It helps to come to Islands & Cultures—a collection of essays focusing largely if not exclusively, as goes the subtitle, on “sustainability”—with at least some background on Polynesia, not because such background is necessary to follow the arguments in the various papers, but because otherwise one will be spending a great deal of time on the Internet chasing down one interesting reference after another.

China’s Pearl River Delta recently surpassed Tokyo as the world’s largest urban area. Amid that vast conurbation of over 60 million people stands the city of Zhongshan. The birthplace of Sun Yat-sen, Zhonghsan’s factories supply China’s middle class with consumer goods like lighting, furniture, and appliances. Looking east across the Indian Ocean, one finds Antalaha, a small harbor town on Madagascar’s eastern coast. Bordered by three national parks and without a paved road to the nation’s capital, Antalaha’s 67,000 inhabitants might seem remote. But thanks to a tree growing in those parks, Antalaha found itself fueling Zhongshan’s furniture industry. Annah Lake Zhu’s new book Rosewood: Endangered Species Conservation and The Rise of Global China, explores the consequences of this unexpected connection.

In the early 2000s, a group of anthropologists formed the Matsutake Worlds Research Group (MWRG). Their object of collaborative study was to be the matsutake mushroom and the ways in which humans interact with it. 15 or so years might seem a long time for a scholar (let alone a team of them) to study a single mushroom; nevertheless their project is ongoing, having produced two research monographs so far: Anna Tsing’s The Mushroom At The End Of The World and now Michael Hathaway’s What A Mushroom Lives For, as well as a series of essays. There promises to be at least one more book yet to come. 

Tonlé Sap is one of Southeast Asia’s, if not one of the world’s, natural wonders. Between the dry and wet seasons, the lake expands almost six times in size to cover an area the size of Kuwait. The flows are so strong that the Tonlé Sap river actually reverses course, with water from the lake flowing into the Mekong river.