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Entangled Life Reviews

Entangled Life by Merlin Sheldrake

Entangled Life

How Fungi Make Our Worlds, Change Our Minds and Shape Our Futures

Merlin Sheldrake

4.53 out of 5

7 reviews

Category: Non-fiction
Imprint: The Bodley Head Ltd
Publisher: Vintage Publishing
Publication date: 3 Sep 2020
ISBN: 9781847925190

Entangled Life is a mind-altering journey into a spectacular and neglected world, and shows that fungi provide a key to understanding both the planet on which we live, and life itself.

1 Prize for Entangled Life

The British Book Awards
2021 Shortlist: Non-Fiction Narrative Book of the Year

The judges for this category will have a tough time choosing between these books: a natural historian, a former president and a Second World War veteran are just some of the authors on this list. Weaving a string between all of these books is the remarkable stories they tell and the important topics they tackle, from racism to climate change to hopefulness.


4 stars out of 5
11 Sep 2020

"Sheldrake is an unusual thinker "

Entangled Life is an engrossing, captivating journey into the usually hidden lives of fungi. It would be an impressive offering on the subject by a mycologist at the end of their career; and yet, impressively, Sheldrake is only 32 years old. This is a rigorous, comprehensive, perspective-altering debut by a young author who, if this book is any indication, has an exciting career in not only science but also literature ahead of him.

5 stars out of 5
10 Sep 2020

"A joy"

Somewhere out there may be some tiny threadlike organism which can happily munch through mountains of supermarket shopping bags and discarded plastic toys (made in China, binned in Britain), and turn them into the richest, finest compost. A company in New York has also created something called 'mycelium leather', a material made by fungal activity, which Stella McCartney is considering using for her handbags. Entangled Life is a captivating trip into the weird and wonderful mycorrhizal world around us — and inside us. It's full of startling revelations, detailed science and just enough eccentric humour to make it digestible.

5 stars out of 5
Steven Poole
29 Aug 2020

"It’s tempting, as Sheldrake points out, to see fungi as the biological model for a better world"

Home-brewing does not quite have the wholesome connotations of healthy lockdown living that home baking does, but the biologist and writer Merlin Sheldrake cheerfully owns up to having been heavily into moonshine from his undergraduate days, and he ends this book by fermenting some over-ripe fruit, just as our forebears did, in order “to let it modify my perceptions of the world” – or in other words, get smashed. He is nothing if not a participatory researcher into his subject, and one with a winning sense of humour. At another point, he goes truffle-hunting with some secretive experts in Italy. When he turns up, he discovers that they are wearing camouflage outfits. “I asked them,” he reports, deadpan, “whether it helped them to sneak up on the truffles.” (No, but it helped them to avoid being followed by rival trufflers.)

3 stars out of 5
28 Aug 2020

"it is laced with intriguing details"

Entangled Life is itself a little shapeless; the narrative sometimes doubles back on itself. Nonetheless, it is laced with intriguing details — some fungal spores are dispersed at up to 100km per hour; some fungi catch worms in nooses; the oldest known lichen is 9,000 years old. There is also the zombie fungus, which can control carpenter ants, forcing them to climb a plant and to clamp on to a major vein. Once the ant has performed its role, the fungus digests the luckless creature, and spreads its own spores. Wasson, the JP Morgan banker, was so taken with fungi that he divided all Indo-European people into two cultures — mycophobes, who are ignorant of the fungal world, and mycophiles, who know it and love it. Sheldrake makes the case for shifting ourselves a little towards the latter.

5 stars out of 5
27 Aug 2020

"this entrancing study of fungi changes our view of the world"

Merlin Sheldrake, a mycologist who studies underground fungal networks, carries us easily into these questions with ebullience and precision. His fascination with fungi began in childhood. He loves their colours, strange shapes, intense odours and astonishing abilities, and is proud of the way this once unfashionable academic field is challenging some of our deepest assumptions. Entangled Life is a book about how life-forms interpenetrate and change each other continuously. He moves smoothly between stories, scientific descriptions and philosophical issues. He quotes Prince and Tom Waits... A “door-opener” book is one with a specialist subject in which it finds pathways leading everywhere. This is a genre devoted to connectedness in all directions, and is one well suited to our times. Sheldrake’s book is a very fine example.

4 stars out of 5
John Carey
23 Aug 2020

"a book that beguilingly weaves together lived experience and scientific research"

For fungus specialists, uncanny events like this present a problem. Do fungi think? Do they have memories? And how can they, since they have no brain or nervous system? Unusual questions call for unusual answers, and Sheldrake, with other researchers, opted to receive a dose of the hallucinogenic drug LSD, under clinical conditions in hospital. This attempt to find out how fungi feel does not seem to have worked, because Sheldrake goes on asking the same questions, and the status of fungus-study among academic disciplines has, he feels, suffered from its association with LSD, Timothy Leary, magic mushrooms and the 1960s drug scene.

  • The BooksellerBook of the Month
5 stars out of 5
Caroline Sanderson
14 Feb 2020

"Read this astounding, mind-altering book, and I promise you you'll never look even at the mildew in the bathroom, the mould on your marmalade, or mushrooms in the supermarket in the same way again. "

In this captivating debut, Sheldrake-mycologist extraordinaire who features in the chapter in Robert Macfarlane's Underland about the World Wood Web-explores the spectacular world of fungi: astonishing organisms that, neither plant nor animal, are found throughout the earth, the air and in our bodies, though 90% of their species remain undocumented. They can solve problems without a brain, stretching traditional definitions of what we think of as "intelligence", survive nuclear radiation and live on unprotected in space, and can manipulate animal behaviour in extraordinary, unsettling ways we struggle to explain. But before it all gets too creepy, we're reminded that fungi give us bread, alcohol and life-saving medicines; and that their ability to digest plastic, explosives, pesticides, crude oil and other messes of human creation make them vital to restoring the health of the planet, too. For those of a hallucinogenic bent, there is also chapter on magic mushrooms and psilocybin which convinced me that Silicon Valley-style micro-dosing might be quite a good idea. Read this astounding, mind-altering book, and I promise you you'll never look even at the mildew in the bathroom, the mould on your marmalade, or mushrooms in the supermarket in the same way again.