A few months ago, I received a book about mushrooms in the mail. I admit I stared at it a while. It's called "Mushroom". That's all. I got the review copy, so no cover art to speak of. And...did I WANT to read a book about Mushrooms? Truly, Oxford University Press sends me the darndest things.

But I looked at it, and I looked at the other book they sent me on physics (I must get AT LEAST 10 books per year about physics for the lay audience. WHO is reading or demanding all of these books on string theory? Y'all are going to flood the market you know. I receive FAR more of these than I do, say, books on evolution, on bacteria, on anthropology, on disease, on geology...on anything. Apparently the true science lovers only read physics). I picked up the book on Mushrooms and headed to the gym.

I read most of my books for review at the gym. This means my book reviewing is very slow (cross training on the elliptical is something I only do once a week max and I also include reading many scientific articles in that time), but it also means that if a book is good, I can tell. Because ellipticals are BORING. Seriously boring. They put TVs on those things for a reason. When you're reading something that makes you want to stab your eyes out with sweat rag (reviews on microRNA, I am looking at you), the time absolutely crawls. But when you're reading something good, fun, and interesting...you suddenly feel your legs start spinning and you jolt with surprise to find your time's up.

And thus, to my complete surprise, was Mushroom.

I never thought I'd enjoy a book on mushrooms. I did have enough interest in botany in college to take the regular and advanced sections, but mushrooms...well they're delicious, but that's about it. Imagine my surprise, but this book was fascinating!

The main cause of this is, without a doubt, the author, Nicholas P. Money. You can tell that this is the kind of professor that loves his craft. He reminds me a lot of my own college botany professor, in a way. You'd think that an 8am MWF botany class would have made people want to die, and it did, but no one complained as much as they should have. That professor got us through every 8am class with his acerbic wit, his quirky asides, and his complete and total passion for botany. Money has a similar wit, and his passion for mycology is fully expressed in his book. This dudes LOVES him some mushrooms, and I'm not talking the psychedelic kind (though he does have a chapter on those). Money is clearly a consummate teacher, an eccentric academic who's love for his subject and somewhat odd sense of humor permeate every page. And that's what makes this book so interesting, it's full of witty asides and opinionated commentary. I caught myself reading bits of it aloud to Mr. S.

That said, this book is probably not for everyone. You really DO need to be interested in mushrooms, and you need to have a tolerance for some pretty opinionated skeptical commentary (I certainly do, but some may not want their mushroom facts infused with opinions on the failings of alternative medicine). But it's a fascinating story of, not just what mushrooms ARE, but how the study of them came to be, the pioneers and scientists (including one ex-soldier they called the "Old Ironguts") who made mycology into the field it is today, and where exactly that field still needs to go. This is not a field mushroom guide, instead it's the book that makes you want to buy one.

It actually really piqued my interest in mushrooms, and has made me really think about them more than before (especially consider that, before, I didn't think about them really at all). For example, did you know that baby bella, portobella, and button mushrooms ARE THE SAME FUNGUS? They are just at different stages! That sort of thing will blow your mind and make you want to try shitake, if only to branch out a little.

I think the book would have benefited from, above all, MORE PICTURES. Money tries with lots of descriptions, but with some of this fruiting stuff, it really works better to see it in action. There were pictures throughout the book, but I think even more would be better, especially when the "beautiful color" and "robust firm flesh" of the mushrooms is so lovingly described, a photo would really make more of them come to life.

I definitely recommend the book for anyone interested in the humble 'shroom. It made me think of them more, and I found myself looking up recipes and suggesting them for dinner. As I chop them up I start looking at the little gills, the stems, I start testing them to feel how "firm" they are, as described. And I start to wonder what those other ones are like, where they grow, and how pretty they are. This book will make you see the beauty. And in my case, it'll make you appreciate the flavor.

But no matter what, the first thing I think of when I think of mushrooms will ALWAYS be this: