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

(Kantelingen #4)

4.05  ·  Rating details ·  4,226 ratings  ·  559 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
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
Oct 02, 2022 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Disappointingly light on the whole physical market or supply chain of the mushroom from the title, this is foremost a critique on capitalism that tries to weave too many disparate threads together with neologisms

I expected something akin to Elizabeth Kolbert her way of writing in Under a White Sky: The Nature of the Future - non-fiction based on travel, observation of local phenomena, giving a voice to people, and finding a common theme and narrative from that.

Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing however does
Mar 25, 2020 added it
Shelves: academic
honestly ending this book with an excerpt from ursula le guin is some king shit
Alexa Tanne
Jun 12, 2020 rated it did not like it
You’ve seen this book before. It’s on the shelves of every contemporary art gallery, probably sitting somewhere near Hyperobjects. It’s in the window of every independent bookstore in the recently curated ‘nature’ section, tucked in next to Donna Harraway. Years pass and it’s still there, in fact it's been around for so long now that it's basically entered itself into the canon by virtue of its constant presence just about everywhere.

When my curiosity finally got the better of me and I actually
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
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
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
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
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
Jacob Wren
Dec 17, 2015 rated it it was amazing
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:
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
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
I do not feel strongly about the content of this book but the sheer amount of research that went into it fills me with awe. To be honest I'm just glad I finally conquered the mountain and finished this book lmao I don't think I'll retain much but at the end of the day it was still lovely (although very, VERY thorough and thus extremely slow-moving) and I always love a good example of how all things are interconnected :) ...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
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
Conor Ahern
May 17, 2022 rated it liked it
This was a quirky and interesting book recommended to me by my friend Alice. It really made me want to forage, and taught me a lot not only about alternatives to capitalism as a framework for conducting a life, but also the degree to which my own ability to imagine or consider such things has been constrained by the heavyhandedness of the capitalist system we all inhabit.

It did have a lot of filler that I didn't find all that interesting, and the ethnographer's tendency to make what seem like w
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
Sep 18, 2019 rated it it was ok
Really wanted to love this but it reads like a robot ingested a load of Goldsmiths social studies MA dissertations and regurgitated something soulless - will probably give it another try one day
Nov 14, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This book is extraordinary and a joy to read.
Sumirti Singaravelu
I have come to realize that one of the greatest challenges in Sustainability science is the communication of the dire situation to the general readers, without evoking hopelessness and helplessness.

Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing does a brilliant job of communicating the story of the climatic emergency and the cost of inaction from the capitalistic economy without sounding preachy. This book is an example of what a powerful narration and story can do to tickle the imagination of those in a different fiel
Dec 11, 2021 rated it really liked it
A fascinating book that uses the matsutake mushroom as a way to talk about the environment, science, society, capitalism, and the place of humans in the world. Chapters are short and there are lots of notes and references. Highly recommended for anyone looking for a different angle of approach to some of the more pressing issues in the world today.
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.
Yuko Shimizu
Ok, this was such a mind-blowing read, one of the craziest I have read this year along with How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence. Both happened to be about mushrooms.
Sighting Japan’s economic rise in the 80s as the direct cause of end-capitalism in the USA (And elsewhere) today is a wild wild theory with which one may or may not agree, but just to read about all these crazy facts surrounding
Aug 20, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Wowzer! What a book!
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
Precarity is a globally coordinated phenomenon, and yet it does not follow unified global force fields. To know the world that progress has left to us, we must track shifting patches of ruination.

The Mushroom at the End of the World takes the matsutake or songkoumo mushroom as both a subject of analysis and as a frame of discussion. These are extremely valuable mushrooms, which are regarded in Japan as a high-status delicacy and as a prized gift. The author takes us to Northern Europe, the Pacif
Dec 25, 2021 rated it liked it
Shelves: wishlist
I fell into the opening pages of this book in a Vermont cabin at the tail end what was probably the biggest shroom trip I’ll ever have in my life. It was the kind of wobbling that became in the end a cathartic heaving inside.

Aaron was reading this book and left it out for me to pick through. Its poetic softness seduced me just enough, as did it’s promises of a non traditional structure, as did Aaron, jamming out to his friends Levon’s music scarfing down the greenest ruffles sour cream and onio
Dec 13, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
One of the best books I've ever read. Profoundly grounded and nuanced. Not incredibly light fare, and it took me a little bit to get used to how Tsing communicates ideas, but I found her explorations of the complexities and connections which emerge from (and in spite of) disturbances-- whether human or otherwise-- and the thorough yet empathetic way she reframes all sorts of processes that I often don't notice, take for granted, or assume are objectively Negative to be incredibly compelling. I c ...more
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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.

Other books in the series

Kantelingen (4 books)
  • Où suis-je ? - Leçons du confinement à l'usage des terrestres
  • Down to Earth: Politics in the New Climatic Regime
  • Against Nature

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20 likes · 2 comments
“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.” 13 likes
“To walk attentively through a forest, even a damaged one, is to be caught by the abundance of life: ancient and new; underfoot and reaching into the light. But how does one tell the life of the forest? We might begin by looking for drama and adventure beyond the activities of humans. Yet we are not used to reading stories without human heroes. This is the puzzle that informs this section of the book. Can I show landscape as the protagonist of an adventure in which humans are only one kind of participant? Over the past few decades many kinds of scholars have shown that allowing only human protagonists into our stories is not just ordinary human bias. It is a cultural agenda tied to dreams of progress through modernization. There are other ways of making worlds. Anthropologists have become interested, for example, in how substance hunters recognize other living beings as persons, that is protagonists of stories. Indeed, how could it be otherwise? Yet expectations of progress block this insight. Talking animals are for children and primitives. Their voices silent, we imagine wellbeing without them. We trample over them for our advancement. We forget that collaborative survival requires cross-species coordinations. To enlarge what is possible we need other kinds of stories, including adventures of landscapes.” 11 likes
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