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Shroom: A Cultural History of the Magic…

Shroom: A Cultural History of the Magic Mushroom (2006)

by Andy Letcher

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1283152,799 (3.31)2
An investigation into the cultural and historical significance of psychedelic mushrooms traces their earliest recorded uses by the Aztecs of Central America and the tribes of Siberia to their reemergence on America's popular cultural landscape.



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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 of people with even a passing interest in the subject have already concluded that Wasson is full of shit. And I don't believe that the majority of people anywhere think that Santa has anything to do with flying mushrooms. In his debunking zeal, Letcher takes some shots at Robert Graves, Levi-Strauss, and Mircea Eliade, lumping them in with lesser nutcases like Carlos Casteneda and Terrence McKenna. This seems both unkind and unwise. Someday Letcher's methodology and biases will fall out of fashion, and new generations of academics will be taking their potshots at him. If he's lucky, I guess. A more interesting book could have been built out of this, one I'd love to see, exploring scholarly bullshit. When is it enriching, edifying, thought-provoking, and when is it merely crap? I'd say Graves and Wasson, with their giddy passion and their vision, fall into the enlightening category of bullshitters. If you take them with a grain of salt, you can find something of real value in them.
At any rate, Mr. Letcher doesn't go there. Though the first half was seriously boring, it felt solid enough. When he got to the part about shrooms in the Northwest, though (my stomping grounds) I started to notice a LOT of errors. Marysville became Marytown. Tumwater became Turnwater. And the Evergreen State College was variously rendered as 'Evergreen University' or 'Evergreen State University'. Minor points, but it pointed to a general sloppiness about details. After five errors in three pages, I started to wonder what other little mistakes might have been scattered throughout the book. Were the quotes and figures accurate? Did I care enough to scrutinize it that much?
Nope. I gave up there, and am therefore running the risk of missing out on something really brilliant in the last section of the book. ( )
2 vote paperloverevolution | Mar 30, 2013 |
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.

The author is also British, so there's details of the counterculture in the UK that I hadn't heard before.
  JonathanGorman | Oct 31, 2009 |
Quite entertaining, though not mind-bending! 8^} I thoroughly enjoyed it, especially since Letcher starts with the archaeological evidence for use and works forward to modern day. ( )
1 vote drneutron | Jul 31, 2007 |
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Toadstool soup!
Toadstool soup!
Drink it singly or in a group.

Boris and his Bolshy Balalaika, 'Toadstool Soup'
For Matilda
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(Prologue): One evening in the late summer of 1916, an upright American surgeon from New England began to feel unwell.
Magic mushrooms are becoming hard to avoid.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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