We might slice them into a salad, savor them in a sauce, wonder at their power to intoxicate or poison, marvel at their multifarious presence in the forest--but few of us realize that mushrooms, humbly thriving on decay, are crucial to life on Earth as we know it. In this book a distinguished biologist, long intrigued by the secret life of fungi, reveals the power of these curious organisms--not quite animal, not quite plant--to enchant and instruct, to nourish and make way for all sorts of superior forms of nature. In a style at once learned and quirky, personal and commanding, Elio Schaechter imparts the fascinating minutiae and the weighty implications of his subject--a primarily microscopic life form that nonetheless accounts for up to two tons of matter for every human on the planet. He shows us how fungi, the great decomposers, recycle most of the world's vegetable matter--from a blade of grass to a strapping tree--and thus prevent us from sinking under ever-accumulating masses of decaying matter. With the same expertise and contagious enthusiasm that he brings to the biology of mushrooms, Schaechter conveys the allure of the mushroom hunt. Drawing on his own experience as well as that of seasoned pickers and amateur mycologists, he explains when and where to find mushrooms, how they are cultivated, and how they are used in various cultures. From the delectable to the merely tolerable, from the hallucinogenic to the deadly, a wide variety of mushrooms are covered in this spirited presentation.