Matsutake is the most valuable mushroom in the world—and a weed that grows in human-disturbed forests across the northern hemisphere. Through its ability to nurture trees, matsutake helps forests to grow in daunting places. It is also an edible delicacy in Japan, where it sometimes commands astronomical prices. In all its contradictions, matsutake offers insights into areas far beyond just mushrooms and addresses a crucial question: what manages to live in the ruins we have made?
A tale of diversity within our damaged landscapes, The Mushroom at the End of the World follows one of the strangest commodity chains of our times to explore the unexpected corners of capitalism. Here, we witness the varied and peculiar worlds of matsutake commerce: the worlds of Japanese gourmets, capitalist traders, Hmong jungle fighters, industrial forests, Yi Chinese goat herders, Finnish nature guides, and more. These companions also lead us into fungal ecologies and forest histories to better understand the promise of cohabitation in a time of massive human destruction.
By investigating one of the world's most sought-after fungi, The Mushroom at the End of the World presents an original examination into the relation between capitalist destruction and collaborative survival within multispecies landscapes, the prerequisite for continuing life on earth.
Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing is professor of anthropology at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and a Niels Bohr Professor at Aarhus University in Denmark, where she codirects Aarhus University Research on the Anthropocene (AURA). She is the author of
In the Realm of the Diamond Queen (both Princeton).
One of Times Higher Education’s Best Books of 2015
The publisher can really be congratulated. Rarely can one immerse oneself into an academic work with informative and sensuous pictures and figures that set a pace and allow the reader to explore the senses of smelling, grabbing, searching and walking. Tsing's book is not a conclusive analysis of post-capitalist processes but an outline for living sensuously, creatively and freely with each other.---Jenni Mölkäken, Suomen Antropologi
Winner of the 2016 Victor Turner Prize in Ethnographic Writing, Society for Humanistic Anthropology
Highly original. . . . This book brilliantly turns the commerce and ecology of this most rare mushroom into a modern parable of post-industrial survival and environmental renewal.---Peter D Smith, The Guardian
Tsing's extraordinary book provides an intimate account of the ecology of the matsutake and the work of the pickers, entrepreneurs and gourmets who bring it into the global economy. As such, The Mushroom at the End of the World is about much more than mushrooms. This is a book, perhaps above all, about the experience of living in precarious times and about life at the edges or in the cracks of the world system of capitalism. . . . A remarkable and elegantly conceived book that well rewards close attention.---John Miller, Green Letters
One of Flavorwire’s 10 Best Books by Academic Publishers in 2015
Finalist for the 2016 Northern California Book Awards in General Nonfiction, Northern California Book Reviewers
"It isn't often that one discovers a book that is at once scholarly in the best sense and written with the flowing prose of a well-crafted novel. Speaking to issues of major concern, The Mushroom at the End of the Worldis a brilliant work, superbly conceived, and a delight to read."—Marilyn Strathern, emeritus professor of social anthropology, University of Cambridge
Through careful study of matsutake, [Tsing] discovers connections to other objects that create dynamic and moving webs across time and space. The methodological carefulness and precision, even on a sensuous level, is impressive. . . . The mushroom poses difficult questions about responsibility. . . . Tsing's well-researched and thought-provoking book is a testament to that.---Jenny Jarlsdotter Wikström, Angelaki
"This book uses the matsutake mushroom as a lens through which to examine contemporary environmental history, global commodity production, and science. With soaring prose, penetrating intellect, and sustained creativity and originality, it links disparate topics in new and profound ways. Spanning an astonishing number of fields, this work is destined to be a classic."—Michael R. Dove, Yale University
Unusually rewarding. . . . Bursting with ideas and observations, Tsing's highly original ethnographic study follows this spicy smelling mushroom's global commodity chain. . . . Consistently fascinating, [Tsing's] story of the picking and selling of this wild mushroom becomes a wonderful window on contemporary life.
The book will be of considerable interest at the complex intersection of social science, natural science and humanities. That is where anthropology is ideally located but achieving this is rather rare. . . . Without ever lecturing at the reader or hammering on some academic conviction, the book instead reveals a range of things that are variously urgent and pleasant, keeping ecological disaster in sight while allowing plenty of time for curiosity, diversity and surprise.---Hjorleifur Jonsson, Asia Pacific Journal of Anthropology
Tsing weaves an adventurous tale. . . . Her engrossing account of intersecting cultures and nature's resilience offers a fresh perspective on modernity and progress.
