Slayers, Saviors, Servants, and Sex:

an exposé of Kingdom Fungi

by David Moore

Published in 2000 by Springer-Verlag New York, Inc (vii + 175 pages; ISBN 0 387 95101 6)

This is a book for the general reader about the world of fungi. We should know more about fungi. They have killed us, saved us and served us since before written records began. We have been making bread, brewing ale, and fermenting wine for millennia. Our crops have been at the mercy of fungal diseases since we became farmers, and they still are. Fungal diseases have caused large demographic changes - from the great plague of 'St. Anthony’s Fire' of the Middle Ages (caused by a fungal toxin) to the Irish mass migration to the Americas during the famine (caused by a fungal disease of the potato crop). We can also thank fungi for antibiotics, but do we fully appreciate the revolution in life style (and life expectancy) that these taken-for-granted treatments permit?

One of the first people to receive penicillin treatment in England in the 1940s was a policeman in Oxford. He died of septicemia when the supplies of the antibiotic ran out. Cause of death? Scratched by a rose thorn! Fungi enabled plants (by a mutualistic combination that persists today) to invade the land during the evolution of life on Earth. Higher fungi are almost unique in their ability to decay the chemical components of timber. Without the wood-rotting fungi we would be up to our eyes in dead trees! Fungi give us the opportunity of treating plant diseases and killing specific weeds, as well as being very useful for cleaning up polluted environments and for producing chemicals.

In short, this book will show you why it is wise to look again at fungi and appreciate these extraordinary organisms for what they are: a vital component of our lives and of the Earth’s ecosystem.


Preamble. 1. Toxins - kill the primates, rule the world. Or: Don’t turn your back on a fungus! 2. Blights, rusts, bunts and mycoses. 3. Decay and degradation, a fungal speciality. 4. Joining forces - fungal co-operative ventures. 5. Fungi in medicine - antibiotics and other pharmaceuticals. 6. Turning the tables. Using fungi to control other pests. 7. Let’s party! 8. The old Kingdom in time and space. 9. Birds do it. Bees do it. Even educated fleas do it. But why? 10. The cavalry is coming. Fungi to the rescue. Sources. Word games. Solutions to word games.

Hardcover/ISBN 0-387-95101-6/ Price $69.95

Softcover/ISBN 0-387-95098-2/ Price $29.95

YOU CAN ORDER the book from Amazon and from the Publisher in hardback and paperback formats.

Extracts from REVIEWS

This review by Johnathan Beard, a science writer based in New York, appeared in the magazine New Scientist, on 10 March 2001, p. 52: "IN THE REALM OF THE WEIRD. The fungi among us, laments David Moore, do not get much respect. They provide us with much of our food, drink and antibiotics, but almost everyone thinks fungi are plants - which they are not ... So if fungi are not plants, and they do not make food from sunlight, what do they do? They just digest organic matter. And unlike animals, they perform this externally, by releasing enzymes and absorbing nutrients. This pleasant, non technical survey covers everything that Kingdom Fungi does: from blighting crops, destroying elms and infecting people to recycling dead leaves and making penicillin. That's before we get into the kitchen. We might think that mushrooms - and Moore covers the deadly and the savoury - might be the most important fungal crop, from our love of omelettes, soups and stir fries. But because all alcohol production begins with fungus digesting starch, this is their biggest contribution to our diets. The most original parts of Slayers, never mentioned in mushroom books, deal with enlisting fungi in our battles with pest insects and weeds. As chemical controls become too toxic or expensive, we are bound to see more interest in turning the Fifth Kingdom against the other realms."

This customer review, by Jeff Van der Meer was placed on the website with five stars: "As someone who delights in odd facts and has a curiosity about the underpinnings of our natural world, I found Moore's book to be the perfect blend of summary and specific detail, delivered in a relaxed and mischievious style. I've been on a quest for this type of book for a long time, both for personal pleasure and for research for my writing: one that went beyond the basic mushroom guide but that did not stray so far into the area of advanced scientific research that I could not follow it. Moore knows how to strike the right balance between entertainment and science in doling out the facts. I took great delight in chapter titles such as Toxins: Kill the Primates, Rule the World; Blights, Rusts, Bunts, and Mycoses; Decay and Degradation; and The Old Kingdom in Time and Space. Learning, for example, that rabbits can eat some mushrooms humans cannot is an innocuous enough fact - but learning that the Victorian cure for eating poison mushrooms consisted of downing a combination of raw rabbit stomachs and brains mixed with jam...well, that's simply the kind of detail that distinguishes an excellent book from a good book. Perhaps the best thing about the book is Moore's comfort level. He is so comfortable with this material that he revels in it - and this results in numerous corresponding delights for the reader. I have collected over two dozen books on fungi and this one is the best of the lot."

This is an e-mail from a "satisfied customer": dated Wed, 2 May 2001 14:59:34: "Dear Dr. Moore: Thank you for writing the book entitled "Slayers, Saviors, Servants, & Sex. An Exposé of Kingdom Fungi". I just finished reading it, after finding it in the library 7 hours ago! It was a blessing reading through the pages and remembering all my classes in Mycology, Food Toxicology, Environmental Toxicology and also my basic courses of biology, geography, and biochemistry. It was nice to find out that finally somebody has taken the first step to make us realize the incredible importance of Fungi in our daily lives. And I am not taking about beer and bread, but about Earth remediation. I am definitively recommending your book to all my colleagues and students as an enchanted lecture full of knowledge and reality."

Finally, a formal review in the journal Mycological Research, volume 105, p. 768 (June 2001): "LIFTING THE VEIL: ... it was with great interest that I opened David Moore’s latest book. The former Executive Editor of Mycological Research has written a very enjoyable volume, perhaps the only authoritative popular treatment of fungal biology in recent years. This is a good one for an evening in a recliner chair. Moore’s editorial skills are evidenced by the fact that the text is refreshingly free from errors and he has also dodged much of the standard mycological folklore that can only be employed to surprise some miserable freshman student debilitated by cable television and video games... In his chapter on mushroom sex, Moore grapples with the question of the necessity for mycelial copulation but is unable to penetrate much further than James Thurber in his treatise on human sexuality. We know far more about the practice and outcome of mushroom sex than its selective benefit. Natural selection also appears as an interesting theme in the chapter on mushroom poisoning. Why do fungi produce compounds like amanitins? ... Moore doesn’t arrive at a satisfying answer, but at least he thought of the question. Two chapters consider symbioses between fungi and other organisms. The first deals with mutualistic relationships with plants and ants, the second with debilitating and lethal fungal interactions with less privileged partners. In other chapters, Moore discusses the beneficial uses for which we have enslaved fungi for millennia (medicines, food, and drink), and recent enterprises that seek to save the planet through fungal biotechnology... the book ... is beautifully written." Nicholas P. Money [Department of Botany, Miami University, Oxford OH 45056, USA].

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