Book review: The Mushroom at the End of the World review – life in capitalist ruins

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

Written in “a riot” of short chapters, “like the flushes of mushrooms that come up after rain”, Anna Tsing’s highly original study explores ruined industrial landscapes and precarious livelihoods in this age of economic decline and globalisation. She travels the world in search of matsutake mushrooms and the people who forage for them in the forests of Oregon, Yunnan, Lapland and Japan, where they have become “the most valuable mushrooms on earth”, prized as gourmet treats and exclusive gifts.

It’s said that after Hiroshima was obliterated by an atomic bomb, “the first living thing to emerge from the blasted landscape was a matsutake mushroom”. They only grow in forests disturbed by humans and were first mentioned in an eighth-century Japanese poem celebrating “the wonder of autumn aroma”. The smell is unique, though Tsing admits most Europeans can’t stand it: “It’s not an easy smell. It’s disturbing.” This book brilliantly turns the commerce and ecology of this most rare mushroom into a modern parable of post-industrial survival and environmental renewal.

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