One of Kirkus Reviews Best Nonfiction Books of 2015 in Science
This was a year of many of books about the Anthropocene--the name now frequently invoked to describe an era of incalculable human impact on geological and ecological conditions. Few of these books are as focused and useful as Tsing's, which follows the supply chain of the Matsutake, the most valuable mushroom in the world, through ‘Japanese gourmets, capitalist traders, Hmong jungle fighters, industrial forests, Yi Chinese goat herders, Finnish nature guides, and more.' How else to negotiate the conditions--if there are any--for our survival?---Jonathan Sturgeon, Flavorwire
The anthropologist Anna Tsing joins a range of scholars exploring the ongoing devastation of our environment and undoing the old binary of ‘nature' and ‘society'--in this case, taking the charismatic Matsutake mushroom as her protagonist, tracing its existence within ecosystems, markets, and cultures across the globe. I'm interested in this rather remarkable book, both in its empathetic meditations on ‘companion species' and in its experimental mode of history writing.---James Graham, Metropolis
[An] extraordinary book.---Jim Igoe, American Anthropologist
"If we must survive in the ‘ruins of capitalism'—what some call the Anthropocene—we need an example of how totally unexpected connections can be made between the economy, culture, biology, and survival strategies. In this book, Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing offers a marvelous example with the unlikely case of a globalized mushroom."—Bruno Latour, author of An Inquiry into Modes of Existence
A fascinating account of the biology, ecology, genetics and anthropology of the world's most valued mushroom.---Louise O. Fresco, Times Higher Education
[Tsing] writes clearheaded prose with an ear for lyrical phrases. . . . [The Mushroom at the End of the World] is a wonderful meditation on how humans shape and distort the natural landscape, and in return, are shaped and distorted by a wildness of their own making.---Casey Sanchez, Santa Fe New Mexican
Provocative. . . . Beginning with an account of the matsutake mushroom, Tsing follows the threads of this organism to tease out an astonishing number of insights about life in the Anthropocene.
"This is a thoughtful, insightful, and nuanced exploration of the relationships between people and landscapes, landscapes and mushrooms, mushrooms and people. Anthropologists, historians, ecologists, and mushroom lovers alike will appreciate the depth and sensitivity with which Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing follows this modern global commodity chain, from the forests of North America and China to the auction markets of Japan."—David Arora, author of Mushrooms Demystified
One of Kirkus Reviews Best Nonfiction Books of 2015 in Business and Economics
An outstanding book that speaks to core questions in contemporary geography. . . . The Mushroom at the End of the World abundantly deserves the praises and awards it has garnered since its publication, and I could not endorse it more strongly.---William E. O'Brien, American Association of Geographers Review of Books
A beautiful, humble book. . . . [A]nthropology at its best.---Darwin Bond Graham, East Bay Express
"Scientists and artists know that the way to handle an immense topic is often through close attention to a small aspect of it, revealing the whole through the part. In the shape of a finch's beak we can see all of evolution. So through close, indeed loving, attention to a certain fascinating mushroom, the matsutake, Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing discusses how the whole immense crisis of ecology came about and why it continues. Critical of simplistic reductionism, she offers clear analysis, and in place of panicked reaction considers possibilities of rational, humane, resourceful behavior. In a situation where urgency and enormity can overwhelm the mind, she gives us a real way to think about it. I'm very grateful to have this book as a guide through the coming years."—Ursula K. Le Guin
An original analysis of the value regime of our current capitalist economy. . . . Tsing's contribution to the debate on valuation and evaluation is important in that it points to the relevance, both in research and in politics, of noticing the nonscalable value regimes embedded in life processes.---Laura Centemeri, Tecnoscienza
The Mushroom at the End of the Worldevolves into a well-researched and thought-provoking meditation on capitalism, resilience, and survival.---E. Ce Miller, Bustle.com
Winner of the 2016 Gregory Bateson Prize, The Society for Cultural Anthropology