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Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins

by Anna Tsing Princeton University Press
Pub Date:
Pbk 352 pages
AU$54.99 NZ$57.38
Product Status: Not Our Publication - we no longer distribute
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Matsutake is the most valuable mushroom in the world - and a weed that grows in human-disturbed forests across the northern hemisphere. Through its ability to nurture trees, matsutake helps forests to grow in daunting places. It is also an edible delicacy in Japan, where it sometimes commands astronomical prices. In all its contradictions, matsutake offers insights into areas far beyond just mushrooms and addresses a crucial question: what manages to live in the ruins we have made?  

A tale of diversity within our damaged landscapes, The Mushroom at the End of the World follows one of the strangest commodity chains of our times to explore the unexpected corners of capitalism. Here, we witness the varied and peculiar worlds of matsutake commerce: the worlds of Japanese gourmets, capitalist traders, Hmong jungle fighters, industrial forests, Yi Chinese goat herders, Finnish nature guides, and more. These companions also lead us into fungal ecologies and forest histories to better understand the promise of cohabitation in a time of massive human destruction.

By investigating one of the world's most sought-after fungi, The Mushroom at the End of the World presents an original examination into the relation between capitalist destruction and collaborative survival within multispecies landscapes, the prerequisite for continuing life on earth.




  • Frontmatter, pg. i
  • Contents, pg. v
  • Enabling Entanglements, pg. vii
  • Prologue. Autumn Aroma, pg. 1
  • 1. Arts of Noticing, pg. 11
  • 2. Contamination as Collaboration, pg. 27
  • 3. Some Problems with Scale, pg. 37
  • 4. Working the Edge, pg. 55
  • 5. Open Ticket, Oregon, pg. 73
  • 6. War Stories, pg. 85
  • 7. What Happened to the State? Two Kinds of Asian Americans, pg. 97
  • 8. Between the Dollar and the Yen, pg. 109
  • 9. From Gifts to Commodities—and Back, pg. 121
  • 10. Salvage Rhythms: Business in Disturbance, pg. 131
  • 11. The Life of the Forest, pg. 149
  • 12. History, pg. 167
  • 13. Resurgence, pg. 179
  • 14. Serendipity, pg. 193
  • 15. Ruin, pg. 205
  • 16. Science as Translation, pg. 217
  • 17. Flying Spores, pg. 227
  • 18. Matsutake Crusaders: Waiting for Fungal Action, pg. 251
  • 19. Ordinary Assets, pg. 267
  • 20. Anti-ending: Some People I Met along the Way, pg. 277
  • Notes, pg. 289
  • Index, pg. 323

"Provocative. . . . Beginning with an account of the matsutake mushroom, Tsing follows the threads of this organism to tease out an astonishing number of insights about life in the Anthropocene."--Year's Work in Critical and Cultural Theory

"An unusually rewarding meditation on how a wild mushroom can help us see the world's ruined condition after the advent of modern capitalism. . . . Bursting with ideas and observations, Tsing's highly original ethnographic study follows this spicy-smelling mushroom's global commodity chain, from the forests of Oregon's Cascade Mountains and elsewhere to Tokyo auction markets. She recounts her interviews with mushroom pickers, scientists, and entrepreneurs in the United States, Asia, and elsewhere to explore the matsutake's commerce and ecology. . . . Consistently fascinating, her story of the picking and selling of this wild mushroom becomes a wonderful window on contemporary life."--Kirkus, starred review

"Tsing weaves an adventurous tale about the diverse forms of ‘collaborative survival' that living beings--both human and non-human--negotiate despite the ‘capitalist damage' of our times. . . . Her engrossing account of intersecting cultures and nature's resilience offers a fresh perspective on modernity and progress."--Publishers Weekly

"A well-researched and thought-provoking meditation on capitalism, resilience, and survival."--E. CE Miller,

"[Tsing] has written a beautiful, humble book about the human interface with the Northern Hemisphere's forest ecosystems, delving into everything from produce auction markets to guerilla warfare. . . . [The] Mushroom at the End of the World is an example of anthropology at its best: highly accessible, yet challenging to our sense of self."--Darwin Bond Graham, East Bay Express

Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing is professor of anthropology at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and a Niels Bohr Professor at Aarhus University in Denmark, where she codirects Aarhus University Research on the Anthropocene (AURA). She is the author of Friction and In the Realm of the Diamond Queen (both Princeton).