The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins (Paperback)

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Staff Reviews

With the matsutake mushroom as a touchstone, The Mushroom At the End of the World is a philosophical and scientific engagement with a variety of subjects, including genetics (and epigenetics), biodiversity, cultural syncretism, immigration, global economies, the possibility of freedom and what it means to have it (and not have it), and international relations—and that’s not even all.

The matsutake is said to be the first thing that grew in Hiroshima and Nagasaki after the bombings and is in fact impossible to cultivate because it requires a devastated environment to thrive; further, the matsutake and other mushrooms play a significant role in making unforgiving conditions hospitable for other plant-, and by extension, animal life.

 The matsutake is present then, at both beginnings and ends, making it an apt if optimistic symbol of our times. Tsing would also like to think of it as a mirror: the mushroom, a “companion” species, is emblematic of the hybridized, unruly, and utterly opportunistic nature of ecosystems, both around us and inside our bodies.

Tsing is an anthropologist by education with a lyrical turn of phrase which is displayed to full advantage in the book, a series of short, montage-y chapters, some dwelling on place, some on memory, and a number of involved but still buoyant dips into scientific explication, which only add to the fluid poetry of this unlikely ethnography.

—Sarah, Longfellow Books

— From Sarah Recommends!


What a rare mushroom can teach us about sustaining life on a fragile planet

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.

About the Author

Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing is professor of anthropology at the University of California, Santa Cruz. She is the author of Friction and In the Realm of the Diamond Queen (both Princeton).
Product Details
ISBN: 9780691220550
ISBN-10: 0691220557
Publisher: Princeton University Press
Publication Date: June 8th, 2021
Pages: 352
Language: English