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Long awaited and bitterly disappointing
on 1 June 2012
Today I have finally received my copy of the new Collins Fungi Guide, a book that was announced a long time ago by Collins. I am always trying to find the best side of any book, but in this case I must say that I am really sorry for my money, although I got a substantial discount.
If I remember right, I first came across this title in 2007. Being impressed by the previously published by Collins fungal guide, authored by Courtecuisse & Duhem, I immediately put down this one on my wish list, being much impressed by the shiny description provided by the publisher. But the time was going on and the guide was put off from year to year. I will remind that the book was first announced as "The most complete field guide to the mushrooms and toadstools of Britain and Europe". I think that from the last year this subtitle was discretely changed to the more humble "The most complete field guide to the mushrooms and toadstools of Britain and Ireland". I have also heard a word that the American Amazon started rejecting preorders, and the book is not sold now by them except by third-party sellers. Those facts might have been enough to ring a bell and prevent me from buying it.
Now when I hold it in my hands, I cannot hold my disappointment. I will not comment on any fungal group other than boletes, but I consider boletes to be very good sample for the entire edition.
First of all I will draw reader's attention to the illustrations. Most of these leave the impression that they were painted in a hurry, which is quite possible, especially having in mind that from some point onwards Collins contracted second illustrator besides C. Shields. Nonetheless, the quality of the illustrations is unsatisfactory and far beyond the expectations from such renowned artists.
It is clear for me though, that the bad quality is not only due to artists' mistakes. What I see tells me that there has been bad choice of material to be illustrated in first place, everything talking of rather humble knowledge in the fungal group in question. We all know that colours of the flesh are crucial for the determination of boletes. Therefore a good field guide will show a fruitbody of a bolete together with a section which will show the flesh. Not this guide though. The sections of fruitbodies are scattered throughout the illustrations and I do not find any sense in the way they were chosen. I would expect every species to be illustrated sectioned, but moreover I would expect this in Xerocomus, where this is vital. But only 6 of 15 species of Xerocomus are shown with sectioned fruitbodies, for the rest you have to carefully read the text and try to find this information. I say "try to find", because it is sometimes very misleading. For example, we all know that X. rubellus is characterized by the presence in the flesh of bright red dots in the base of the stipe. For this guide however, the flesh of this species is "deeper yellow towards base". And this is not the only case. If you do not believe me, pay attention to X. bubalinus. Even in the cases when there are illustrations of sectioned fruitbodies, they might be of little help for the recognition of the species, see e. g. Boletus appendiculatus and B. subappendiculatus, where both sections look the same, causing the inexperienced reader to suffer trying to find difference which is not there. Starting from the first page with boletes, I was nearly shattered to see that the illustrations of X. chysenteron and X. chrysonemus are switched. Well, such things happen sometimes, although I find this mistake rather unpleasant. But on the same page, the illustration of X. chrysenteron shows something that very much reminds me a network of the stipe. In fact at first glance I questioned myself if I see Boletus calopus. The same way I felt when looking to the illustration of X. moravicus, which suspiciously reminds Gyroporus cyanescens and has very little in common with the first species. The bad choice of material is also very well seen in Boletus impolitus and B. pinophilus, both of them being rather difficult to recognize.
Going further, I came to another interesting decision. Boletus reticulatus is placed on a separate page, far from its relatives B. edulis, B. pinophilus and B. aereus. Possibly because the illustration is rather similar to the one of B. edulis and would have caused the question "What's the difference".
Browsing through the pages, I stop on Leccinum and especially on L. aurantiacum, L. albostipitatum and L. versipelle, species that have more or less orange cap. The colours of these species according to this guide are however different, pushing much towards brown. There are also other mistakes, for example in the description of X. bubalinus there is a reference to Xerocomus communis, which in this guide is under the name X. engelii. I am wondering whether this is plain mistake or the author didn't know that X. communis and X. engelii are considered synonyms.
I could possibly go further and continue with the examples, but I do not see any point in doing this. I think that I have expressed my conclusion clearly in the title of this post.