There is a lifeform so strange and wondrous that it forces us to rethink how life works… Neither plant nor animal, it is found throughout the earth, the air and our bodies. It can be microscopic, yet also accounts for the largest organism ever recorded – covering ten square kilometres, weighing 35,000 tons and estimated to be over 2,000 years old. Its ability to digest rock enabled the first life on land, and for 40 million years its towering structures dominated earth’s landscape. It can survive unprotected in space, and thrives amidst nuclear radiation.
It can solve problems without a brain, stretching traditional definitions of ‘intelligence’, and can manipulate animal behaviour in astonishing and often unsettling ways that we struggle to explain. The discovery that it connects plants in large collaborative networks, the ‘Wood Wide Web’, is transforming our understanding of how non-animal life works. In giving humans bread, alcohol and life-saving medicines, it has changed our species’ history, while its ability to digest plastic, explosives, pesticides and crude oil is being harnessed in break-through technologies. Its psychedelic properties, which have shaped cultures since antiquity, have recently been shown to alleviate a number of mental illnesses. And yet most of its millions of species remain undocumented.
In Entangled Life, Merlin Sheldrake introduces the spectacular and neglected world of fungi: endlessly surprising organisms that have made our world, and continue to shape our futures.