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The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins

4.15  ·  Rating details ·  1,905 ratings  ·  254 reviews
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 are ...more
Hardcover, 331 pages
Published September 29th 2015 by Princeton University Press
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Emily Tarrant I read it for an undergrad anthropology course. It can be a little heavy but if you have a lot of time for class discussion and break down each chapte…moreI read it for an undergrad anthropology course. It can be a little heavy but if you have a lot of time for class discussion and break down each chapter, I think it's a really worthwhile book to read(less)

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Joshua Buhs
Feb 04, 2016 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: fans of Eisenberg, "Ecology of Eden."
Recommended to Joshua by: University of Chicago Press FB
Coulda been great: it's an experiment that failed, or, maybe, never needed to be taken in the first place.

At its most fundamental, Tsing's book is an ethnography of those people involved in the trade of the matsutake mushroom. Valued in Japan, the mushroom has become scarce there; now there are attempts to bring it back to the archipelago at the same time it is being harvested in Finland, Russia, and the Pacific Northwest--where much of the book is centered--and where the work is done by an unex
Bayliss Camp
Apr 16, 2016 rated it it was ok
Do you ever have one of those evenings where you're listening in on a really erudite, engaging conversation? A conversation among smart people where everyone is totally into the subject, and in discussing it bring each other to all kinds of new insights and connections among widely disparate things?

Have you ever overhead that kind of conversation and thought to yourself, "Wow. That sounds like a really interesting set of people. Talking to each other in a really animated way about something tha
Nov 26, 2018 rated it did not like it
This book is hot garbage. It’s one of the worst and most pointless books I’ve ever read.

Tsing, an anthropologist, has attempted to write about some ill-defined phase of post-capitalism while apparently knowing next to nothing about capitalism. “Salvage capitalism,” as she tries to use that term, turns out to be just capitalism.

Again and again, Tsing writes tautologically about the most basic and banal capitalist subjects as if she is Captain Cook discovering Hawaii.

This book seems to be the re
Jul 15, 2018 rated it liked it
I had high expectations of this book but I think the the title is misleading - Tsing doesn't really explore the possibility of life in or after capitalist ruins - at least not in a way that feels very politically generative for me. The anthropology of people and mushrooms is fascinating though, but overall the book is a bit let down by Tsing's Panglossian characterisations of precarity as freedom and also her lack of engagement in Marxian political economy and also permaculture. But maybe this i ...more
Mar 25, 2020 added it
Shelves: academic
honestly ending this book with an excerpt from ursula le guin is some king shit
May 09, 2018 rated it it was amazing
What I liked most about this book was how grounded it is in biology and systems thinking. A background in biology is not required but if you have one, you are going to get so much more out the ideas.
It is the kind of book where I read a statement and it had to spin off to read the source. I became torn between following the cadence or a reference.
I think I’ll need to make my own glossary of concepts from this book and read it again.
It was the first book to reference A. D. M Rayner
Degrees Of Fre
Mar 22, 2020 rated it did not like it
I can't believe I finished this book which had like 100 pp of forest ecology but that's what a pandemic does, give you lots of time and desperation for some kind of transformative hope-giving ideology!

Tsing explicitly states that her writing aims to be "patchy" rather than motivated by a central thesis, as she characterizes the systems she studies. What this actually taught me is that centralization and systematization are not inherently bad, in fact kind of necessary in writing... Otherwise you
Jacob Wren
Dec 17, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favourites
Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing writes:

Now it seems that all our lives are precarious – even when, for the moment, our pockets are lined. In contrast to the mid-twentieth century, when poets and philosophers of the global north felt caged by too much stability, now many of us, north and south, confront the condition of trouble without end.


While I refuse to reduce either economy or ecology to the other, there is one connection between economy and environment that seems important to introduce up front:
Jessica Dai
Jan 14, 2020 rated it liked it
this is definitely an academic, theory-heavy book, and I'd honestly be surprised if anyone with no background in (what I perceive to be) often-esoteric theory would have had the fortitude to finish the book.

as someone who hasn't read this kind of writing in a long long time, I'm definitely not really qualified to evaluate it as it's meant to be. that being said I'm not quite sure this title is reflective of its contents. there's not really a prescriptive argument for or even engagement with wha
Michael Livingston
Sep 15, 2018 rated it really liked it
Just a smidgen too academic for me at times, but otherwise an enthralling look at Matsutake mushrooms, the people who pick them and the ways in which they illuminate our economic, social and environmental systems. Tsing is an intellectual powerhouse, drawing surprising connections throughout.
Aug 20, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Wowzer! What a book!
Dec 16, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This was one of the most though-provoking, unique and interesting books I read in 2018. It is evocatively written in a series of short chapters, “like the flushes of mushrooms that come up after a rain.” Not your typical academic publication!

The approach is a "practice of noticing," in which the small is examined in order to gain insights in the large. In this case, that means looking at the Matsutake mushroom trade as a lens or gateway into late and post-capitalist ruin. Since Heidegger, philo
Sandy Plants
I spent all day cutting trees down to make posts for a deer-fence I’m building. I thought about all the mycelium running below my feet and the infinite-seeming spores and pollen flowing and blowing around me. Scales of growth and decomposition and change and what a magical time and space to spend time in: gardening, listening, cutting, harvesting, sweating, slipping and hitting myself, sitting with the feelings, feeling all of the sensations, taking deep breaths... “Oh, there’s an owl in the dis ...more
Jan 05, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
Came across this book written by anthropologist Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing subtitled as hunting for mushrooms and the capitalist ruins :). it's an incredible book of anthropology about matsutake mushrooms which is world's most expensive mushroom. She tracks the communities of people often violently exiled, who are harvesting the mushroom in the northwest of United Sates and the different kinds of collaborations, commodity chains and affiliations that spring up. But even though it's about mushrooms, i ...more
Dan Power
Apr 07, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is continually fascinating, not just in the broad and impossibly entangled subjects it covers, but in the way it unfolds in rhythms, moving around the mushroom in ever-increasingly sized circles to reveal a web of interconnections in everything. Fuck Capitalism and fuck Boxes! Commodification is the trading of meaning for value, there's spores in the fuckin Stratosphere! Inevitably, covering so much eclectic ground, there are a few bits which grab my attention less BUT even though the ...more
Oct 16, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Some parts of this book were a little above my pay grade but nevertheless, I immensely enjoyed this book about matsutake and it’s connections to the precarious world we live in. Much like the favorite non-fiction books I’ve consumed over the years, I hope to return to this jawn over and over, learning new things about existing through change and ruin each time.
Meghan Fidler
Jul 12, 2016 rated it really liked it
Anna Tsing's "The Mushroom at the End of the World" is a delightful exploration of "third nature," or what lives despite capitalism. As she explains: "I look for disturbance based ecologies in which many species sometimes live together without either harmony or conquest." She traces this ecology for the Matsutake mushroom, a delicacy in Japan that has lead pickers to follow them around the globe to Oregon, where the logging industry has created forests of quick growing pines. Matsutake grow well ...more
Kate Savage
Feb 23, 2018 rated it really liked it
I love to sink into the mind of Anna Tsing, because she knows her mind -- and her writing -- isn't 'hers.' It's a web of roots and rhizomes where all kinds of creatures are welcome.

As academic writing: this is such a good challenge to old epistemologies and ego-infused academies. This is playful, collaborative, and surprising. As Tsing writes: "Getting by without progress requires a good deal of feeling around with our hands."

As lyrical prose: some sentences made me grit my teeth.

