• The Mushroom at the End of the World

  • On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins
  • By: Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing
  • Narrated by: Susan Ericksen
  • Length: 11 hrs and 6 mins
  • 4.5 out of 5 stars (240 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

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.

©2015 Princeton University Press (P)2017 Tantor

What listeners say about The Mushroom at the End of the World

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  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

so much to tell about a mushroom

First of all I should say that this kind of anthropological, ethnographic combined with biological, environmental research is quite new to me.
Tsing takes you through the complete value chain of the Matsutake mushroom and uncovers as far as I can remember two kinds of stories about capitalism that are intertwined.

The mushroom was a delicacy in Japan because it was so rare and only grows in certain pine forests. However, due to human intervention in the forests of Oregon, the mushroom started to flourish. This is where southeast Asian migrants (war refugees) started to make a living from this mushroom, picking them on common land and selling them in the 'open ticket' market in Vancouver. This is what she calls 'salvage accumulation', whereby common resources are turned into private profits.

At the same time she tries to take these scenarios as examples for living in precarity. She goes into great detail in how the mushroom is foraged and traded and what the customs and beliefs of the migrant as well as the white pickers and sellers are. She draws parallels in between the mushroom itself and how it only grows in a ravaged landscape and how people (could) live. She analyses how the mushroom makes its journey from spore to fruiting body of the mycelium, picked and sold, until once it's on its way in a crate it has become a 'full capitalist commodity', whereafter it becomes entwined again in cultural practices of giving and ceremony and the non-capitalist values that encompasses.

Because her book branches out into so many detailed accounts of these different aspects of the mushroom, it's sometimes hard to keep track of the point she's trying to make. I started listening not knowing what I would hear exactly and perhaps a sort of map, chart or legend (book summary) would have helped. It's only after finishing that I start to see the web and links that she has been spinning.
The narrator does a really good job and takes you into the story. I did however, start listening at 1.3 times the speed to keep myself more engaged.

5 people found this helpful

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An interesting book full of great ideas but lacking clarity.

I appreciated the work of the author. If someone is interested in the boundaries between mushroom foragers and entrepreneurship as it relates to capitalism and the natural world, this is an excellent read.

I struggled however with obtuse vocabulary and meandering stories. The latter seemed an intentional mirroring of the sporadic growth of mushrooms, but the overly indulgent vocab lacked clarity.

4 people found this helpful

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About capitalism?

This book is mostly about fungus and forests and forest management and the people who pick the mushrooms. It is an interesting description of those things, particularly if they interest you. The book presents commentary and insight on certain aspects of capitalism but does not provide real insight on a post-capitalist world that can sustain 7 billion people.

1 person found this helpful

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Captivating and mind-opening

I'm a fan of Tsing's work, and while I prefer Frictions for academic purposes, this is a magnificent book conveying and developing her work in a way that's easy to follow, and therefore great at as audio-book. I highly recommend it!

1 person found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars

my favorite book ever

Capitalism, mushrooms, geopolitical history, human behavior. I couldn't ask for a better book. it is very entertaining and educational.

1 person found this helpful

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Tsing is brilliant

As in other ethnographies I've read, there were a few parts that were a little too drawn out for me, but Tsing's writing made even those pretty good.

Ericksen's narration was as lively as Tsing's prose, and she pronounced with ease the names in various languages. It was a pleasure to listen to. love that books like these are made available as audiobooks. Thanks, Tantor Media!

1 person found this helpful

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Had to make her talk faster

It’s a heavy text book, but with the slow reading, I couldn’t see the big picture and the concept Tsing was highlighting. As for the writing itself, I wish she would go in depth more with technogical terms, and stop saying “i imagine”- redundancies...?maybe just my taste...? Yet, I don’t mind rereading and listening to this again though. Super interesting topic.

2 people found this helpful

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saTOyaMA

Once again I wish Audible would make sure narrators can pronounce at least one of the languages they’re going to be reading names and loan words in. I don’t speak any of the southeast Asian languages that many of the names of the subjects in this book come from, but the narrator’s Japanese pronunciation was painful enough I had to give up.

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Rich, inspiring and highly relevant.

Tsing does an incredible job plucking grounded stories from the matsutake trade and considering them in the light of some of the most disconcerting questions I face about survival in the ruins of capitalism. I found myself constantly stopping to take notes in everything from mycology to philosophy to the structure of storytelling.

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Academic babbling about a subject that could have been easily described and discussed

Be prepared for large unnecessary words as the author tries to make the subject of mushrooms too difficult for even a mycologist to understand. Get your dictionary ready, and be prepared for your eyes to squint while you process the academic babbling of a professor.

Would not recommend this book to anyone that doesn’t want to have to pause the book and think hard about the interrelated concepts of time, ecology, and industry.

The author dragged in multiple fields of thought that were unneeded, it was a red flag at the beginning when she started off with a typical quantum mechanics reference to possible realities.

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  • maggie
  • 07-26-19

The Mushroom at the End of the World

A compelling multi-species account of themes around mushroom picking, with a strong development of themes of procerity and personhood under neoliberalism and the new forms of scholarly formulations endorses by people like Haraway. Totally banging book.

5 people found this helpful

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  • Jan Wyllie
  • 04-09-20

THINKING WITHOUT A BOX

So it is never-ending and withou t boundaries. A journey full of surprising branches. Just love it. Thanks.

2 people found this helpful

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  • Jim W
  • 06-12-20

Too much waffle

I gave up on this book. I really wanted to like it, and there are some interesting facts. But the author has interspersed these with so much unsubstantiated opinion and chatter that by the time she is talking about something cool again I’ve drifted off. Shame, because the idea interested me

1 person found this helpful

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  • c huntbach
  • 12-19-19

A beautiful, rich and fascinating book.

A great 'read" and extremely well researched. Full of complex and brilliant ideas. I'm ready to start it all over again.

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 09-07-19

phenomenal

great in every aspect- very enlightening and wholesome. interspecies survival in capitalist precarity explored though layering of chapters and different aspects amd points of view

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  • Anonymous User
  • 03-10-22

High Key Life Changing

“Mushroom at the End of the World” is earnest deep dive into different life-ways that exist in our disturbed world (economically, naturally, culturally) of today.

I starting listening to this audiobook during 2020 amid peak lockdown in Melbourne Australia. I found out about the title from a talk between two writers and they discussed it in the context of how to do anything (let alone make art) in what feels like a collapsing world. 2 years later and I have only just finished the title. Not for lack of interest or love, but from slow learning and meandering (something the spirit of the book encourages.)

I recommend the book to anyone and everyone who feels lost in the world today.

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  • Anonymous User
  • 07-11-21

Great book ruined by the narrator

This key anthropological text is a compelling and interesting read for any person interested in capitalism, culture, and ecology (and a few things more). But this narrator struggles with Japanese pronunciation and often puts stress/intonation on the wrong words in sentences rendering this audiobook unlistenable to my ears as a Japanese speaker. It’s a shame.