This lavishly photo-illustrated and smoothly-written book details all of the psilocybin-containing mushrooms generally known up to the date of publication, including those outside of the species Psilocybe and some extremely rare ones known only from a single location or from a single event (sometimes mysterious magic mushrooms crop up after storms but are never seen again unless spores are taken from them and grown under controlled conditions).
Stamets explains the often-conflicting taxonomy of Psilocybe mushrooms (one species, for example, received two different names because two writing teams who had travelled together wrote it up separately -- one published first and *their* name has "priority," even though some people use the name given by the other team; despite the name difference the mushroom described is the same species).
Stamets is no prude. He writes quite bluntly about psilocybin-containing mushrooms (including his own tripping on them), and he is EXTREMELY (and justly) critical of other mycologists who not only refuse to describe such mushrooms, but, in one case Stamets cites, have said that it is better for people to die from eating poisonous mushrooms than for people to be able to safely identify psilocybin-containing mushrooms! Stamets gives descriptions and photos of poisonous look-alike mushrooms and gives a step-by-step identification procedure for the psilocybin 'shrooms. In most cases identification is straightforward and can be done within a few minutes; in other cases look-alikes can be lethal and suspect mushrooms have to be carefully gone over to avoid poisoning.
One extemely curious phenomenon which Stamets describes are cases in which people have "tripped" on mushrooms which are generally considered non-poisonous and which were from species which are not supposed to contain *any* psychoactive chemicals; Stamets speculates that if these cases are genuine, they may represent instances in which the biochemistry of one individual reacted in a completely unpredictable and near-unique way to a "normal" mushroom. (I have heard of some people whose bodies can *naturally* manufacture ethanol from the ordinary sugars in food in sufficient quantites to become drunk without ever having consumed liquid alcohol; these freak instances of people tripping on non-pyshoactive mushrooms may represent something similar -- rare individuals whose bodies can convert innocuous chemicals into psychoactive ones; since the reported cases have been people who didn't intend to eat a magic mushroom in the first place, and who have probably sworn off mushroom eating forever as a result of their experience, the likelihood of a repeat occurence with a given individual is probably close to zero. Still, the fact that such an unexpected event has occurred at all underscores a couple of points which Stamets makes again and again: don't eat any wild mushroom which you have not positively identified, and don't gorge yourself on a species which you *have* identified until you have taken a small sample to see how your own body reacts to them.)
One interesting feature of the book is an estimate of the relative potency of psilocybin-containing mushrooms and an explanation of why some cultivated mushrooms differ widely in potency even though they belong to the same species. Some members of the species Psilocybe actually don't contain any psilocybin at all, but apparently all members of the species either taste bad or are too chewy to be used for food, even the non-psychoactive ones.
The only weakness of the book is that it does not contain a section describing the numerous cultivated varieties of P. cubensis, which vary greatly in appearance and growing requirements (and, according to the vendors, at least) in potency. Many of these varieties have doubtless "gone wild" (Stamets says that the grounds of universities and the outside of courthouses are two of the best places to hunt "wild" psilocybin mushrooms!), but there is only one listing for the species with photos of what are presumably wild varities not derived from artificial selection by growers.
Stamets is a true fan of mushrooms and his commercial website (he doesn't sell psilocybin mushrooms, by the way) gives examples of how mushrooms can be used in bioremediation of polluted lands and used to improve the yields of crops. Stamets points out that one of the best places to look for wild muchrooms is on land which has just been hit by a storm or where humans have just ravaged it to put up or tear down a building. Although Stamets has not gone as far off the deep end as did Terrence McKenna and his brother (writing under their own names or as "Ott and Osric"), it is apparent that he, like many other partakers of magic mushrooms, believes them to be a vital part of Gaia and their spread by humans to be part of planetary evolution. As a simple example, those hunting for "magic" mushrooms will (whether deliberately or not) carry magic mushroom spores back from where they are found, but they will also carry the spores of other species which grow nearby and are, in their turn, vital ecological components even if they aren't psychoactive: just growing *near* a psychoactive mushroom gives other mushrooms an evolutionary advantage as their spores are dispersed by primates anxious to go tripping but whose hair or fur or clothes brush against other species of mushroom and carry their spores to another location. It becomes easy to see why some people believe that psychoactive mushrooms (especially the Psilocybe species) have co-evolved with humans as a means to enhance the biosphere of Gaia.
I give this book five well-deserved stars. I know of know other book which contains so much information about magic mushroom history and mycology and provides such clear-cut and easy to follow steps for identifying the psilocybin-containg species. If nothing else it is beautiful to look at. *****