The Mushroom at the End of the World
…On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins
“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
“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
“…a poetic and remarkably fertile exploration of the relationship between human beings and the natural environment, and what can still be done to stem its rapid deterioration.”—Pankaj Mishra, The Guardian
by Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing
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.