REVIEW: How to Win Friends and Influence Fungi edited by Chris Balakrishnan and Matt Wasowski

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In the vein of acclaimed popular-science bestsellers such as Atlas Obscura, Astrophysics for Young People in a Hurry, The Way Things Work, What If?, and Undeniable, the co-founders of the global science organization Nerd Nite bring readers a collection of wacky, yet fascinating STEM topics.

For 20 years, Nerd Nite has delivered to live audiences around the world, the most interesting, fun, and informative presentations about science, history, the arts, pop culture, you name it. There hasn’t been a rabbit hole that their army of presenters hasn’t been afraid to explore. Finally, after countless requests to bring Nerd Nite to more fans across the globe, co-founders and college pals Matt Wasowski and Chris Balakrishnan are bringing readers the quirky and accessible science content that they crave in book form, focused on STEM and paired with detailed illustrations that make the content pop. The resulting range of topics is quirky and vast, from kinky, spring-loaded spiders to the Webb telescope’s influence on movie special effects.

Hilariously named after Dale Carnegie’s iconic book, How to Win Friends and Influence Fungi features narratives, bursts, and infographics on all things STEM from scientists around the world. Chapters are sure to make you laugh-out-loud, with titles such as “The Science of the Hangover,” “What Birds Can Teach Us About the Impending Zombie Apocalypse,” and “Lessons from the Oregon Trail.”

With fascinating details, facts, and illustrations, combined with Chris and Matt’s incredible connections to organizations such as the Discovery Network and the Smithsonian Institution, How to Win Friends and Influence Fungi is sure to reach joyful STEM enthusiasts of all ages around the world.

Review

I’d never heard of Nerd Nites before (and sadly there are none near me) but this sounded like a great offbeat and interesting book. It’s composed of short essays on STEM subjects that have been presented at said Nerd Nites around the world where experts tell a little bit about interesting subjects to an audience drinking alcoholic beverages. I think the idea is to be both fun and informative. 

In a group of subjects as large as contained here, there will obviously be some of interest and some that just won’t float your boat no matter how well done. With that in mind, I will admit to skipping about 5-7 of the essays but that still left a lot that I read. Some I found to be great – informative, long enough to cover the subject, and well explained. Others were okay but perhaps ended too quickly before really getting going. A few made me think “Huh, what was the point of that?” I wish that a few of the presenters would have stayed on the subject and left their politics out of it and when I say this, keep in mind that I don’t want anyone’s politics regardless of their side. As Sgt Joe Friday never said, “Just the facts, ma’am.” 

Interesting subjects and information I learned: someone actually studied dating apps for their PhD, octopi are as fascinating as I thought they were (their suckers taste things!), “Finding Nemo” got about everything regarding clownfish wrong, I wish the essay on misophonia had been more detailed and less “cutesy” but it did make me go look it up to learn more, phonemes and phonemic constraints for different languages are fascinating, NASA’s “waste” management is fascinating and a potential source of rocket fuel, reading about maggot wound debridement is simultaneously fascinating and revolting, microbiomes might be a source of neuropsychiatric disorders, GMO’s are nothing to fear, bacteria are just waiting to be our friends but we must treat them well, Sam Kean does a great job describing what drove the interest of the guy who helped formulate standard ways to design scientific experiments as well as explain why some people like their milk added first then tea or vice versa, if your dog gets into your underwear/knickers drawer and swallows them it’s better for the dog if you wear thongs, and flames – I never thought what they actually are either.

I speed read this but it’s the style of book that you can do that or dip a leisurely toe in when you’ve got a minute or five. Delve into what interests you or skip what doesn’t. And check to see if there’s a Nerd Nite near you. B/B-

~Jayne 

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Jayne

Another long time reader who read romance novels in her teens, then took a long break before started back again about 25 years ago. She enjoys historical romance/fiction best, likes contemporaries, action- adventure and mysteries, will read suspense if there’s no TSTL characters and is currently reading more fantasy and SciFi.

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