As political s
Amanda Sie
Dec 02, 2019 rated it really liked it
INSPIRING!!!! WHAT MIGHT IT BE LIKE TO LET LOOSE AND BE AS CREATIVE AS YOU WANT TO BE IN ACADEMIA???????????? ********the caveat is that you need to have TOTAL UNEQUIVOCAL grasp of the field before you do so which I DEFINITELY don't have and therefore DO NOT feel qualified to write like this yet but maybe someday.................................
Lilly Irani
Dec 22, 2015 rated it it was amazing
How the biologies of mushrooms and forests, japanese supply chain management strategies, and different practices of "freedom" among southeast asians and whites in the pacific northwest all make matsutake mushroom trade possible. Anthropology of capitalism at its best. Beautiful prose too.
Mike Young
Feb 19, 2016 rated it it was amazing
one of the best books i've ever read about storytelling, noticing, edges, living-with, and picking all night with lights and Others
May 30, 2018 added it
Shelves: theory
really wonderful intervention and practice in radical specificity! a lingering troublesome question that tsing posed is if we ought to do away with the progress narrative as it relates to Left politics, i.e. categorizing à stance as “progressive” and in doing so undergirding a linear myth of progress and progression. the claim resonates, it’s helpful to sit with, but sheesh is it difficult, progress implications are all over the Left. thinking about queerness and how i feel v lucky to live now a ...more
S.J. Creek
Feb 29, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This book was a delicious ramble through the forests of the world. Tsing highlights the social relations (particularly racial and national) and explores the human attachments swirling around matsutake mushrooms. She emphasizes ecological interconnectedness and the determination of life forms to find a way to exist. A really beautiful anthropological adventure of a book.
Julia Chang
Sep 28, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: planetary-health
truly enjoyed this slow meandering book, especially the chapters she calls the ‘freedom assemblage’!! a dream syllabus on renegade communities would pair this section with excerpts from Dixie Be Damned about the great dismal swamp, I think
Andria Tattersfield
Mar 25, 2020 rated it it was amazing
different kind of hope
Feb 13, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: mushrooms, nonfiction
This book is full of remarkable descriptions of the micro and macro, the individual and social--someone feeling the ground of the forest for traces of Matsutake, the energy of a mushroom auction, the byzantine links of transnational supply chains. Tsing's curiosity is infectious. I want to interview the local shoelace tying collective.


Look, this isn't revolutionary political philosophy, and I suspect some of the knocks on this book are because that's what folks want it to be. Its ethnographic a
Jan 13, 2019 rated it really liked it
Not as fun as “toads and toadstools” I tell you what
Dec 25, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
What a thoughtful, well-observed ethnography this is, driven by that special kind of anthropological curiosity that dares to think beyond the conceptual categories of our past and present, instead gesturing towards some unformed future that becomes legible in close attention the social relations of goods & people on the margins. In this version, we have a story told around a singular thing: the matsutake mushroom. As tends to be the case with objects brought into neoliberal capitalism, a small t ...more
Richard Thompson
This book tries to be a lot of things at once. It is an anthropological description of the society of matsutake mushroom pickers, a story of possibly post-capitalist economics, a work about botany, ecology, forestry and micobiology, and a story of the interconnectedness of things. It uses the matsutake mushroom to tie all of these subjects together around a central theme of hopeful but precarious developments of nature and humanity in the wake of human disturbance of the natural environment. If ...more
Rosa Vertov
Feb 04, 2018 rated it liked it
It is good as a piece of journalism/field study but pretty awkward as an academic work; moreover, its message is rather problematic, if you look at it closer. New Republic put it much better than me; the key words are,
Tsing’s portrayal of capitalism as sharing the spirit of a diverse, opaque, and not entirely rational nature is not the subversive surprise she seems to imagine. It is, rather, the mirror image of a dominant form of pro-market poetics. Tsing seems only slightly aware that her port
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Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing is Professor of Anthropology at the University of California, Santa Cruz. She is the author of In the Realm of the Diamond Queen: Marginality in an Out-of-the-Way Place and coeditor of Uncertain Terms: Negotiating Gender in American Culture.

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“We are stuck with the problem of living despite economic and ecological ruination. Neither tales of progress nor of ruin tell us how to think about collaborative survival. It is time to pay attention to mushroom picking. Not that this will save us—but it might open our imaginations.” 7 likes
“Without stories of progress, the world has become a terrifying place. The ruin glares at us with the horror of its abandonment. It’s not easy to know how to make a life, much less avert planetary destruction. Luckily there is still company, human and not human. We can still explore the overgrown verges of our blasted landscapes - the edges of capitalist discipline, scalability, and abandoned resource plantations. We can still catch the scent of the latent commons - and the elusive autumn aroma.” 5 likes
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