Mushrooms, Molds and Miracles

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Book Category: Non-Fiction, Science

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Reviewed by Maria Hoeffer

Fungus. The mere word brings up stomach-turning images of hideous growths infesting the most unclean of bathrooms and refrigerators. But as Lucy Kavaler so eloquently and enjoyably explains in Mushrooms, Molds, and Miracles, fungi is fascinating and necessary in our world. From gracing our salad plates to keeping us well with penicillin, fungi improves our lives every day. Though not always beneficial, Kavaler also explores the power and destructive abilities of the mighty fungi as well.

More soldiers were sent home from the South Pacific in World War II with fungal infections than from combat injuries, for example. The fungus causing the potato blight of Ireland changed the entire course of that country’s history. Kavaler demonstrates both the beauty and the ugliness of these tiny organisms. Reading Kavaler’s book is like talking with an entertaining friend. She’s got a story for every topic and sprinkles enough juicy details into the science-y bits that you hardly realize you are learning quite a bit.

This book, originally published in 1965 has been recently re-issued. While this is a fabulous way to excite a new generation about fungus, some major updating is needed. References end in the early 1960s. Reading about the Cold War or the newly discovered field of genetics distances the contemporary reader from the otherwise engaging text. Likewise, while reading about a 1960’s housewife may have helped draw in the 1965 reader, in 2007 it just feels archaic.

Overall, Kavaler breathes life into a topic often neglected like a moldy shower curtain.

Armchair Interview says: Mushrooms, Molds and Miracles teaches you a lot.

Author’s Web site:

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