Anyone interested in magic mushrooms needs to read the 2006 book by Andy Letcher titled “Shroom: A Cultural History of the Magic Mushroom.” You may or may not like it, because the author does not pull his punches with existing theories on Shroom history. But even so, you need to read it!
Why? Because there is probably no other human alive besides Letcher that has read practically every piece of information ever published about magic mushrooms. And he has been good enough to put it together for us in a compact book of only 300 pages. (384 with reference section and index.)
A major section of the book is dedicated to the Fly agaric and its use in Siberia. But the most important part of the book relates to Gordon Wasson's discovery of Psilocybe mushrooms in Mexico, and subsequent popularization of it in America.
Later on in the book, Letcher give a historic account of the immensely popular ‘free festivals' in Britain during the late 1970's and early 80's. The no. 1 ‘drug' of choice at these festivals was wild-harvested magic mushrooms. Margaret Thatcher successfully put a stop to these festivals, thereby ending the second wave of magic mushroom use. The third and still ongoing wave of shroom popularity began when simple methods of cultivating Psilocybe mushrooms in large quantities were developed by American Terence McKenna.
My main reservation when it comes to this book is that Letcher, at least in the beginning, seems overly prone to side with the critics and skeptics of the many various theories of historic use of magic mushrooms.
E.g. he points out that the ancient petroglyphs in Tassili, Algeria, which many shroom enthusiasts are convinced depict shamans with magic mushroom, could potentially have several other interpretations. The reader is left with a sense that because there are other possible interpretations, therefore, the mushroom interpretation is wrong.
While critical evaluation is definitely much appreciated in a work of this importance, it should be balanced. It is not Letcher's skepticism that I question, but the lack of balance in his skepticism.
This lack of balance is especially blatant when one realizes that he uses the reality of a changing environment and flora as an argument against the possible use of magic mushrooms by Druids in a heavily forested ancient Britain even though it grows abundantly in British pastures today, while simultaneously arguing that the Fly agaric could not have been used in ancient Egypt because no Fly agaric related mushroom grows there today.
To be fair to the author, it should be acknowledged that his presentation does get more balanced in the second half of the book. Several times, he admits that there is no objective way to be certain about which of the opposing claims are valid. He deserves credit for that.
Overall, this book contains and astounding wealth of information on everything relating to the history of shrooms, in particular the discovery of magic mushrooms by western enthusiasts over the past century. I cannot recommend it highly enough.
In addition to magic mushrooms, Shroom is also an account of the history of psychedelics in general. Large portions of the book tell the stories of Aldous Huxley and mescaline, Timothy Leary and LSD, and the more recent use of ecstasy at rave fests.
So in spite of my reservations against Letcher's somewhat unbalanced siding with the critics against various theories of the historic use of magic mushrooms, I insist that if you have a sincere interest in shrooms, you really do need to read this book. It's a fascinating account of the history of shrooms.
Get your copy of Shroom: A Cultural History of the Magic Mushroom now! Dr. Markho Rafael graduated from Chiropractic College in 1996. He now focuses on researching and writing about mushrooms and herbs. You can find more of his reviews on mushroom books at mycelium-running.info.
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