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Customer Review

on 9 November 2009
Jordan's enormous book is the product of 30 years spent studying and collecting fungi. Jordan is a botanist, heads up an association of fungus groups, and ran the Mushroom Magic TV series on the UK's Channel 4.

The Encyclopedia of Fungi is far too large to take into the field, so you have to decide whether to make notes, to take photographs, or to collect specimens to bring back to the book.

Jordan hesitates to give us English names; they are displayed only for species with well-established names, in small type below the Latin name of the species' family.

The fungi are arranged in systematic order, with full taxonomic details: e.g. Agaricomycetidae, Agaricales, Pluteaceae left, centre and right of the page header; but there are no English names of groups.

A double-page spread takes up 42 x 27 centimetres of your desk, and displays an impressive 6 species - often of the same genus - at once.

The descriptions are precise and not too densely technical.

Attributes listed are dimensions, cap, gills, spores, stem, odour, taste, chemical tests and occurrence. Edibility is noted with a brief description and a symbol.

Every species is illustrated with just a single colour photograph taken in the field - a bold decision. Specimens are mostly mature, upright and whole, though often as well one specimen has been uprooted and laid down so its bulb (volva) and gills can be seen. This has the advantage that you see the species in its habitat, and the serious disadvantage that there are no cut sections to show how the gills are attached, nor the curvature of the cap. You also don't get to see the cap from directly overhead, whereas you often do in Phillips. The photos are not tightly cropped, either, so the mushrooms are often quite a small part of the image. Identifying down to species is therefore not easy with this book. If you have a microscope you may find the details of asci and spores helpful - complete with dimensions in micrometres - but in that case you would probably want a drawing of the spores anyway. It seems an uneasy balance of technicality and popularity.

For the beginner wanting to get into Fungi, Jordan offers some unique and interesting features. There is a neat page on "Systematics" (a classification of fungi). There is an excellent page of diagrams of fungal structure including structure of typical mushrooms, Helvellas, Discomycetes and Pyrenomycetes. There is a very helpful page of Shapes of Basidiomycete Fungi (i.e. mushrooms with stems and caps) - this replaces the traditional hopelessly confusing appendix full of latinate words, so Jordan is a great improvement. And there is even a beautiful page defining visually the astonishing range of 84 colours used to describe fungi in the book. There is a compact Key (down to Genus level) taking up just over 3 pages, but without illustrations. All of this adds up to a clear, concise, but still somewhat daunting route, not really enough to prevent the reader from simply but somewhat despairingly flipping slowly through the pages in search of a match.

Jordan is a useful book to have for several reasons - it contains information not in many other books; it has good field photographs; it covers species often not covered elsewhere. However, as it is neither a pocketable field guide nor a sufficient desk guide on its own, I would not recommend it as your first or only book on fungi.
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