in 1940, to preserve their research in case Germany invaded), cyclosporins, which permit such organ recipients as David Crosby not to reject their healthy new livers, and Beano, a derivative of alpha-d-galactosidase that suppresses flatulence in humans. Want to commit the perfect murder? Try aflatoxin, as a Graham Greene character does in The Human Factor. Do you dare to recreate the hallucinations of the Salem witches? Ergot's just the thing, as characters discover to their misfortune in Robin Cook's thriller Acceptable Risk. Hudler packs plenty of intriguing stories into a brief, readable book: exploding artillery fungus, spores spread by earthquakes that can cause anorexia, a 35-acre spread of 1,500-year-old identical mushrooms in Michigan that may be the oldest, biggest living thing on Earth. No question about it--Dr. Hudler is one fun guy. --Tim Appelo [via]