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Shroom: A Cultural History of the Magic Mushroom

3.85  ·  Rating details ·  295 ratings  ·  36 reviews
Is Santa Claus really a magic mushroom in disguise? Was Alice's Adventures in Wonderland a thinly veiled psychedelic mushroom odyssey? Did mushroom tea kick-start ancient Greek philosophy?

Much stranger than the fictions it has inspired, the world of the magic mushroom is a place where shamans and hippies rub shoulders with psychiatrists, poets and international bankers. Th
Hardcover, 384 pages
Published February 27th 2007 by Ecco (first published December 1st 2006)
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Average rating 3.85  · 
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else fine
Nov 28, 2008 rated it did not like it
Recommends it for: people who think santa is a flying mushroom metaphor
Shelves: plants, read2008
Really unsatisfying. I'm not sure who the intended audience was for this book - maybe rabid Terrence McKenna fans, who can't be swayed by any kind of logic, and certainly won't be by Letcher's arguments here. The first half is primarily devoted to refuting Gordon Wasson and debunking what the author feels are popularly held beliefs about magic mushrooms - that Santa is a metaphor for shrooms, berserkers ate mushrooms before battle, and so forth. The main problem, of course, is that the majority ...more
Jan 13, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: fungophiles
I found it an effective counterbalance to all the hyperbole, wild flights of fancy and cherry picking the facts which Terence McKenna and Gordon Wasson resorted to in their theories of psychedelic mushroom use.
One of the main themes that Mr. Letcher so eloquently elucidated was that, in most of recorded history, mushroom intoxication was considered a toxic side-effect of mushroom poisoning and not a unique phenomena worthy of study.
The book is divided into three parts. The first part outlines th
Erik Graff
Jun 26, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: psychonauts
Recommended to Erik by: no one
Shelves: history
The thrust of this book, beyond what's indicated by its title, is to explode the myths surrounding psychedelic mushrooms, psilocybin and amanita mushrooms in particular. In so doing, the author focuses in particular on the popular hypotheses that magic mushrooms are behind many, if not all, world religions and that Siberian shamanism, based on mushroom use, paradigmatically represents original religion. Along the way he exposits and critiques such figures as Robert Wasson, Robert Graves, John Al ...more
Acacia Ives
Super informative but dry ugh so dry
Aug 20, 2007 rated it it was ok
Not nearly as interesting as I was hoping. It's an exhaustive history, but I can't shake the feeling that Letcher had an agenda set before he started his research and worked towards that end of debunking myths he felt needed debunking. He raises an important point about our quickness to look at ancient rites as justification of current indulgences, but I don't think he makes it. Also, for a book on hallucinogens and their cultural impact, you'd expect he'd have some fun writing. Not the case: it ...more
Barnaby Thieme
Jan 22, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: entheogens
I love this book for debunking the grotesque and intellectually-bankrupt beliefs of the crypto-entheo-hermeneuticists. Of course many of them will not be swayed by Letcher's careful argument because they're not terribly rational to begin with. Either way this book provides an engaging cultural history of psychoactive mushrooms and their reception by the credulous masses.
Harrison Gourlay
Oct 09, 2020 rated it really liked it
This was an interesting read. I wanted some more information in ways this book didn't get into, however it was light and entertaining throughout. I can recommend this for psychedelic lovers and those intrigued alike, it may sway you either way on the pendulum. Thank you for this book regardless of reception, Letcher, as this content needs to get out there by some method, into the universal consciousness which is you, and which is I. 4/5 stars.
Jan 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A great history on the impact of the Magic Mushroom through out time. From the ancient shamans of Siberia, to the Shamanic teachings and practices of Maria Sabina, a great read for those looking to learn more on the Psilocybin containing Fungi.
Jake Woods
May 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Love on a puffball for a long time to come
I initially bought this thinking it would support various theories of ancient psychedelia floating around. Instead, Letcher spends most of the book taking the opposite stance. No bother, I'm still glad I read it. He does recount the earliest newspaper and medical journal articles involving accidental intoxication--then goes on to debunk almost all of the other authors and amateur mycologists with ideas about the rise of religious cults and civilisations built around hallucinogen use.

Letcher save
5 Track
Nov 18, 2016 rated it really liked it
Either Letcher is way less mystically inclined than myself, or he hides it well for the sake of telling his story accurately & in a way that may reach less mystical ears (those that can listen, let em in!)

His conviction—apparently well-researched & well-explained—is that the mushroom does not have a major role in ancient human history beyond a few isolated examples (Mexico & Siberia mostly) , but that it has been a major force in "western" culture from the last half of the twentieth century & on
Apr 23, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This jarringly pseudo-sober account of what evidence there may be of intentional mushroom use throughout western (and other) civilizations turned me off at first by the author's so very British tone. The first great labor of the work is tearing down the mythologising that has overtaken plenty of us as to the role mushrooms have played in the history of religion, medicine, consciousness, language, space travel, etc., which the author does rapidly and cursorily. It was both fascinating and difficu ...more
Oct 15, 2007 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: anyone
I saw a copy of Shrooms in Barnes and Nobles and after reading the prologue, an account of an unsuspecting individual’s experience with magic mushrooms, I decided to buy it. The book was much better then I could have hoped and in retrospect, it really ought to have been; the hard cover set me back about $27. Shrooms is Andy Letcher's first book and hopefully not his last for it is impossible to ignore the ease with which Letcher writes. The beginning of Shrooms is full of hard scientific informa ...more
Mark Mann
May 26, 2015 rated it liked it
Probably only for those seriously interested in the history of psychedelic drug use, this is a surprisingly academic and sober book, definitely not an Electric Kool Aid Acid Test.

