WASSON, Valentina Pavlovna and R. Gordon WASSON. Mushrooms, Russia and History. New York: Pantheon Books. 1957.
4to, 2 vols. Original green-grey cloth with red and gilt lettering pieces to spines, in original glassine wrappers and grey cloth slipcase; pp. xxi, , 212, ; xii, - 433, ; 82 plates, many in colour, with tissue guards, numerous text illustrations; slipcase a little marked, spines slightly sunned, otherwise very good indeed.
No. 39 of limited edition of 512. A truly breathtaking history of hallucinogenic mushroom use. Despite the title, Russa is only one pit-stop on this exhaustive stroll through the mycological mists of Europe (especially England, which is a surprise) and South America as they look at varying cultural responses to mushrooms.
R. Gordon Wasson was a Vice-President of J.P. Morgan, a banker whose greatest contribution was in the field of entheogenic fungi; his Russian wife Valentina was a paediatrician. They became interested in edible mushrooms on their honeymoon in the Catskills in 1927. Developing a passionate interest in the place of mushrooms in myth and folklore, they became serious ethno-mycological scholars with a large number of publications. The present work was their first and most pioneering book. They were the first Westerners to participate in a Mazatec mushroom ritual in Mexico. R. Gordon Wasson had two species of psychoactive mushrooms named after him and provided the specimens used by Albert Hofmann, the discoverer of LSD, to identify the chemical structure of the active compounds psilocybin and psilocin. Timothy Leary's reading of the Wassons' early research into these mushrooms led to his experimentation with and promotion of LSD as a consciousness-expanding agent.