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

4.15  ·  Rating details ·  1,068 ratings  ·  144 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…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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Rating details
 ·  1,068 ratings  ·  144 reviews

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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
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
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:
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
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.
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.
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
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
Julia Chang
Sep 28, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: land
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
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 sma ...more
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
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
Dan Sherrell
Oct 09, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Anna Tsing is my academic hero. She doesn’t squeeze her ideas into a linear arc with a neat conclusion—she lets them pop up unexpectedly, shrivel and intertwine (like, she’s quick to point out, the mushrooms she’s studying). This book defies any kind of summation: it contains mycology, mycological historiography, the political economy of post World War II Japan, comparative ethnographies of Vietnam veterans and Vietnamese immigrants, riffs on dancing, on spore formation, on capital in translatio ...more
Alex Birchall
Feb 21, 2017 rated it it was ok
Most of it is trite babble. Many books have been written on all the subjects Tsing writes about with little energy and a veneer of sophistication - but the sheer compaction of them simply produces a confused book. She doesn't explain any of her concepts - assemblage (with no reference to D+G), pericapitalism, as examples - in any great detail, so naturally we are left pondering. Also I balk when anyone talks about 'stories' or 'narratives' and wonders with amazement how they all intersect. Postm ...more
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
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
Guilu Murphy
Jan 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Really an incredibly written academic environmental anthropology book. Tsing wrestles with the complexities of messiness, uncontrollable nature, life after and with human disturbance, (non)scalability, context specific, (non)alienation, and anti ahistorical commodities. She does it all in the most engaging, humbly observational manner. She treats her matsutake and complicated questions of existence in capitalism’s margins with great thought and care. And the best part was her book was wholly pal ...more
Jun 25, 2019 rated it really liked it
What an interesting book! What happens on the fringes of capitalism or once capitalism has ‘progressed’ out of an area? A whole lot! Definitely gave me lots to think about regarding capitalism and the multitudes of life ways existing in its aftermath. Because life continues in a clear cut forest, even if the value to the economy seems negligible. The middle was a slog but the beginning and ending were brilliant!
Corina Murafa
A tad pretentious and without a clear “thesis”/ red thread. Interesting and informative at the end of the day, but you’re pretty constantly hoping that “more” would come - something deeper, something more substantial, more thorough research, etc. The musings on capitalism, scaling as the modern curse of capitalism and several others seemed to me often an intellectual bla bla, more poetic than trully and deeply insightful.
Nick Van Brunt
Dec 21, 2018 rated it it was ok
While it was interesting from an anthropological perspective to learn about how matsutake-picking culture, the author's tried to put too many ingredients (rudimentary economic discussion, anecdotes about biology, efforts at poetic writing, etc.) when cooking the book and took all of the funk out of the mushroom. If you read the book, you will notice the sad irony and become one with the precarity facing all others who may have had the high hopes that I had when plunging into this forest.
I loved this and found in comforting; people, animals and fungi have ways of living in and around broken systems, and we can learn a lot for examining them.
Jun 20, 2019 added it
encounters, disruption, freedoms, ghosts, sharing-as-knowing. stories as science.
so much good, thoughtful stuff.
Molly Grear
Aug 15, 2019 rated it really liked it
Honestly thought the mushroom was going to be more of a metaphor, but it was mostly just about the mushroom.
Nov 17, 2018 rated it did not like it
This book wasn't what I thought it would be. I was looking for a more mycologically-focused book and not one where mushrooms are used as an artistic muse. I was also looking for a more direct critique of capitalism rather than support of "pericapitalism". Also in college I was told by a professor that academic writing comes in two camps: writers who write to be understood and writers who write not to be understood. This book is a strong example of the latter. This work is inaccessible to most of ...more
Geert Vansintjan
Jun 12, 2019 rated it really liked it
This is a weird book . A study about a mottley crowd of marginal mushroom pickers, the mushroom itself, the forest they grow in, and the lychens that connect trees and pickers and international trade with history, the Vietnam war, community and the end of the world.

Must read.
David Spanagel
Oct 25, 2017 rated it liked it
This book really unsettled me in a productive way. The content and the methodology are infused into the narrative at so many levels that I found myself experiencing unexpected insights at almost every turn (and with its 20 short chapters, there are plenty of turns). I had hoped it would prove to be a stimulating book to assign to my students, but that ambition was largely defeated by the book's tendency to blur conventional epistemological categories, and the idiosyncratic experiential approach ...more
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Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing (born 1952) is a professor of anthropology at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Tsing received her B.A. from Yale University. She completed her masters and Ph.D. at Stanford University. In 2010, she received a Guggenheim Fellowship. She has contributed, and written several articles and books.

In the Realm of the Diamond Queen: Marginality in an Out-of-the-way Place
“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.” 2 likes
“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.” 0 likes
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