Shroom: A Cultural History of the Magic Mushroom

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9780060828288: Shroom: A Cultural History of the Magic Mushroom

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. The magic mushroom was rediscovered only fifty years ago but has accumulated all sorts of folktales and urban legends along the way. In this timely and definitive study, Andy Letcher strips away the myths to get at the true story of how hallucinogenic mushrooms, once shunned in the West as the most pernicious of poisons, came to be the illicit drug of choice.

Chronicling the history of the magic mushroom, from its use by the Aztecs of Central America and the tribes of Siberia through to the present day, Letcher takes a critical and humorous look at the drug's more recent manifestations. Since the 1970s scientists and others in major Western nations, the United States and the United Kingdom in particular, have identified hundreds of hallucinogenic species, isolated their active ingredients, learned how to cultivate them on an industrial scale, and spread them around the world. More than any other civilization that has come before us, and despite all the myths we have built, we, by all rights, are the true magic mushroom enthusiasts.

Informative, lively and impeccably researched, Shroom presents a unique and engaging study of this most extraordinary of psychedelic drugs.

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About the Author:

Andy Letcher is a freelance writer, lecturer, and musician with a doctorate in ecology from Oxford University, and a second in religious/cultural studies from King Alfred's College, Winchester. He lives in Oxford, England, and sings and plays the mandolin and English bagpipes in his own acid folk group, Telling the Bees.

From Publishers Weekly:

Letcher, an eco-protestor who once lived in a tree house, wrote this exhaustive history in order to debunk the folklore in which mushroom munchers have rooted their appreciation of the hallucinogen. The "bemushroomed," he says, proselytize that the fungus inspired humans to construct Stonehenge, found Western philosophy and even think up Santa Claus. To demonstrate that the real story is "less fanciful and far more interesting," Letcher draws on biological and archeological studies, social history and even his own diaries to chronicle phenomena like Algerian cave drawings that look suspiciously like mushrooms and the plight of Siberian shamans. But he often buries his best material. It's startling, for example, to learn that a New York City banker helped kick-start the psychedelic '60s with a Life magazine article about Mexican mushrooms. But Letcher digresses for 18 pages before finally delivering the kicker: financier Gordon Wasson engaged in a grave deception to gain access to the goods and declared himself blameless as hippie hordes destroyed the ancient community Huautla. Major figures like Timothy Leary and Allen Ginsberg appear, but are also subsumed by Letcher's colorless, academic style. Readers expecting a druggie classic in the style of Aldous Huxley or Carlos Castaneda will be disappointed. (Feb. 27)
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