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Summary

There is a lifeform so strange and wondrous that it forces us to rethink how life works....

Neither plant nor animal, it is found throughout the earth, the air and our bodies. It can be microscopic, yet also accounts for the largest organisms ever recorded, living for millennia and weighing tens of thousands of tonnes. Its ability to digest rock enabled the first life on land, it can survive unprotected in space and it thrives amidst nuclear radiation. 

In this captivating adventure, Merlin Sheldrake explores the spectacular and neglected world of fungi: endlessly surprising organisms that sustain nearly all living systems. They can solve problems without a brain, stretching traditional definitions of ‘intelligence’, and can manipulate animal behaviour with devastating precision.  

In giving us bread, alcohol and life-saving medicines, fungi have shaped human history, and their psychedelic properties, which have influenced societies since antiquity, have recently been shown to alleviate a number of mental illnesses. The ability of fungi to digest plastic, explosives, pesticides and crude oil is being harnessed in break-through technologies, and the discovery that they connect plants in underground networks, the ‘Wood Wide Web’, is transforming the way we understand ecosystems. Yet they live their lives largely out of sight, and more than 90 percent of their species remain undocumented. 

Entangled Life is a mind-altering journey into this hidden kingdom of life and shows that fungi are key to understanding the planet on which we live and the ways we think, feel and behave. The more we learn about fungi, the less makes sense without them.

©2020 Merlin Sheldrake (P)2020 Penguin Audio

Critic reviews

"A dazzling, vibrant, vision-changing book. Sentence after sentence stopped me short. I ended it wonderstruck at the fungal world. A remarkable work by a remarkable writer." (Robert MacFarlane, author of Underland)

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Willingly entangled

One of the most fascinating, inspiring and thought-provoking books I have ever read/listened to. It strongly reminded me of Robert Macfarlane’s nature writing, which is one of the highest recommendations I can give it, as well as Michael Pollan’s How to Change Your Mind. Sheldrake’s voice is a sheer pleasure to listen to - hard to believe that he’s not a trained and seasoned voice actor - and his deep passion and enthusiasm for his subject is infectious. The references to continental philosophy and the connections to Terence McKenna and Paul Stamets were an unexpected bonus.

9 people found this helpful

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Interesting but disconnected and wishy, washy

More of a philosophical/personal description of the nuances of hallucinogens rather than a comprehensive popular science of fungi and their applications for human problems.

Also quite disconnected. One chapter about truffels suddenly jumps into one about lichens with never really an underlying argument or direction.

6 people found this helpful

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beautiful book and very well read

Absolutely stunning book. I was spellbound, the narrative is beautiful and has captivated my mind and heart.

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Really struggled to make it through

I'm honestly surprised I didn't enjoy this as I have a keen interest both in wild mushroom foraging and psychedelics, but the narrator seems to drone on endlessly in this half-stoned dreamy way and by the time I finished the book I felt like my head would implode if I heard another "everything's connected man, it's all a network" or "everything's a mushroom if you think about it". A cool and interesting topic but repetitive and desperately in need of some pruning.

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Multi levelled enjoyment

I really loved this book from beginning to end. I remarks early on that Merlins mind seems a bit like mycelium. I love the way he explores funghi from so many angles. His narration is fabulous

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Wonderful

A low impact exposition into a mostly hidden world, written and narrated with a clear love for the subject matter. The hard copy includes a long list of references and colour pictures to allow you to further investigate the subject.

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Fascinating!

Nature has all the answers. We have to steer our children to study sciences and save our planet. Merlin’s book should be on the science curriculum in all schools

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Holistic Science at its Best

“Entangled Life” is like the very best of Richard Dawkins in its vivid portrayal of the fascinating complexity of organisms, in this case fungi. What marks this book out as something more however, is Sheldrake’s holistic focus on the networks of interdependence, communication and manipulation actively mediated by fungi - one manifestation being the “Wood Wide Web”.

Historically humans are deeply entangled too, from the hunting of truffles, to the brewing of alcoholic drinks, to the shamanic use of psilocybin mushrooms. Fungi now may literally save the world! Their mycelia can be grown to replace plastics, wood, concrete, leather - almost any material, from waste products, as well as consuming pollutants such as oil, or toxic chemicals, even radioactive nuclides. They can combat pathogenic viruses and bacteria too, such as those killing the bees. Their usefulness is hugely under-appreciated.

The biology is nicely interspersed with biographical descriptions, such as his stay with Terence McKenna, and conversations with Paul Stamets, as well as the sensory delights of immersion in a hot Japanese bath of fermenting wood shavings, diving into mouldering leaf piles, sniffing the ground for truffles or thrusting your face into clusters of flowers.

Read by the author, there was something almost musical or poetic about this book, yet the science is flawless. It held for me both an intellectual fascination as well as being a imaginative sensory experience.

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Fabulous

Thoroughly enjoyed this book, thank you Merlin. Being a soil scientist & plant nutritionist come gardener it was a joy to listen to a language & understanding I harmonise with instinctively so well.

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Absolutely fantastic

This was one of my favourite audio books ever! Put everything into context. As a forester, it was so nice to hear about the role fungi play in the woods and beyond.

Thank you Merlin. Your reading was amazing.

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  • Jenny
  • 28-05-21

Mesmerising

Merlin Sheldrake’s understated narration at first seems less than stimulating, but as the fascinating details of the mycological world that surrounds, permeates, supports and connects us all are revealed in ever greater complexity, it becomes mesmerising. His rhythm and descriptive artistry make this an unexpected pleasure to listen to. I was entranced, and will recommend it to everyone. It represents a revolutionary paradigm shift in the way we perceive relationships in the natural world, with implications which reach far into all aspects of our world view.

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  • Le Roux
  • 01-03-21

mushroom here

really loved it, easy, informative journey of sheldrake, mycelium and ecosystems. anyone can read this

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  • Joanne Clough
  • 24-01-21

A book for our times

We now know how strongly narratives permeate our lives and society - but very few books ever truly illustrate how the many threads of all those stories, facts and discoveries are intertwined, by example, while educating and entertaining with the ease of a genuine master. Merlin is not just a supremely knowledgeable mycologist, but also an elegant and insightful master of his field. I have been informed, entertained and motivated to learn more. And there could be no better narrator. The mushroom talks!

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  • James R. Modrall
  • 03-01-21

Fascinating info

I find the new (meaning since my high school biology class) on fungi and the interdependence between them and plants fascinating. This book is a good overview with many perspectives on the topic. Unfortunately the author is not the best narrator for his book - his voice is a bit soporific.

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  • Anonymous User
  • 20-11-20

well done Merlin

A wonderful, inspiring and illuminating foray into fungal observation. Melvin has a curiosity organised like mycelium and in this book he eloquently describes his discoveries and mused on the significance.
thank you
Is Melvin Rupert's son?

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  • Anonymous User
  • 15-10-20

Remarkable and genius

I really enjoy the scientific, philosophical, enthusiastic approach on this subject. It was a really fascinating experience for me