Book Review: “In Search of Mycotopia”

“In Search of Mycotopia: Citizen Science, Fungi Fanatics, and the Untapped Potential of Mushrooms”
By Doug Bierend
Chelsea Green Publishing, 2021
336 pages, hardcover, $24.95

Doug Bierend’s “In Search of Mycotopia: Citizen Science, Fungi Fanatics, and the Untapped Potential of Mushrooms” was completed during the pandemic and takes the reader on a comprehensive, largely present-day tour of fungal enterprises, applications and subcultures, with well-placed backstories. I loved reading about the eventual discovery of halophilic fungi in Utah’s Great Salt Lake and the latest bioremediation research examining how communities of bacteria and fungi can detoxify contaminated soil. As someone interested in fermentation, I found myself eagerly re-reading Bierend’s chapter on the topic, which includes tasty prose about Short Mountain Cultures (a maker of kimchi, kefir, tempeh and the like) and Bootleg Biology (an open-source yeast project for beer brewing), with a healthy helping of Sandor Katz throughout. “Amateur” or citizen scientists, who continue to have a critical role in mycology, are discussed alongside new, accessible tech — like “Bento Lab” kits for DNA sequencing and online database platforms for cataloging observations from the field.

The Telluride Mushroom Festival, Terence and Dennis McKenna, and Paul Stamets are all in the book, don’t worry. Refreshingly, the author also deftly weaves in a lot of new players to the mycological scene, ones we have heard far less about, including members of BIPOC and LGBTQ+ communities.

In putting together this book, Bierend shares his journey becoming a mycophile. “In Search of Mycotopia” is thoughtful and optimistic, and I recommend it to fungi fanatics like myself and also to those who are merely curious. The book includes a comprehensive notes and citations section (I give it an A+), and I already got the audiobook version for my commutes.

– Mary Yurlina

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