Lechter spends a lot of time debunking claims of mushroom use in ancient times by the likes of Gordon Wasson, and the spaced-out fantasies of Terence McKenna, that probably don't need debunking anyway. He makes a strong case that mushroom use is actually a modern phenomenon (although I couldn't help thinking that the a
Apr 20, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2009
I'm not sure if I'd recommend this to anyone else, unless you have an undying thirst for information about psychedelic mushrooms. I only read this because Dan bought it forever ago and never read it, so I figured that at least one of us should.

That said, it's remarkably interesting, packed full of random knowledge that might serve me well in Trivial Pursuit one day. The only things that I really didn't like was the UK-centric-ness of the stories and the author's general self-satisfied tone when
Jun 09, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It is hard to say how I feel about this book. On one hand Andy Letcher takes too much self pride in debunking theories. A whole chapter was wasted on talking about Gordon Wasson's theories, when I'm sure his targeted audience already found them out-dated. On the other hand, all of his mycological research is put together very well and is very interesting. I also like how he focused on every time period's ideas of magic mushrooms allowing the reader to see the transition to how we view magic mush ...more
Interesting little history on how psychedelic mushrooms have been viewed by Western culture. The author obviously was involved with the mushroom culture but still seems to keep a pretty realistic and critical viewpoint for most of the book. If you have interest in anthropology, the counter-culture, or a little better understanding of how the drugs work. It's aimed for the mass market, but still has lots of nice reference and history.[return][return]The author is also British, so there's details ...more
Jul 03, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2012
A measured, academic, and critical review of the history of psychedelic mushroom use, both alleged ancient and recent. The last couple chapters profiling two of the most famous, yet insufferable, "psychonauts" (Timothy Leary & Terrance McKenna) did wonders to turn me off ever having any personal experiences with the culture of shroom use. But it was an interesting critique of shroom myth vs. shroom fact, and a nicely removed armchair understanding of what the whole thing's about. That's enough f ...more
David Ward
Shroom: A Cultural History of the Magic Mushroom by Andy Letcher (ECCO 2007) (394.14). What a book! What a story! Could it possibly be that the identity of the magic mushroom had been lost until not much more than fifty years ago? Now THAT'S trippy! Here's something I had never heard before concerning the relative strengths of mescaline, psilocybin, and LSD-25: according to the author, psilocybin is ten times stronger than mescaline, and LSD is one hundred times stronger than psilocybin (p.15). ...more
Sara Gray
Jul 07, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Like Antipodes of the Mind for ayahuasca, this is a refreshingly analytical look at the rise of magic mushroom subculture over the last 100 years. If you'd prefer to think that Jesus and the ancient Greeks took shrooms, than this book will destroy your dreams (or just piss you off). But if you want a thoroughly researched piece of work that addresses why people use magic mushrooms currently, and the interesting and unexpected ways they've influenced psychedelic culture, then you're in for a very ...more
May 27, 2011 rated it really liked it
A thorough look at all the myths, particularly the religious/pagan/romantic ones surrounding "magic" mushrooms; very well-researched. Skillfully shows the deceit and New Age b.s. surrounding Robert Graves, Gerald Gardner, and the neo-Pagan resurgence in general (though that's not the overall point, it was interesting and appreciated). Really does cover all the known history of human interaction with hallucinogenic mushrooms, and does it entertainingly.
Michael Hughes
Jan 14, 2011 rated it liked it
A comprehensive history, a little on the dry side without much discussion of the importance of primary mystical experiences, but a worthy addition to the fascinating story of psilocybes and their chemical components. Also discusses Amanita muscaria and is sharply critical of Wasson's Soma theory and other "alternative" historical analyses (Allegro, Ruck, Heinrich, etc.).
Feb 03, 2011 rated it liked it
This book was very informative--I learned something new on nearly every page. However, the author tended to wax a little too poetic and long-winded at certain times, as if he wanted to end a section but wasn't sure how to do it concisely. He provided plenty of context for his research. but was also clearly biased in favor of his subject.
Mar 10, 2008 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: ALEX!
Shelves: misc-non-fic
This book is written by a hippy with two PhDs, so it's just what it should be: an enthusiastic history of shrooms which is scientifically and historically better researched than most non-fiction books I've read lately. Bravo to Letcher.
Nick Mather
Letcher does a great job examining the cultural history of the magic mushroom, and deconstructs some common myths along the way. He makes a serious attempt at being balanced, though I think some of his criticisms do not hold, though in general I agree with him more than disagree.
Eamon Brown
May 31, 2008 rated it liked it
Currently reading...good so far
Stefan Detrez
Aug 26, 2010 rated it liked it
Shelves: library
Non-nonsense overview of the history of magic mushroom use in the West discussing amongst others Wasson and McKenna.
Shaun said: "no way!" when I told him the main finding of this book. Which is that there is no evidence of anybody intentionally eating magic mushrooms in the UK before 1970.
Aug 11, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: journalism, history
fascinating reading and debunking of some new age woo
Julian Smith
Mar 15, 2013 rated it really liked it
Very in depth look into the psilocybin mushroom.
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